Russia Recruiting For Its Moon Bound Cosmonauts

Statue of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Credit: AFP


Roscosmos has certainly come a long way in the past few decades. After facing an uncertain future in the 1990s, the federal space agency has rebounded to become a major player in space and a crucial partner in the International Space Station. And in the coming years, Roscosmos hopes to expand its reach further, with missions planned to the Moon and even Mars.

Towards this end, on Tuesday, March 14th, the agency announced that it is conducting a recruitment drive for new cosmonauts. All are welcome, the agency stressed, to apply to become the next-generation of space explorers (provided they meet the criteria). And if all goes as planned, a few lucky applicants will be the first members of the Russian space program to “fly to the Moon.”

Understandably, Roscosmos is hoping to jump start its space exploration program again and recapture the momentum it enjoyed during the Soviet Era. In addition to Sputnik and sending the first man and woman into space (as part of the Vostok program), the Soviet space program also produced a reusable spacecraft by the 1980s that was similar to the Space Shuttle (known as the Buran program).

Rollout and Erection of Vostok 1, the flight that took the first man (Yuri Gagarin) into space on April 12th, 1961. Credits:

Unfortunately, with budget cuts during this decade and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, several changes had to be made. For one, Roscosmos needed to turn to commercial satellite launches and space tourism in order to make up the difference in its funding. In addition, some observers have cited how Russia’s financial commitment to  the ISS has had a detrimental effect on other programs.

It is little wonder then why Russian wants to embark on some serious missions in the coming decades, ones which will reestablish it as a leader in space exploration. Intrinsic to this is a proposed crewed mission to the Moon, which is scheduled to take place in 2031. Roscosmos has also been developing the next-generation spacecraft that will replace the Soyuz-TMA, which has been the workhorse of the space program since the Soviet era.

Known as the the Federatsiya (Federation) capsule, this vehicle is scheduled to make its first crewed flight to space sometime in 2023 from the Vostochny cosmodrome in the Russian far east. As you can see from the images, it bears a striking resemblance to the Orion capsule. Unveiled at the 12th International Aviation and Space Salon in Moscow (MAKS-2015), this capsule will carry the first Russian cosmonauts to the Moon.

All they need now is fresh blood to make the journey. Hence why they are conducting their first recruitment drive in five years, which is the second drive to be is open to all people – not just military pilots, but also those working in the space industry. This time around, Roscosmos is looking for 6 to 8 new recruits who will train in how to fly the next-generation spaceships and make Russia’s long-awaited lunar landing.

The Federatsiya crew capsule being unveiled at the 12th International Aviation and Space Salon in Moscow. Credit: Wikipedia Commons/Roscosmos

As Sergei Kiralyov (Roscosmos’ Executive Director of Manned Programs) was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying, “There will be no discrimination based on skin colour or gender.” The criteria for these applicants include an age limit of 35, a height of between 1 m 50 cm – 1 m 90 cm (4’11” and 6’2″), and a weight of no more than 90 kilograms (~198 pounds).

The criteria also stress physical fitness, and claim that applicants must be able to cross-country ski for 5 km (~3 mi). They must also pass a series of psychological and physical tests (which include gynaecological examinations for women). In terms of skills, Roscosmos is seeking individuals who have an engineering degree, pilot training, experience in the aviation industry, and IT skills. Knowledge of a foreign language is also a plus (other than Russian, of course!).

“Recruitment of cosmonauts will take place starting from today, March 14, will take place before the end of the year. The results would be summed up in the end of December,” said Roscosmos’ First Deputy Director General Alexander Ivanov. Roscosmos also stressed that all those who are interested must apply by post or in person at the Star City astronaut training center outside Moscow (with three passport-sized photos included).

So if you speak Russian, are interesting in becoming part of the next-generation of cosmonauts, meet the requirements, or just want to go to the Moon, you might want to consider throwing your hat into the ring! Down the road, Roscosmos also has plans to conduct crewed missions to Mars between 2040 and 2060. These are expected to take place only after missions to the Moon are complete, which may include the creation of a lunar outpost.

Further Reading:, AFP

The New Vostochny Cosmodrome Brings Launches Back To Russian Soil

The successful launch of a Soyuz 2.1a rocket from the Vostochny Cosmodrome on April 27th was the first launch from Russia's new spaceport. Image: Roscosmos
The successful launch of a Soyuz 2.1a rocket from the Vostochny Cosmodrome on April 27th was the first launch from Russia's new spaceport. Image: Roscosmos

Russia’s new Vostochny Cosmodrome launched its first rocket on Wednesday, April 27th, carrying three new satellites into orbit. After an initial 24-hour launch delay due to a computer-initiated abort, a Soyuz-2.1a lifted off from its pad at 10:01 am EDT. Every successful space launch is important in its own way, but this one even more so because of the importance of this new cosmodrome to Russia.

The breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 threw that country into chaos. The formal dissolution of the USSR on December 26th, 1991, created a lot of financial and political turmoil. The Soviet space program was a victim of that chaos, and with the USSR’s main cosmodrome now located on foreign territory, at Baikonur, Kazakhstan, things were uncertain.

Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, has been renting the Baikonur cosmodrome for $115 million annually. But this dependence on a foreign launch site has been a thorn in the side of Russia for decades. Russia is a fiercely independent and proud nation, so it surprised no one when construction of a new spaceport was announced. In 2010, Vladimir Putin emphasized the importance of the new facility, saying “The creation of a new space center … is one of modern Russia’s biggest and most ambitious projects.”

The new facility, called the Vostochny Cosmodrome, will eventually be home to multiple launch pads, though only one is functional for now. It’s located at 51 degrees north, whereas the Baikonur site is located at 46 degrees North. Though further north, it will still be able to launch almost the same payloads as Baikonur.

Russia has other spaceports on its own territory. The Svobodny Cosmodrome is also located in Russia’s far east, and at the same 51 degrees north as Vostochny. But Svobodny was originally an ICBM launch site, and couldn’t handle the launching of crewed missions. All crewed missions had to be launched from Baikonur. Russia has another cosmodrome, the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, where satellites can be launched into geostationary orbit.

The site for the new Vostochny Cosmodrome (Vostochny means ‘eastern’ in Russian) was chosen for a few reasons. The site is serviced by both highway and rail, and is remote enough that launch paths won’t interfere with any built up areas. It’s also located several hundred kilometres from the Pacific Ocean, to avoid complications that proximity to an ocean can cause, yet close enough that spent stages can be jettisoned and will fall harmlessly into the ocean.

The Vostochny Cosmodrome is located in Russia's far east. Image: Wikimedia Commons, CC by SA 3.0
The Vostochny Cosmodrome is located in Russia’s far east. Image: Wikimedia Commons, CC by SA 3.0

Vostochny is about the same size as the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral. Vostochny covers 551.5 square kilometers, while the Kennedy facility covers 583 square kilometers. The new cosmodrome will eventually house over 400 separate facilities, including engineering and transport infrastructure.

The Vostochny Cosmodrome project has suffered some setbacks. Parts of the assembly complex for the Soyuz 2 rocket were built too small, which delayed the planned initial launch set for December 2015. There’ve been accusations of corruption, and even a worker’s strike in the Spring of 2015 over unpaid wages.

These and other problems led Valdimir Putin to release a statement saying he was taking personal control of the project. Since then, Putin has kept a close eye on the Vostochny project. In response to the recent 24 hour launch delay of the cosmodrome’s inaugural launch, Putin criticized Roscosmos for the delay, and for all of the glitches and failures in the Russian space program recently.

But, ever the politician, Putin also tempered his remarks, saying “Despite all its failings, Russia remains the world leader in the number of space launches.” “But the fact that we’re encountering a large number of failures is bad. There must be a timely and professional reaction,” he added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken a personal interest in the Vostochny Cosmodrome. In October 2015 he visited the site. Image: Roscosmos/Kremlin CC BY 4.0
Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken a personal interest in the Vostochny Cosmodrome. In October 2015 he visited the site. Image: Roscosmos/Kremlin CC BY 4.0

As for Vostochny itself, it will allow Russia to conduct much more of its space launches on its own soil. By 2020, Vostochny will conduct 45% of Russia’s space launches. Baikonur will still be used, but much more sparingly. It currently is responsible for 65% of Russian launches, but that will drop to 11%. The Plesetsk Cosmodrome will account for the other 44%.

As for the inaugural launch, it went flawlessly after its initial 24 hour technical delay. The three satellites it carried into orbit will fulfill several different functions. Together, they will study the Earth’s upper atmosphere, observe gamma-ray bursts, and test new electronics modules for use in space. They will also carry high-resolution cameras for remote sensing and scientific work, test communication systems with ground stations, and will develop control algorithms for use with nano-satellites.

NASA, Boeing, and SpaceX to Launch 1st Commercial Crew Ships to Space Station in 2017

Boeing and SpaceX are building private spaceships to resume launching US astronauts from US soil to the International Space Station in 2017. Credit: NASA

After a hiatus of six long years, US astronauts will finally launch to space in a revolutionary new pair of private crew capsules under development by Boeing and SpaceX, starting in 2017, that will end our sole source reliance on the Russians for launching our astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).

