Good Morning, Space Station … A Dragon Soars Soon!

Good Morning, Space Station!

It’s sunrise from space – one of 16 that occur daily as the massive lab complex orbits the Earth about every 90 minutes while traveling swiftly at about 17,500 mph and an altitude of about 250 miles (400 kilometers).

Just stare in amazement at this gorgeous sunrise view of “Our Beautiful Earth” taken earlier today, Jan. 3, 2015, aboard the International Space Station (ISS) by crewmate and NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore.

And smack dab in the middle is the Canadian-built robotic arm that will soon snatch a soaring Dragon!

Wilmore is the commander of the ISS Expedition 42 crew of six astronauts and cosmonauts hailing from three nations: America, Russia and Italy.

He is accompanied by astronauts Terry Virts from NASA and Samantha Cristoforetti from the European Space Agency (ESA) as well as by cosmonauts Aleksandr Samokutyayev, Yelena Serova, and Anton Shkaplerov from Russia.

All told the crew of four men and two women see 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets each day. During the daylight periods, temperatures reach 200 ºC, while temperatures plunge drastically during the night periods to -200 ºC.

Here’s another beautiful ISS sunset view captured on Christmas by Terry Virts:

Astronaut Terry Virts on the International Space Station shared this beautiful sunrise image on Twitter saying "Sunrise on Christmas morning - better than any present I could ask for!!!!"  Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
Astronaut Terry Virts on the International Space Station shared this beautiful sunrise image on Twitter saying “Sunrise on Christmas morning – better than any present I could ask for!!!!” Credit: NASA/Terry Virts

Virts tweeted the picture and wrote: “Sunrise on Christmas morning – better than any present I could ask for!!!!”

Another treasure from Virts shows the many splendid glorious colors of Earth seen from space but not from the ground:

“In space you see intense colors, shades of blue that I’d never seen before,” says NASA astronaut Terry Virts. Credit: NASA/@astro_terry
Sunset Over the Gulf of Mexico
“In space you see intense colors, shades of blue that I’d never seen before,” says NASA astronaut Terry Virts. Credit: NASA/@astro_terry

“In space you see intense colors, shades of blue that I’d never seen before,” says Virts from his social media accounts (http://instagram.com/astro_terry/) (http://instagram.com/iss).

“It’s been said a thousand times but it’s true: There are no borders that you can see from space, just one beautiful planet,” he says. “If everyone saw the Earth through that lens I think it would be a much better place.”

And many of the crews best images are taken from or of the 7 windowed Cupola.

Here’s an ultra cool shot of Butch waving Hi!

“Hi from the cupola!” #AstroButch.  Credit: NASA/ISS
“Hi from the cupola!” #AstroButch. Credit: NASA/ISS

And they all eagerly await the launch and arrival of a Dragon! Indeed it’s the SpaceX cargo Dragon currently slated for liftoff in three days on Tuesday, Jan. 6.

Weather odds are currently 60% favorable for launch of the unmanned space station resupply ship on the SpaceX CRS-5 mission.

The launch was postponed from Dec. 19 when a static fire test of the first stage engines on Dec. 17 shut down prematurely.

A second static fire test of the SpaceX Falcon 9 went the full duration of approximately 3 seconds and cleared the path for a liftoff attempt after the Christmas holidays.

New countdown clock at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center displays SpaceX Falcon 9 CRS-5 mission and recent Orion ocean recovery at the Press Site viewing area on Dec. 18, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
New countdown clock at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center displays SpaceX Falcon 9 CRS-5 mission and recent Orion ocean recovery at the Press Site viewing area on Dec. 18, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

CRS-5 is slated to blast off at 6:20 a.m. EST Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

NASA Television live launch coverage begins at 5 a.m. EST.

Assuming all goes well, Dragon will rendezvous at the ISS on Thursday, Jan. 8, for grappling and berthing by the astronauts maneuvering the 57 foot-long (22 m) Canadian built robotic arm.

Remember that you can always try and catch of glimpse of the ISS flying overhead by checking NASA’s Spot the Station website with a complete list of locations.

It’s easy to plug in and determine visibilities in your area worldwide.

And don’t forget to catch up on the Christmas holiday and New Year’s 2015 imagery and festivities from the station crews in my recent stories – here, here and here.

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

Ken Kremer

Happy New Year! Celebrating from space with @AstroTerry.  Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
Happy New Year! Celebrating from space with @AstroTerry. Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
ISS Expedition 42. Credit: NASA/ESA/Roscosmos
ISS Expedition 42. Credit: NASA/ESA/Roscosmos

Our Beautiful Earth – Happy New Year Photos and Greetings from the ISS Crew

Spectacular View of the Alps From Space!
Expedition 42 Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency (ESA) took this photograph of the Alps from the International Space Station. She wrote, “I’m biased, but aren’t the Alps from space spectacular? What a foggy day on the Po plane, though! #Italy” Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti
Updated with more images[/caption]

As we say goodbye to 2014 and ring in New Year 2015, the Expedition 42 crew living and working aboard the International Space Station enjoys the new gallery of images they’ve sent back of “Our Beautiful Earth.”

