SpaceX Resets CRS-6 Space Station Launch to April 13 with Booster Landing Attempt

The clock is ticking towards the next launch of a SpaceX cargo vessel to the International Space Station (ISS) hauling critical supplies to the six astronauts and cosmonauts serving aboard, that now includes the first ever ‘One-Year Mission’ station crew comprising NASA’s Scott Kelly and Russia’s Mikhail Kornienko.

The mission, dubbed SpaceX CRS-6 (Commercial Resupply Services-6) will also feature the next daring attempt by SpaceX to recover the Falcon 9 booster rocket through a precision guided soft landing onto an ocean-going barge.

SpaceX and NASA are now targeting blastoff of the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft for Monday, April 13, just over a week from now, at approximately 4:33 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

NASA Television plans live launch coverage starting at 3:30 p.m.

The launch window is instantaneous, meaning that the rocket must liftoff at the precisely appointed time. Any delays due to weather or technical factors will force a scrub.

The backup launch day in case of a 24 hour scrub is Tuesday, April 14, at approximately 4:10 p.m.

Falcon 9 launches have been delayed due to issues with the rockets helium pressurization bottles that required investigation.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo ship are set to liftoff on a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) from launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida on Jan. 6, 2015. File photo.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo ship are set to liftoff on a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) from launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. File photo. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The Falcon 9 first stage is outfitted with four landing legs and grid fins to enable the landing attempt, which is a secondary objective of SpaceX. Cargo delivery to the station is the overriding primary objective and the entire reason for the mission.

An on time launch on April 13 will result in the Dragon spacecraft rendezvousing with the Earth orbiting outpost Wednesday, April 15 after a two day orbital chase.

After SpaceX engineers on the ground maneuver the Dragon close enough to the station, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will use the station’s 57.7-foot-long (17-meter-long) robotic arm to reach out and capture Dragon at approximately 7:14 a.m. EDT on April 15.

Cristoforetti will be assisted by fellow Expedition 43 crew member and NASA astronaut Terry Virts, as they work inside the stations seven windowed domed cupola to berth Dragon at the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module.

SpaceX Dragon cargo ship approaches ISS, ready for grappling by astronauts. Credit: NASA
SpaceX Dragon cargo ship approaches ISS, ready for grappling by astronauts. Credit: NASA

Overall CRS-6 is the sixth SpaceX commercial resupply services mission and the seventh trip by a Dragon spacecraft to the station since 2012.

CRS-6 marks the company’s sixth operational resupply mission to the ISS under a $1.6 Billion contract with NASA to deliver 20,000 kg (44,000 pounds) of cargo to the station during a dozen Dragon cargo spacecraft flights through 2016 under NASA’s original Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.

Dragon is packed with more than 4,300 pounds (1915 kilograms) of scientific experiments, technology demonstrations, crew supplies, spare parts, food, water, clothing and assorted research gear for the six person Expedition 43 and 44 crews serving aboard the ISS.

The ship will remain berthed at the ISS for about five weeks.

The ISS cannot function without regular deliveries of fresh cargo by station partners from Earth.

The prior resupply mission, CRS-5, concluded in February with a successful Pacific Ocean splashdown and capsule recovery.

Introducing Landing Complex 1, formerly Launch Complex 13, at Cape Canaveral in Florida.  Credit: SpaceX
Introducing Landing Complex 1, formerly Launch Complex 13, at Cape Canaveral in Florida. Credit: SpaceX

The CRS-5 mission also featured SpaceX’s history making attempt at recovering the Falcon 9 first stage as a first of its kind experiment to accomplish a pinpoint soft landing of a rocket onto a tiny platform in the middle of a vast ocean using a rocket assisted descent.

As I wrote earlier at Universe Today, despite making a ‘hard landing’ on the vessel dubbed the ‘autonomous spaceport drone ship,’ the 14 story tall Falcon 9 first stage did make it to the drone ship, positioned some 200 miles offshore of the Florida-Carolina coast, northeast of the launch site in the Atlantic Ocean. The rocket broke into pieces upon hitting the barge.

Listen to my live radio interview with BBC 5LIVE conducted in January 2015, discussing SpaceX’s first attempt to land and return their Falcon-9 booster.