Two years from now, crews will start flying to space aboard the first US commercial spaceships, launching atop US rockets from US soil, said officials from Boeing, SpaceX, and NASA at a joint news conference on Monday, Jan. 26. The human rated spaceships – also known as “space taxis” – are being designed and manufactured under the auspices of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

A two person mixed crew of NASA astronauts and company test pilots will fly on the first test flights going to the space station in 2017.

The goal of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, underway since 2010, has been to develop safe, reliable, and cost-effective spaceships that will ferry astronauts to and from the massive orbiting lab complex.

“It’s an incredible testament to American ingenuity and know-how, and an extraordinary validation of the vision we laid out just a few years ago as we prepared for the long-planned retirement of the space shuttle,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden during the briefing at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Bolden is a four time veteran space shuttle astronaut.

“This work is part of a vital strategy to equip our nation with the technologies for the future and inspire a new generation of explorers to take the next giant leap for America.”

NASA's Stephanie Schierholz introduces the panel of Johnson Space Center Director Dr. Ellen Ochoa, seated, left, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Commercial Crew Program Manager Kathy Lueders, Boeing's John Elbon, SpaceX's Gwynne Shotwell and NASA astronaut Mike Fincke.  Credit:  NASA TV
NASA’s Stephanie Schierholz introduces the panel of Johnson Space Center Director Dr. Ellen Ochoa, seated, left, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Commercial Crew Program Manager Kathy Lueders, Boeing’s John Elbon, SpaceX’s Gwynne Shotwell, and NASA astronaut Mike Fincke at Jan. 26 commercial crew new conference. Credit: NASA TV

“We have been working overtime to get Americans back to space from US soil and end US reliance on Russia,” Bolden added. “My job is to ensure we get Americans back to space as soon as possible and safely.”

“We have been in-sourcing space jobs back to the US.”

“To do this we need for Congress to approve full funding for the Commercial Crew Program!”

“This and the ISS are a springboard to going beyond Earth. All this we are doing will enable us to get Humans to Mars!”

However – severe budget cuts by Congress forced NASA into a two year delay in the first commercial crew flights from 2015 to 2017 – and also forced NASA to pay hundreds of millions of more dollars to the Russians for crews seats instead of employing American aerospace workers.

On Sept. 16, 2014, Administrator Bolden announced that Boeing and SpaceX had won the high stakes and history making NASA competition to build the first ever private “space taxis” to launch American and partner astronauts to the ISS and restore America’s capability to launch our crews from American soil for the first time since 2011.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (left) announces the winners of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program development effort to build America’s next human spaceships launching from Florida to the International Space Station. Speaking from Kennedy’s Press Site, Bolden announced the contract award to Boeing and SpaceX to complete the design of the CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft. Former astronaut Bob Cabana, center, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Kathy Lueders, manager of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, and former International Space Station Commander Mike Fincke also took part in the announcement. Credit: Ken Kremer-
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (left) announces the winners of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program development effort to build America’s next human spaceships launching from Florida to the International Space Station. Speaking from Kennedy’s Press Site, Bolden announced the contract award to Boeing and SpaceX to complete the design of the CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft. Former astronaut Bob Cabana, center, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Kathy Lueders, manager of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, and former International Space Station Commander Mike Fincke also took part in the announcement. Credit: Ken Kremer-

During the Sept. 16 briefing at the Kennedy Space Center, Bolden announced at that time that contracts worth a total of $6.8 Billion were awarded to Boeing to build the manned CST-100 and to SpaceX to build the manned Dragon V2.

Boeing was awarded the larger share of the crew vehicle contract valued at $4.2 Billion while SpaceX was awarded a lesser amount valued at $2.6 Billion.

For extensive further details about Boeing’s CST-100 manned capsule, be sure to read my exclusive 2 part interview with Chris Ferguson, NASA’s final shuttle commander and now Boeing’s Commercial Crew Director: here and here.

And read about my visit to the full scale CST-100 mockup at its manufacturing facility at KSC – here and here.

B8SsB9UCQAElkbJ.jpg large

But the awards were briefly put on hold when the third bidder, Sierra Nevada Corp, protested the decision and thereby prevented NASA from discussing the awards until the issue was resolved by the General Accounting Office (GAO) earlier this month in favor of NASA.

Everyone involved is now free to speak about the awards and how they were decided.