The current six person crew includes astronauts and cosmonauts from three nations – America, Russia, and Italy – and the four men and two women are celebrating New Year’s 2015 aboard the massive orbiting lab complex.

Happy New Year! Celebrating from space with @AstroTerry.  Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
Happy New Year! Celebrating from space with @AstroTerry. Credit: NASA/Terry Virts

They comprise Expedition 42 Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Terry Virts from NASA, Samantha Cristoforetti from the European Space Agency (ESA), and cosmonauts Aleksandr Samokutyayev, Yelena Serova, and Anton Shkaplerov from Russia.

Beauty everywhere! Flying from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea, this appeared through the clouds.#HelloEarth.  Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti
Beauty everywhere! Flying from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea, this appeared through the clouds.#HelloEarth. Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti

The ISS has been continuously occupied by humans for 15 years. And they are joined by Robonaut 2 who recently got legs.

This area saw some serious action about 350 million years ago! Gweni-Fada meteorite crater in #Chad. Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti
This area saw some serious action about 350 million years ago! Gweni-Fada meteorite crater in #Chad. Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti

Terry Virts and Samantha Cristoforetti have been especially prolific in picture taking and posting to social media for us all to enjoy the view while speeding merrily along at 17,500 mph from an altitude of about 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Earth.

Here’s a special New Year video greeting from Wilmore and Virts:

Video Caption: Happy New Year from the International Space Station from NASA astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Terry Virts. Credit: NASA

“Happy New Year from the International Space Station!” said Wilmore.

“We figure that we will be over midnight somewhere on the Earth on New Year’s for 16 times throughout this day. So we plan to celebrate New Year’s 16 times with our comrades and our people down on Earth.”

No sunsets until Jan 4th- we are in a "high beta" orbit now, so this is as dark as it gets.  Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
No sunsets until Jan 4th- we are in a “high beta” orbit now, so this is as dark as it gets. Credit: NASA/Terry Virts

“We wish everybody a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2015 as we get the awesome privilege of celebrating New Year’s here on the space station with our six station crewmates,” added Virts!

“We’ll enjoy our 16 New Year’s celebrations here.”

Part of the #Aral sea peaking through the clouds as we flew into #Kazakhstan! #HelloEarth.  Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti
Part of the #Aral sea peaking through the clouds as we flew into #Kazakhstan! #HelloEarth. Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti

They plan to celebrate the dawn of 2015 with fruit juice toasts, NASA reports.

The year 2015 starts officially for the station crew at midnight by the Universal Time Clock (UTC), also known as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), in London, or at 7 p.m. EST Dec. 31.

If I couldn't be in space right now I'd want to be here- #Hawaii.  Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
If I couldn’t be in space right now I’d want to be here- #Hawaii. Credit: NASA/Terry Virts

New Year’s Day 2015 is a day off for the crew.

And I’m certain they’ll be gazing out the windows capturing more views of “Our Beautiful Earth!”

42 è la risposta! // 42 is the answer! #Expedition42 Guide to the galaxy. Credit: @NASA_Astronauts #AstroButch
42 è la risposta! // 42 is the answer! #Expedition42 Guide to the galaxy. Credit: @NASA_Astronauts #AstroButch

And don’t forget to catch up on the Christmas holiday imagery and festivities from the station crews in my recent stories – here and here.

#NewYork NewYork! Can almost see the Statue of Liberty. Which is, by the way, #UNESCO#WorldHeritage! Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti
#NewYork NewYork! Can almost see the Statue of Liberty. Which is, by the way, #UNESCO#WorldHeritage! Credit: NASA/ESA/Samantha Cristoforetti

Be sure to remember that you can always try and catch of glimpse of the ISS flying overhead by checking NASA’s Spot the Station website with a complete list of locations.

It’s easy to plug in and determine visibilities in your area worldwide. And try to shoot a time-lapse view like mine below.

ISS streaks over Princeton, NJ - time lapse image.  Credit: Ken Kremer
ISS streaks over Princeton, NJ – time lapse image. Credit: Ken Kremer

Meanwhile the crew continues science operations and preparations for next week’s arrival of the next unmanned space station resupply ship on the SpaceX CRS-5 mission.