Watch for Ken’s onsite coverage of the CRS-6 launch from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

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

Ken Kremer

Year in Space Flight for Russian/American Crew Starts With Spectacular Night Launch and Station Docking

The first ever ‘One-Year Mission’ to the International Space Station (ISS) started with a bang today, March 27, with the spectacular night time launch of the Russian/American crew from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:42 p.m. EDT Friday (1:42 a.m., March 28 in Baikonur and culminated with a flawless docking this evening.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka launched aboard a Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft to the International Space Station precisely on time today on the Expedition 43 mission.

The crew rocketed to orbit from the same pad as Russia’s Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space.

Kelly and Kornienko will spend about a year living and working aboard the space station on the marathon mission. Padalka will remain on board for six months.

Streak shot of Expedition 43 Launch to the ISS on March 27 Eastern time, (March 28, 2015, Kazakh time)  from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with Scott Kelly, Mikhail Kornienko, and Gennady Padalka to start one-year ISS mission. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Streak shot of Expedition 43 Launch to the ISS on March 27 Eastern time, (March 28, 2015, Kazakh time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with Scott Kelly, Mikhail Kornienko, and Gennady Padalka to start one-year ISS mission. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The goal is to use the massive orbiting outpost to provide critical knowledge to NASA and researchers hoping to better understand how the human body reacts and adapts to long-duration spaceflight and the harsh environment of space.

The pathfinding mission is about double the normal time of most expeditions to the Earth orbiting space station, which normally last four to six months.

The one-year mission is among the first concrete steps to start fulfilling NASA’s “Journey to Mars” objective of sending “Humans to Mars” in the 2030s.

“Scott Kelly’s mission is critical to advancing the administration’s plan to send humans on a journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, in a statement.

“We’ll gain new, detailed insights on the ways long-duration spaceflight affects the human body.”

Year in Space Begins With Soyuz Launch.  Media photograph the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft as it launches to the ISS with Expedition 43 NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) onboard at 3:42 p.m. EDT Friday, March 27, 2015 (March 28 Kazakh time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Year in Space Begins With Soyuz Launch. Media photograph the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft as it launches to the ISS with Expedition 43 NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) onboard at 3:42 p.m. EDT Friday, March 27, 2015 (March 28 Kazakh time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

This evening the three man international crew successfully rendezvous and docked at the ISS at the Poisk module at 9:33 p.m. EDT – just four orbits and six hours after liftoff.

‘Contact and capture confirmed, 1 year crew has arrived,’ said the NASA launch commentator Don Huot. “The one-year crew has arrived.”

“Soyuz is firmly attached to the ISS.”

Soyuz spacecraft on final approach to dock with the ISS for #YearInSpace mission. Credit: NASA
Soyuz spacecraft on final approach to dock with the ISS for #YearInSpace mission. Credit: NASA

Docking took place about 253 kilometers off the western coast of Colombia, South America approximately 5 hours and 51 minutes after today’s flawless launch from Baikonur.

The crews are scheduled to open the hatches between the Soyuz and ISS at about 11:15 p.m. EDT/315 GMT this evening after conducting pressure, leak and safety checks.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly gives a thumbs-up from inside the Soyuz TMA-16M taking him and Expedition 43 crewmates Mikhail Kornienko, and Gennady Padalka of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) to the International Space Station after a successful launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.  Credit:  NASA
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly gives a thumbs-up from inside the Soyuz TMA-16M taking him and Expedition 43 crewmates Mikhail Kornienko, and Gennady Padalka of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) to the International Space Station after a successful launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA

The arrival of Kelly, Kornienko and Padalka returns the massive orbiting outpost to its full six person crew complement.

The trio joins the current three person station crew comprising Expedition 43 commander Terry Virts of NASA, as well as flight engineers Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency) and Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos, who have been aboard the complex since November 2014.

“Welcome aboard #Soyuz TMA-16M with Genna, Scott, and Misha- we just had a succesful docking,” tweeted Virts this evening post docking.

The 1 Year mission will provide baseline knowledge to NASA and its station partners – Roscosmos, ESA, CSA, JAXA – on how to prepare to send humans on lengthy deep space missions to Mars and other destinations in our Solar System.

A round-trip journey to Mars is likely to last three years or more! So we must determine how humans and their interactions can withstand the rigors of very long trips in space, completely independent of Earth.

Astronaut Scott Kelly will become the first American to live and work aboard the orbiting laboratory for a year-long mission and set a new American duration record.

Scott Kelly and Russian Cosmonauts Kornienko and Padalka are all veteran space fliers.

They have been in training for over two years since being selected in Nov. 2012.