Each company must successfully achieve a set of 10 vehicle and program milestones agreed to with NASA, as well as meeting strict certification and safety standards.

“There are launch pads out there already being upgraded and there is hardware already being delivered,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of the Kennedy Space Center-based Commercial Crew Program.

“Both companies have already accomplished their first milestones.”

Every American astronaut has been totally reliant on the Russians and their three person Soyuz capsules for seats to launch to the ISS since the forced retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle program in July 2011 following the final blastoff of orbiter Atlantis on the STS-135 mission.

Under the latest crew flight deal signed with Roscosmos [the Russian Federal Space Agency], each astronaut seat costs over $70 million.

“I don’t ever want to have to write another check to Roscosmos after 2017, hopefully,” said Bolden.

Under NASA’s commercial crew contracts, the average cost to fly US astronauts on the Dragon and CST-100 is $58 million vs. over $70 million on the Russian Soyuz.

At the briefing, Bolden indicated he was hopeful Congress would be more supportive of the program in the coming 2016 budget cycle than in the past that has already resulted in a 2 year delay in the first flights.

“Congress has started to understand the critical importance of commercial crew and cargo. They’ve seen, as a result of the performance of our providers, that this is not a hoax, it’s not a myth, it’s not a dream,” said Bolden.

“It’s something that’s really happening. I am optimistic that the Congress will accept the President’s proposal for commercial crew for 2016.”

The first unmanned test flights of the SpaceX Dragon V2 and Boeing CST-100 could take place by late 2016 or early 2017 respectively. Manned flights to the ISS would follow soon thereafter by the spring and summer of 2017.

Asked at the Jan. 26 briefing if he would fly aboard the private space ships, Administrator Bolden said:

“Yes. I can tell you that I would hop in a Dragon or a CST-100 in a heartbeat.”

Hatch opening to Boeing’s commercial CST-100 crew transporter.  Credit: Ken Kremer -
Hatch opening to Boeing’s commercial CST-100 crew transporter. Credit: Ken Kremer –

Boeing’s plans for the CST-100 involve conducting a pad abort test in February 2017, followed by an uncrewed orbital flight test in April 2017, and then a crewed flight with a Boeing test pilot and a NASA astronaut in July 2017, as outlined at the briefing by John Elbon, vice president and general manager of Boeing’s Space Exploration division.

“It’s a very exciting time with alot in development on the ISS, SLS, and Commercial Crew. Never before in the history of human spaceflight has there been so much going on all at once,” said John Elbon. “NASA’s exploring places we didn’t even know existed 100 years ago.”

“We are building the CST-100 structural test article.”

Meet Dragon V2 - SpaceX CEO Elon pulls the curtain off manned Dragon V2 on May 29, 2014 for worldwide unveiling of SpaceX's new astronaut transporter for NASA. Credit: SpaceX
Meet Dragon V2 – SpaceX CEO Elon pulls the curtain off manned Dragon V2 on May 29, 2014, for worldwide unveiling of SpaceX’s new astronaut transporter for NASA. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX’s plans for the Dragon V2 were outlined by Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX.

“The Dragon V2 builds on the cargo Dragon. First up is a pad abort in about a month [at Cape Canaveral], then an in-flight abort test later this year [at Vandenberg to finish up development work from the prior CCiCAP phase],” said Shotwell.

“An uncrewed flight test is planned for late 2016 followed by a crewed flight test in early 2017.”

“We understand the incredible responsibility we’ve been given to carry crew. We should fly over 50 Falcon 9’s before crewed flight.”

Both the Boeing CST 100 and SpaceX Dragon V2 will launch from the Florida Space Coast, home to all US astronaut flights since the dawn of the space age.

The Boeing CST-100 will launch atop a human rated United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL.

The SpaceX Dragon will launch atop a human rated Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket from neighboring Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Boeing’s commercial CST-100 'Space Taxi' will carry a crew of five astronauts to low Earth orbit and the ISS from US soil.   Mockup with astronaut mannequins seated below pilot console and Samsung tablets was unveiled on June 9, 2014 at its planned manufacturing facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer -
Boeing’s commercial CST-100 “Space Taxi” will carry a crew of five astronauts to low Earth orbit and the ISS from US soil. Mockup with astronaut mannequins seated below pilot console and Samsung tablets was unveiled on June 9, 2014, at its planned manufacturing facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer –
A look through the open hatch of the Dragon V2 reveals the layout and interior of the seven-crew capacity spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis
A look through the open hatch of the Dragon V2 reveals the layout and interior of the seven-crew capacity spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

NASA-Russia Breach Will Not Affect UrtheCast Cameras On Space Station, Company Says

One of the first pictures released from UrtheCast in April 2014 showed several hundred square miles around Moneague, Jamaica. Credit: UrtheCast

UrtheCast — the company aiming to bring high-definition pictures of Earth to the public — is among the exemptions after NASA severed most ties officially with Russia yesterday (April 2), the company said in a press release.