CRS-5 is slated to blast off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Jan. 6 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

 SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is set to soar to ISS after completing  successful static fire test on Dec. 19 ahead of planned CRS-5 mission for NASA in early January 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is set to soar to the ISS after completing a successful static fire test on Dec. 19 ahead of the planned CRS-5 mission for NASA in early January 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

ISS astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore, NASA, Samantha Cristoforetti, ESA and Terry Virts, NASA send Christmas 2014 greetings from the space station to the people of Earth.  Credit: NASA/ESA
ISS astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore, NASA, Samantha Cristoforetti, ESA, and Terry Virts, NASA, send Christmas 2014 greetings from the space station to the people of Earth. Credit: NASA/ESA
ISS Expedition 42. Credit: NASA/ESA/Roscosmos
ISS Expedition 42. Credit: NASA/ESA/Roscosmos

Station Astronauts Send Christmas Greetings from the International Space Station

ISS astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore, NASA, Samantha Cristoforetti, ESA and Terry Virts, NASA send Christmas 2014 greetings from the space station to the people of Earth. Credit: NASA/ESA
Story/pics expanded. Send holiday tweet to crew below![/caption]

There is a long tradition of Christmas greetings from spacefarers soaring around the High Frontier and this year is no exception!

The Expedition 42 crew currently serving aboard the International Space Station has decorated the station for the Christmas 2014 holiday season and send their greetings to all the people of Earth from about 240 miles (400 km) above!

“Merry Christmas from the International Space Station!” said astronauts Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts of NASA and Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA, who posed for the group shot above.

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti is in the holiday spirit as the station is decorated with stockings for each crew member and a tree.  Credit: NASA/ESA
Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti is in the holiday spirit as the station is decorated with stockings for each crew member and a tree. Credit: NASA/ESA

“It’s beginning to look like Christmas on the International Space Station,” said NASA in holiday blog update.

“The stockings are out, the tree is up and the station residents continue advanced space research to benefit life on Earth and in space.”

And the six person crew including a trio of Russian cosmonauts, Aleksandr Samokutyayev, Yelena Serova, and Anton Shkaplerov who celebrate Russian Orthodox Christmas, are certainly hoping for and encouraging a visit from Santa. Terry Virts even tweeted a picture of the special space style milk and cookies awaiting Santa and his Reindeer for the imminent arrival!

“No chimney up here- so I left powdered milk and freeze dried cookies in the airlock. Fingers crossed,” tweeted Virts.

No chimney up here- so I left powdered milk and freeze dried cookies in the airlock. Fingers crossed.  Credit: NASA/Terry Virts
No chimney up here- so I left powdered milk and freeze dried cookies in the airlock. Fingers crossed. Credit: NASA/Terry Virts

And here’s a special Christmas video greeting from Wilmore and Virts:

Video Caption: Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 42 Commander Barry Wilmore and Flight Engineer Terry Virts of NASA offered their thoughts and best wishes to the world for the Christmas holiday during downlink messages from the orbital complex on Dec. 17. Wilmore has been aboard the research lab since late September and will remain in orbit until mid-March 2015. Virts arrived at the station in late November and will stay until mid-May 2015. Credit: NASA

“We wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Christmas for us is a time of worship. It’s a time that we think back to the birth of what we consider our Lord. And we do that in our homes and we plan to do the same thing up here and take just a little bit of time just to reflect on those topics and, also, just as the Wise Men gave gifts, we have a couple of gifts,” Wilmore says in the video.

“It’s such an honor and so much fun to be able to celebrate Christmas up here. This is definitely a Christmas that we’ll remember, getting a chance to see the beautiful Earth,” added Virts. “Have fun with your family. Merry Christmas!”

And you can send a holiday tweet to the crew – here:
holiday-tweet-banner-02

Meanwhile the crew is still hard at work doing science and preparing for the next space station resupply mission launch by SpaceX from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is now set to blastoff on Jan. 6, 2015 carrying the Dragon cargo freighter on the CRS-5 mission bound for the ISS.

The launch was postponed from Dec. 19 when a static fire test of the first stage engines on Dec. 17 shut down prematurely.

 SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is set to soar to ISS after completing  successful static fire test on Dec. 19 ahead of planned CRS-5 mission for NASA in early January 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is set to soar to ISS after completing successful static fire test on Dec. 19 ahead of planned CRS-5 mission for NASA in early January 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

A second static fire test of the SpaceX Falcon 9 went the full duration and cleared the path for the Jan. 6 liftoff attempt.

Among the science studies ongoing according to NASA are:

“Behavioral testing for the Neuromapping study to assess changes in a crew member’s perception, motor control, memory and attention during a six-month space mission. Results will help physicians understand brain structure and function changes in space, how a crew member adapts to returning to Earth and develop effective countermeasures.”

“Another study is observing why human skin ages at a quicker rate in space than on Earth. The Skin B experiment will provide scientists a model to study the aging of other human organs and help future crew members prepare for long-term missions beyond low-Earth orbit.”

Merry Christmas to All!

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

Ken Kremer

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.)