No American has ever spent anywhere near a year in space. Four Russian cosmonauts – Valery Polyakov, Sergei Avdeyev, Vladimir Titov and Musa Manarov – conducted long duration stays of about a year or more in space aboard the Mir Space Station in the 1980s and 1990s.

Kelly and Kornienko will stay aboard the ISS until March 3, 2016, when they return to Earth on the Soyuz TMA-18M after 342 days in space. Kelly’s combined total of 522 days in space, will enable him to surpass current U.S. record holder Mike Fincke’s mark of 382 days.

Padalka will return in September after a six month stint, making him the world’s most experienced spaceflyer with a combined five mission total of 878 days in space.

NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko comprise  the first ever ISS 1 Year Crew
NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko comprise the first ever ISS 1 Year Crew

They will conduct hundreds of science experiments focusing on at least 7 broad areas of investigation including medical, psychological and biomedical challenges faced by astronauts during long-duration space flight, as well as the long term effects of weightlessness and space radiation on the human body.

Another very unique science aspect of the mission involves comparative medical studies with Kelly’s identical twin brother, former NASA astronaut and shuttle commander Mark Kelly.

“They will participate in a number of comparative genetic studies, including the collection of blood samples as well as psychological and physical tests. This research will compare data from the genetically identical Kelly brothers to identify any subtle changes caused by spaceflight,” says NASA.

Scott Kelly is a veteran NASA Space Shuttle commander who has previously flown to space three times aboard both the Shuttle and Soyuz. He also served as a space station commander during a previous six-month stay onboard.

Good luck and Godspeed to Kelly, Kornienko and Padalka – starting humanity on the road to Mars !!

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

Ken Kremer

Expedition 43 crew members Mikhail Kornienko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), top, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, center, and Gennady Padalka of Roscosmos wave farewell as they board the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft ahead of their launch to the International Space Station.  Credit:  NASA/Bill Ingalls
Expedition 43 crew members Mikhail Kornienko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), top, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, center, and Gennady Padalka of Roscosmos wave farewell as they board the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft ahead of their launch to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Weekly Space Hangout – March 27, 2015: Dark Matter Galaxy “X” with Dr. Sukanya Chakrabarti

Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain)
Special Guest: Dr. Sukanya Chakrabarti, Lead Investigator for team that may have discovered Dark Matter Galaxy “X”.

Guests:
Morgan Rehnberg (cosmicchatter.org / @MorganRehnberg )
Dave Dickinson (@astroguyz / www.astroguyz.com)
Brian Koberlein (@briankoberlein)
Continue reading “Weekly Space Hangout – March 27, 2015: Dark Matter Galaxy “X” with Dr. Sukanya Chakrabarti”

Historic 1 Year ISS Mission with Kelly and Kornienko Launches Today – Watch Live

Soyuz Spacecraft Rolled Out For Launch of One-Year Crew
The Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft is seen after having rolled out by train to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, March 25, 2015. NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) are scheduled to launch to the International Space Station in the Soyuz at 3:42 p.m. EDT, Friday, March 27 (March 28, Kazakh time). Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Watch live on NASA TV link below[/caption]

At long last, the first ever crew embarking on a 1 year mission to the International Space Station (ISS) – comprising NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko (both veterans) – is slated for blastoff just hours from now aboard a Soyuz capsule from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.

The history making launch is scheduled for 3:42 p.m. EDT/1942 GMT Friday, March 27 (March 28, Kazakh time) – with veteran Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka rounding out the three man crew of Expedition 43.

The Soyuz spacecraft and rocket have been rolled out to the launch pad for the one-year crew. The crew is boarding the Soyuz.

You can watch the launch live on NASA TV today. Click on this link: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html

NASA TV live launch coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. EDT.

NASA's Scott @StationCDRKelly with his #Exp43 crew heading for suit up and launch. Credit: NASA
NASA’s Scott @StationCDRKelly with his #Exp43 crew heading for suit up and launch. Credit: NASA

The crew will rendezvous and dock at the ISS at the Poisk module around 9:36 p.m EDT – only about four orbits and six hours after liftoff.

Hatch opening is schedule for about 11:15 p.m. EDT this evening.

NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko comprise  the first ever ISS 1 Year Crew
NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko comprise the first ever ISS 1 Year Crew

The one-year mission represents concrete first steps toward start fulfilling NASA’s “Journey to Mars” objective and sending “Humans to Mars” in the 2030s.

“The one-year mission in space, tests the limits of human research, space exploration and the human spirit,” says NASA.

The Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft is rolled out by train to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, March 25, 2015. NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly, and Russian Cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko, and Gennady Padalka of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) are scheduled to launch to the ISS on March 27, 2015.  Credit NASA/Bill Ingalls
The Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft is rolled out by train to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, March 25, 2015. NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly, and Russian Cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko, and Gennady Padalka of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) are scheduled to launch to the ISS on March 27, 2015. Credit NASA/Bill Ingalls

The pathfinding mission is about double the normal time of most expeditions to the Earth orbiting space station, which last four to six months.

The goal is to provide critical knowledge to NASA and researchers hoping to better understand how the human body reacts and adapts to long-duration spaceflight.

The 1 Year mission will provide baseline knowledge to NASA and its station partners – Roscosmos, ESA, CSA, JAXA – on how to prepare to send humans on lengthy deep space mission to Mars and other destinations into our Solar System.

Astronaut Scott Kelly will become the first American to live and work aboard the orbiting laboratory for a year-long mission and set a new American record.

Scott Kelly and Russian Cosmonauts Kornienko and Padalka are all veteran spacefliers.

They have been in training for over two years since being selected in Nov. 2012.

No American has ever spent anywhere near a year in space. 4 Russian cosmonauts conducted long duration stays of about a year or more in space aboard the Mir Space Station in the 1980s and 1990s.

Kelly and Kornienko will stay aboard the ISS until March 3, 2016, when they return to Earth on the Soyuz TMA-18M after 342 days in space. Kelly’s combined total of 522 days in space, will enable him to surpass current U.S. record holder Mike Fincke’s mark of 382 days.

Padalka will return in September after a six month stint, making him the world’s most experienced spaceflyer with a combined five mission total of 878 days in space.

They will conduct hundreds of science experiments focusing on at least 7 broad areas of investigation including medical, psychological and biomedical challenges faced by astronauts during long-duration space flight.

1 Year crew awaits launch aboard the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft on March 27, 2015. Credit: NASA
1 Year crew awaits launch aboard the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft on March 27, 2015. Credit: NASA

Kelly is a veteran NASA Space Shuttle commander who has previously flown to space aboard both the Shuttle and Soyuz. He also served as a space station commander during a previous six-month stay onboard.

Kelly was recently featured in a cover story at Time magazine.

Here’s an online link to the Time magazine story : http://ti.me/1w25Qgo

@TIME features @StationCDRKelly ‘s 1-year-long mission in it’s 2015: Year Ahead issue. http://ti.me/1w25Qgo
@TIME features @StationCDRKelly ‘s 1-year-long mission in it’s 2015: Year Ahead issue. http://ti.me/1w25Qgo

President Obama gave a shout out to NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly and his upcoming 1 year mission to the International Space Station (ISS) at the 2015 State of the Union address to the US Congress on Tuesday evening, Jan. 20, 2015.

Kelly’s flight will pave the way for NASA’s goal to send astronaut crews to Mars by the 2030s. They will launch in the Orion crew vehicle atop the agencies mammoth new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, simultaneously under development.

Read my coverage of Orion and SLS progress to stay up to date – including first hand from onsite at the Kennedy Space Center press site for the launch of Orion EFT-1 on Dec. 5, 2015.

Good luck and Godspeed to Kelly, Kornienko and Padalka – starting on the road to Mars !!

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

Ken Kremer

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly stands as he is recognized by President Barack Obama, while First lady Michelle Obama, front left, and other guest applaud, during the State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Jan. 20, 2015. This March, Astronaut Scott Kelly will launch to the International Space Station and become the first American to live and work aboard the orbiting laboratory for a year-long mission. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly stands as he is recognized by President Barack Obama, while First lady Michelle Obama, front left, and other guest applaud, during the State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Jan. 20, 2015. This March, Astronaut Scott Kelly will launch to the International Space Station and become the first American to live and work aboard the orbiting laboratory for a year-long mission. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014.   Launch pad remote camera view.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014. Launch pad remote camera view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

President Obama Salutes NASA, Astronaut Kelly, and 1 Year ISS Mission at State of the Union Address

President Obama gave a shout out to NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly and his upcoming 1 year mission to the International Space Station at the 2015 State of the Union address to the US Congress on Tuesday evening, Jan. 20, 2015.

Obama wished Kelly (pictured above in the blue jacket) good luck during his address and told him to send some photos from the ISS via Instagram. Kelly was seated with the First Lady, Michelle Obama, during the speech on Capitol Hill.