“It is business as usual for the company, as we continue the commissioning of our cameras on the International Space Station,” stated Wade Larson, UrtheCast President and chief operating officer.

“The ISS has long enjoyed a privileged position in international diplomacy and has survived unscathed during multiple international crises in recent years. In fact, we understand that the ISS has been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. I think that says a lot.”

The news came around the same time that UrtheCast revealed its first pictures from its two cameras, which were installed by Russian spacewalkers in January following a failed attempt in December.

The new pictures reveal a few hundred square miles of Moneague, Jamaica and Santa Cruz de Mara, Venezuela, both taken on March 28.

“This is a pivotal moment for the company and for everyone who’s been a part of the vision that we set in motion in the fall of 2010. Our team has been working extremely hard to make certain that we reach this goal of democratizing a very powerful perspective on the planet,” stated Scott Larson, UrtheCast co-founder and chief executive officer.

The company is promising there will soon be a “near realtime” stream of Earth observations from the cameras’ perch on the International Space Station. Read more about the company’s plans in this past Universe Today story.

Following a leaked memo early yesterday, NASA released an official statement saying that it would sever most ties with Russia except for those related to International Space Station operations. The United States is among several countries condemning Russia’s decision to bring troops to Crimea a few weeks ago. The decision will likely affect several planetary science agreements with Russia, planetary scientist Barbara Cohen said on Twitter after the news was released.

Two Workers Killed at Russian Launch Facility

Main service gantry of the Angara pad in Plesetsk under construction in April 2013. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense, via Russian Space Web.

Reports coming out of Russia say that two people were killed at the Plesetsk space launch facility last week while doing routine work cleaning out a propellant tank. The Russian newspaper Ria Novosti said that on November 9, 2013, two workers were killed and three others were hospitalized after being exposed to poisonous nitrogen vapors while doing maintenance at the facility. Officials from the Russia Defense Ministry were quoted as saying the accident appeared to have been caused by failure to follow safety regulations.

The Plesetsk cosmodrome is located in the northwestern Arkhangelsk province. The facility has been undergoing refurbishing to take over a majority of the launches as Russia looks to reduce reliance on the Baikonur cosmodrome, which it leases from the former Soviet nation of Kazakhstan.

Currently, Russia uses Plesetsk to test intercontinental ballistic missile and to launch satellites, but they are hoping to use new facilities by next year to test the Angara heavy rocket.

Ria Novosti said it was unclear what accounted for the delay between the incident and its announcement, “but sensitive military issues are typically kept highly confidential in Russia.”

Unfortunately, over 50 people have been killed at this launch facility since 1973. In June of 1973, 9 people were killed by an explosion of Cosmos-3M rocket; in March of 1980, 48 people were killed by an explosion of a Vostok-2M rocket with a Tselina satellite, during a fueling operation; and in October of 2002, a Soyuz-U carrying the ESA Foton-M1 project failed to launch and exploded, killing one.

Right now, just one-fourth of Russia’s launches occur from within Russia itself, but Russia’s Federal Space Agency hope to have nine-tenths of its space launches from Plesetsk and the Vostochny cosmodrome by 2030.

Sources: Ria Novosti, Russian Space Web

Rocket Failures May Spur Change In Russian Federal Space Agency: Report

Archive picture of a Proton launch. Image credit: ILS

It appears that the Russian government wants to take action over the string of unmanned mission failures beleaguering Roscosmos, or the Russian Federal Space Agency. A recent example includes the loss in June of three GLONASS navigation/positioning satellites in a launch failure. In 2011, Roscosmos lost four major missions, including the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft that was bound for the Martian moon Phobos.

RIA Novosti reports that Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister, plans to create a new state entity to take over space manufacturing. The proposed United Rocket and Space Corporation, the report says, will reduce the reliance on imported parts to get missions off the ground, among other aims.

“A new state corporation will be created to take over manufacturing facilities from the Federal Space Agency, whose prestige has been severely dented in recent years by a string of failed rocket launches,” the report says. “The proposed United Rocket and Space Corporation will enable the trimming away of redundant departments replicated elsewhere in the space industry.”