The TV cameras focused on Kelly and he was given a standing ovation by the Congress and the President.

Obama also praised Kelly’s flight and the recent Dec. 5, 2014, launch of NASA’s Orion deep space capsule as “part of a re-energized space program that will send American astronauts to Mars.”

Watch this video of President Obama hailing NASA and Scott Kelly:



Video Caption: President Obama recognizes NASA and Astronaut Scott Kelly at 2015 State of the Union Address. Credit: Congress/NASA

Here’s a transcript of President Obama’s words about NASA, Orion, and Scott Kelly’s 1 Year ISS mission:

“Pushing out into the Solar System not just to visit, but to stay. Last month, we launched a new spacecraft as part of a re-energized space program that will send American astronauts to Mars. In two months, to prepare us for those missions, Scott Kelly will begin a year-long stay in space. Good luck, Captain and make sure to Instagram it.”

In late March, Astronaut Scott Kelly will launch to the International Space Station and become the first American to live and work aboard the orbiting laboratory for a year-long mission.

Scott Kelly and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, both veteran spacefliers, comprise the two members of the 1 Year Mission crew.

Normal ISS stays last for about a six month duration.

NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko comprise  the first ever ISS 1 Year Crew
NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko comprise the first ever ISS 1 Year Crew

No American has ever spent anywhere near a year in space. 4 Russian cosmonauts conducted long duration stays of about a year or more in space aboard the Mir Space Station in the 1980s and 1990s.

Together with Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, Kelly and Kornienko will launch on a Russian Soyuz capsule from the Baikonur Cosmodrome as part of Expedition 44.

Kelly and Kornienko will stay aboard the ISS until March 2016.

They will conduct hundreds of science experiments focusing on at least 7 broad areas of investigation including medical, psychological, and biomedical challenges faced by astronauts during long-duration space flight.

During the 2015 State of the Union Address on Jan 20, President Obama lauds NASA’s Orion Spacecraft and our "re-energized space program."  Credit: NASA
During the 2015 State of the Union Address on Jan 20, President Obama lauds NASA’s Orion Spacecraft and our “re-energized space program.” Credit: NASA

Kelly was just featured in a cover story at Time magazine.

Here’s an online link to the Time magazine story : http://ti.me/1w25Qgo

@TIME features @StationCDRKelly ‘s 1-year-long mission in it’s 2015: Year Ahead issue. http://ti.me/1w25Qgo
@TIME features @StationCDRKelly ‘s 1-year-long mission in its 2015: Year Ahead issue. http://ti.me/1w25Qgo

Orion flew a flawless inaugural test flight when it thundered to space on Dec. 5, 2014, atop the fiery fury of a 242 foot tall United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket – the world’s most powerful booster – from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Orion launched on its two orbit, 4.5 hour flight maiden test flight on the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission that carried the capsule farther away from Earth than any spacecraft designed for astronauts has traveled in more than four decades.

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014.   Launch pad remote camera view.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014. Launch pad remote camera view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Kelly’s flight will pave the way for NASA’s goal to send astronaut crews to Mars by the 2030s. They will launch in the Orion crew vehicle atop the agency’s mammoth new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, simultaneously under development.

Good luck to Kelly and Kornienko!!

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden officially unveils world’s largest welder to start construction of core stage of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket at NASA Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, on Sept. 12, 2014. SLS will be the world’s most powerful rocket ever built.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden officially unveils world’s largest welder to start construction of core stage of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket at NASA Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, on Sept. 12, 2014. SLS will be the world’s most powerful rocket ever built. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

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

Ken Kremer

How Not To Get Bored During A Year On Space Station

When planning for long-duration space travel, many people would think along the lines of not forgetting a towel or something of that nature. But we on Earth who are spoiled by the astounding pictures beamed from space must realize that even astronauts can get tired of looking at the same few walls for months at a time.

Scott Kelly is going to spend a year in space in 2015, and he highlighted boredom as one of the things he will need to fight against during his time on the International Space Station.

“There are things I will do a little bit differently with regards to pacing myself. You wouldn’t think this is true, but you do have to kind of stay entertained over that kind of period,” said Scott Kelly in a NASA interview late last week, which you can watch above. 

“No matter how exciting that kind of things is, no matter how beautiful the Earth is, when you’re doing it for a year there is still the factor of trying to keep yourself engaged and interested.”

Kelly also highlighted some of the training challenges he will face being that he will be up there twice as long as the typical six-month space station mission. While it won’t take twice as long to do emergency training, he is required to do it with twice as many astronauts/cosmonauts because he will be working with four crews in space.

He also will train with two different Soyuz spacecraft commanders (which will add “complexity”, he noted) and have twice as much science to perform. That includes several “twin” studies where scientists will compare Kelly and his identical brother Mark, a four-time shuttle flyer who retired from the program in 2011.

Another lesson learned from his last six-month flight in 2010? “I know what I want to bring this time that I didn’t have last time,” Kelly said, although he didn’t elaborate on what those items are.

Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will begin their mission just under one year from now.

Twin Peeks: Astronaut Brothers To Go Under Microscope During One-Year Mission

Identical twin astronauts, one headed to space for a year and the other happily at home. Imagine just how excited health researchers are by the prospect of this situation which yes, is happening for real. Scott Kelly is preparing to blast off on a lengthy mission to the International Space Station in 2015 while his retired twin, Mark, will serve as a control.

The 50-year-old men will do a suite of experiments before, during and after the mission to see how much (if at all) Scott’s body changes from his brother in the long term. This ranges from examining their DNA, to their vision, and even changes in the gut.

“These will not be 10 individual studies,” stated Craig Kundrot of NASA’s human research program at the Johnson Space Center. “The real power comes in combining them to form an integrated picture of all levels from biomolecular to psychological.  We’ll be studying the entire astronaut.”

One experiment will examine telomeres, which NASA says are “molecular caps” that sit on the ends of human DNA. As the theory goes, these telomeres are affected in space by cosmic rays (high-energy particles originating from outside the solar system) — which could speed up the aging process. If Scott’s telomeres change after the mission, this could help determine if space is linked to rapid aging.

Another experiment asks how the immune system alters. “We already know that the human immune system changes in space.  It’s not as strong as it is on the ground,” said Kundrot. “In one of the experiments, Mark and Scott will be given identical flu vaccines, and we will study how their immune systems react.”

Then there are experiments looking at gut bacteria that help digestion, seeking out how human vision changes, and even a phenomenon known as “space fog” — how some astronauts find themselves losing alertness in orbit.

Although the twins have inherent fascination for researchers and sociologists, the Kellys themselves have emphasized that to them, having an identical counterpart is something that always was.

NASA astronaut Mark Kelly peers out a window during the penultimate shuttle mission, STS-134, in 2011. Around his neck is the ring of his wife, Gabrielle Giffords, who was recovering from a gunshot head wound during the mission. Credit: NASA
NASA astronaut Mark Kelly peers out a window during the penultimate shuttle mission, STS-134, in 2011. Around his neck is the ring of his wife, Gabrielle Giffords, who was recovering from a gunshot head wound during the mission. Credit: NASA

“We didn’t know anything differently and, you know, he’s not my clone,” Scott said in a joint 2010 NASA interview with Mark.

“You know, a lot of times people would ask, ‘So what’s it like to be a twin?’ and … the response I would usually give is, ‘Well, what’s it like not to be a twin?’ I mean, it’s just, it is,” Mark added, to which Scott responded, “It’s more like … he’s my brother but we just happen to have the same birthday, to me.”

Scott will leave Earth with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko in 2015 for the first one-year mission in space since a handful of lengthy stays on the former Russian space station, Mir, in the 1990s. Scott will serve as Expedition 43/44 flight engineer and have the distinction of commanding two space station missions, Expedition 45 and 46. (He also commanded Expedition 26 in 2010.)

Source: NASA

ISS Commander Discusses Arizona Shooting Tragedy

ISS Commander Scott Kelly, twin brother of astronaut Mark Kelly, spoke with various news agencies this morning about the shooting of his sister in-law, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Kelly was asked several times about the emotional trauma, etc., of the shooting and how he is coping. Scott Kelly confirmed he talks to his brother a couple of times a day, but that is not unusual. Asked about what words the two brothers share about Giffords’ current condition, the ISS Commander said, “We’re not touchy, feely kind of people, … we just talk about her condition, but we normally talk about things like we do regularly.” And later, Kelly was asked if he would like to be there at his brother’s side. “I’m kind of a realist,” he said. “I understand this is the situation I’m in. I would prefer to be there to support everyone, but the fact is that I can’t, even if it was a tragedy worse than this, there is no way I’m coming back to Earth before March 18. We know that going into a flight like this. I just continue to do my job and support my brother and family through the means we have through the station.”