As for Roscosmos itself, the report hints that other changes could be on the way. Its envisioned role is to “act as a federal executive body and contracting authority for programs to be implemented by the industry.” There are expected to be changes in management, among other measures.

The agency was formed after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 and is responsible for most of Russia’s space activities. Russia’s heritage in space actually stretches back to the dawn of the space age in the 1950s and 1960s, when the country became the first nation to launch a satellite (Sputnik) and a human (Yuri Gagarin), among other milestones.

Read the whole report in Roscosmos.

Gerbils, mice perish as Russian spacecraft returns to Earth

Bion-M's mission patch. Credit: NASA

A menagarie of animals launched to space last month has arrived back on Earth — with a few casualties for the voyage.

Bion-M, a small satellite carrying gerbils, lizards, mice and other critters, launched in April from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia and arrived, as planned, safely on Earth on Sunday (May 19).

However, not all of the assorted crew survived the voyage.

“This is the first time that animals have been put in space on their own for so long,” said Vladimir Sychov of the Russian Academy of Sciences, as reported by several news agencies. Half of the 45 mice were lost in the journey, which was expected, but the eight gerbils unexpectedly died “because of equipment failure”, he added.

The Bion-M hardware is readied for flight. Credit: Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos)
The Bion-M hardware is readied for flight. Credit: Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos)

Still, the scientists expect to pull a lot of long-duration data out of the mission. It is expected to help scientists better understand the effects of microgravity on biological organisms, with applications for long human voyages such as a trip to Mars.

Microgravity does a number on human systems, as just-returned-from-space astronaut Chris Hadfield eloquently described recently.

Bones lose calcium, muscles shrink and there are changes to your blood pressure flow and even your eyes. Taking a trip to space is like experiencing aging on fast-forward (although luckily, the effects are mostly reversible.)

Michael Foale on the ISS's treadmill. Credit: NASA
Michael Foale on the ISS’s treadmill. Astronauts on station exercise two hours a day, typically, to fight against microgravity’s effects. Credit: NASA

“Knowledge gained in the use of animals reveals the fundamental mechanisms of adaptation to spaceflight,” NASA stated in a web page about the mission. “Such knowledge provides insight for potential long-duration human spaceflight risk mitigation strategies and potential new approaches for Earth bound biomedical problems.”

Before Bion-M journeyed to space, most mouse studies only took place during space shuttle missions that were in orbit for a maximum of two weeks. The new 30-day mission doubled the length of previous studies and also allow more advanced technologies to be brought to bear on the science, stated NASA, who participated in the mission.

“NASA researchers will study the cellular mechanisms responsible for spaceflight-induced changes on tissues and cell growth in mice, including muscle, bone and the cardiovascular and reproductive systems,” the agency wrote in an April press release. “They also will study behavioral effects in gerbils.”

Other questions long-term voyages have to consider: the effects of radiation on your body, and whether it is ethical to conceive children in microgravity.

Still, that’s not deterring thousands of people from signing up for a one-way trip to Mars with the private group Mars One.

Awesome Map of Space Agencies Around the World

When you think of space agencies around the world, what comes to mind? Probably NASA, ESA, ISRO and JAXA are the acronyms you know; then there’s the Russian Federal Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, and the China National Space Agency. But did you know there are dozens of countries with space agencies, with nearly 200 space agencies and centers around the world? Blogger Heather Archuletta has put together a map and list of all the space agencies on the planet, including countries you may not have realized had a space agency such as Argentina, Bulgaria, Pakistan Morocco, and more. The list includes links to all the space agency’s websites and a link to an interactive Google Map. The immediate thought that came to mind, which Heather shared on Twitter was, ROAD TRIP!

For any space nerd, that would be the ultimate global trek, to visit every space agency in the world. With all the NASA and Russian centers and all the various countries in ESA, your trip would include 198 locations around our planet!

Heather is known for her Pillownaut blog which originally detailed her time participating in NASA bedrest studies to simulate long duration spaceflight. The space agency map was a new project, born from a conversation with a friend.

“Overall, I created it to be a tracking tool, and to show how huge the space industry has become,” Heather told Universe Today. “Many people think of the space game as being the US, Russia and a handful of Europeans… but truly, lifestyle in many countries is dependent upon the use of space, even if it’s just as simple as remote sensing or collaborative satellites.”

Heather noted that the map includes one site in India that is not operational yet, but built.

But consider how many jobs around the world have been created because of space exploration… and these jobs employ some of the best and brightest minds in forward-thinking, global-enriching ways. And even more, there’s now the burgeoning private space industry that is employing even more people with jobs that focus on the future.

Check out and plan your space-nerd road trip today!

Phobos-Grunt and Yinghuo-1 Encapsulated for Voyage to Mars and Phobos

Phobos-Grunt spacecraft being encapsulated inside the nose cone for November 9 launch to Mars and its tiny moon Phobos. Credit: Roscosmos


Phobo-Grunt, Russia’s first interplanetary mission in nearly two decades, has now been encapsulated inside the payload fairing and sealed to the payload adapter for mating to the upper stage of the Zenit booster rocket that will propel the probe to Mars orbit and carry out history’s first ever landing on the petite Martian moon Phobos and eventually return pristine samples to Earth for high powered scientific analysis.

Phobos-Grunt will launch on November 9, 2011 at 00:16 a.m. Moscow time [Nov. 8 3:16 p.m. EST],” said Alexey Kuznetsov, Head of the Roscosmos Press Office in an exclusive interview with Universe Today. Roscosmos is the Russian Federal Space Agency, equivalent to NASA and ESA.

“The launch window extends until November 25.”

“At this moment we are preparing the “Zenit-2SB” launch vehicle, the cruise propulsion system and the “Phobos Grunt” automatic interplanetary station at the Baikonur Cosmodrome,” Kuznetzov told me. Phobos-Grunt translates as Phobos-Soil.

Phobos-Grunt spacecraft attached to payload adapter prior to encapsulation. Note folded solar panels, gold colored sample transfer tube leading to return capsule, landing legs, antennae and propulsion tanks. Credit: Roscosmos

China’s first ever mission to Mars, the Yinghuo-1 micro-satellite, is also encased inside the nose cone and is tucked in a truss segment between the lander and interplanetary propulsion stage.

Yinghuo-1 follows closely on the heels of China’s stunning success in demonstrating the nation’s first ever docking in space between two Chinese spacecraft earlier this week on November 3.

Sealing up Phobos-Grunt. Credit: Roscosmos

Technicians completed the two vehicles enclosure inside the protective fairing at Building 31 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome and have now transported the spaceships to Building 41 where the payload is now being stacked to the upgraded “Fregat-SB” upper stage atop the Zenit-2SB rocket.

Martian moon Phobos imaged by Mars Express Orbiter from ESA. Credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

The payload fairing protects the Phobos-Grunt and Yinghuo-1 spacecraft during the first few minutes of flight from the intense frictional heating and buildup of aerodynamic pressures. After the rocket soars through the discernable atmosphere the fairing splits in half and is jettisoned and falls back to Earth.

The nose cone sports a beautiful mission logo painted on the side of the fairing along with the logos of various Russian and International partner agencies and science institutes.

Phobos-Grunt payload fairing. Credit: Roscosmos

Propellants have already been loaded aboard the cruise stage, Phobos-Grunt lander and Earth return vehicle.

“The Phobos Grunt automatic interplanetary station was built, prepared and tested at NPO Lavochkin [near Moscow]. They were also responsible for inspection of the devices, instruments and systems integration,” Kuzntezov explained.

“Significant improvements and modifications and been made to both the “Fregat-SB” upper stage and the “Zenit-2SB” rocket,” said Kuznetzov.

View inside nose cone and preparing to encapsulate Phobos-Grunt. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roscosmos

Phobos-Grunt will blastoff from Launch Pad 45 at Baikonur,

Following an 11 month journey, the spaceship will enter Mars orbit in October 2012, spend several months investigating Phobos and then land around February 2013.

The goal is to snatch up to 200 grams of soil and rock from Phobos and fly them back to Earth in a small capsule set to plummet through the atmosphere in August 2014.

ESA, the European Space Agency, is assisting Russia determine a safe landing site by targeting their Mars Express Orbiter to collect high resolution images of Phobos. Look at 2 D and 3 D images and an animation here.

The regolith samples will help teach volumes about the origin and evolution of Phobos, Mars and the Solar System. Scientists would be delighted if miniscule bits of Martian soil were mixed in with Phobos soil.

Phobos-Grunt , Earth’s next mission to Mars, is equipped with an advanced 50 kg payload array of some 20 science instruments.

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover was also enclosed in her payload fairing a few days ago and is on course for liftoff on November 25.

The Phobos-Grunt spacecraft is scheduled to blastoff on November 9, 2011 from Baikonur Cosmodrome. It will reach Mars orbit in 2012 and eventually land on Phobos and return the first ever soil samples back to Earth in 2014. Credit Roscosmos

Read Ken’s continuing features about Phobos-Grunt here:
Phobos and Jupiter Conjunction in 3 D and Amazing Animation – Blastoff to Martian Moon near
Russia Fuels Phobos-Grunt and sets Mars Launch for November 9
Phobos-Grunt and Yinghou-1 Arrive at Baikonur Launch Site to tight Mars Deadline
Phobos-Grunt: The Mission Poster
Daring Russian Sample Return mission to Martian Moon Phobos aims for November Liftoff

Read Ken’s continuing features about Curiosity & Nov. 25 launch starting here:
Closing the Clamshell on a Martian Curiosity
Curiosity Buttoned Up for Martian Voyage in Search of Life’s Ingredients
Assembling Curiosity’s Rocket to Mars
Encapsulating Curiosity for Martian Flight Test
Dramatic New NASA Animation Depicts Next Mars Rover in Action

Success ! Launch Video of Crucial Russian Rocket to ISS puts Human Flights back on Track

The unpiloted ISS Progress 45 cargo craft launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA TV

Video caption: Liftoff of unmanned Russian Progress craft atop Soyuz booster on Oct. 30, 2011 from Baikonur Cosmodrome. Credit: NASA TV/Roscosmos.
Photos and rocket rollout video below

The very future of the International Space Station was on the line this morning as the Russian Progress 45 cargo ship successfully launched this morning from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 6:11 a.m. EDT (4:11 p.m. Baikonur time) on Oct. 30, 2011, bound for the ISS.

Today’s (Oct. 30) blastoff of the Soyuz rocket booster that is used for both the Progress cargo resupply missions and the Soyuz manned capsules was the first since the failure of the third stage of the prior Progress 44 mission on August 24 which crashed in Siberia.

The third stage is nearly identical for both the manned and unmanned versions of the normally highly reliable Soyuz booster rocket.

Today’s success therefore opens up the door to resumption of crewed flights to the ISS, which were grounded by Russia after the unexpected loss of the Progress 44 mission.

If this Progress flight had failed, the ISS would have had to be left in an uncrewed state for the first time since continuous manned occupation began more than 10 years ago and would have significantly increased the risk for survival of the ISS in the event of a major malfunction and no human presence on board to take swift corrective action.

Liftoff of Soyuz rocket with Progress 45 to ISS from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Credit:RIA Novosti

NASA issued the following statement from Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA Headquarters in Washington, about the launch of the Progress 45 spacecraft.

“We congratulate our Russian colleagues on Sunday’s successful launch of ISS Progress 45, and the spacecraft is on its way to the International Space Station. Pending the outcome of a series of flight readiness meetings in the coming weeks, this successful flight sets the stage for the next Soyuz launch, planned for mid-November. The December Soyuz mission will restore the space station crew size to six and continue normal crew rotations.”

Progress 45 is carrying nearly 3 tons of supplies to the ISS, including food, water, clothing, spare parts, fuel, oxygen and science experiments for use by the resident crews.

The resupply vehicle achieved the desired preliminary orbit after the eight and one half minute climb to space and deployed its solar arrays and communications antennae’s.

After a two day chase, Progress 45 will automatically link up with the ISS at the Pirs Docking Compartment on Nov. 2 at 7:40 a.m (EDT) and deliver 1,653 pounds of propellant, 110 pounds of oxygen and air, 926 pounds of water and 3,108 pounds of spare parts, experiment hardware and other supplies for the Expedition 29 crew.

Progress 45 atop Soyuz-U booster awaits liftoff from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Credit: Roscosmos

The successful launch sets the stage for the launch of the station’s next three residents on Nov. 13. NASA’s Dan Burbank and Russia’s Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin will arrive at the station Nov. 16, joining NASA’s Mike Fossum, Russia’s Sergei Volkov and Japan’s Satoshi Furukawa for about six days before Fossum, Volkov and Furukawa return home.

Liftoff of Burbank’s crew was delayad from the original date on September 22 following the Progress failure in August. Because of the delayed Soyuz crew launch, the handover period from one crew to the next had to be cut short.

Since the forced retirement of the Space Shuttle, the US has absolutely no way to send human crews to orbit for several years to come at a minimum and is totally reliant on Russia.

The survival of the ISS with humans crews on board is therefore totally dependent on a fully functioning and reliable Soyuz rocket.

Video caption: Rollout of Soyuz rocket and Progress cargo craft to Baikonur launch pad.

Read Ken’s continuing features about Soyuz from South America here:
Video Duet – Soyuz Debut Blast off from the Amazon Jungle and Rockin’ Russian Rollout !
Historic 1st Launch of Legendary Soyuz from South America
Russian Soyuz Poised for 1st Blastoff from Europe’s New South American Spaceport