Astronaut Jessica Watkins Floats Above the Earth in the Space Station’s Cupola

NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins floats in the International Space Station’s cupola, a direct nadir viewing window from which Earth and celestial objects are visible. Credit: NASA.

NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins is seen here floating above Earth in the International Space Station’s cupola, which provides a spectacular viewing spot for those who live and work on the space station.

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Space Flight Destroys Your Red Blood Cells

Flight Engineer Anne McClain in the cupola holding biomedical gear for MARROW. Credit: NASA

It’s really true: space wants to kill us. And this time, space is trying to kill us from the inside out.

A new study on astronauts living on board the International Space Station shows that while in space, the astronauts’ bodies destroyed 54 percent more red blood cells than they normally would on Earth. Even one year after their flight and back on Earth, the symptoms of “space anemia” persisted in the 14 astronauts tested.

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NASA Plans to Retire the Space Station in 2030 and Replace it with Commercially Owned “Destinations” in Low Earth Orbit

The core module of Orbital Reef. Credit: Orbital Reef

While it may seem like the International Space Station is just now fully hitting its stride as far as scientific output and the ability for crew rotations from several different spacecraft, the ISS has been operating with astronauts on board for over 21 years. Knowing the modules and entire physical structure cannot endure the long-term effects of the harsh space environment forever, NASA’s Office of the Inspector General has issued a new report outlining the agency’s plans to keep the space station in orbit until 2030, and to replace it with one or more commercial space stations.

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Blue Origin Announces the “Orbital Reef,” the Space Station they Plan to Build in Orbit

The core module of Orbital Reef. Credit: Orbital Reef

Blue Origin has certainly stepped up its game of late! After stepping down as the CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos has made it his personal mission to take the company he founded in 2000 and turn it into a powerhouse of the commercial space sector. Between some high-profile missions involving the New Shepard – which included passengers like Wally Funk, William Shatner, and even himself and his brother – Bezos has also been outspoken about his long-term vision.

Bezos describes this vision as “building a road to space so our children can build the future.” In the latest step towards achieving this, Blue Origin announced a new partnership with Sierra Space to develop a commercial space station in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), known as “Orbital Reef.” This mixed-use space station, which is to be completed by the end of this decade, will facilitate commerce, research, tourism, and facilitate the commercialization of LEO.

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Nooo! Canadarm2 Hit by a Piece of Space Debris

A piece of debris hit the Canadarm2 on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA/Canadian Space Agency

The International Space Station’s robotic arm, Canadarm2, was struck by a piece of space debris. But luckily, it appears to be only a flesh wound, and the arm has been cleared for nominal operations while analysis on the strike continues.  

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Mount Everest, Seen from Space!

Mount Everest, as seen from the International Space Station. Picture taken by cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev.

One under-appreciated space asset is the photography skills of the Russian cosmonauts on board the International Space Station. They are extremely skillful photographers who don’t get the same recognition as their astronaut counterparts in their Earth observation skills. In particular, they have taken some stunning high-oblique shots of objects close to the horizon, with almost an 3-D effect.

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China will begin constructing its space station in 2021

An artist's impression of the future Chinese space station. Image credit: NASA

The Chinese space agency is building a brand new space station, and they’re going about it in a suitably impressive way: an ambitious schedule of 11 planned launches crammed into only two years. When it’s done, the 66-ton space station will host crews of three astronauts for up to six months at a time, lasting for a planned 10 years before de-orbiting.

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The Lunar Gateway Will be in a “Near-Rectilinear Halo Orbit”

Artist's impression of the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway. Credit: NASA

After months of discussion, the space agencies behind the Lunar Gateway have decided how the space station will orbit the Moon. NASA and the ESA are developing the Lunar Gateway jointly, and the orbital path that it will follow around the Moon is a key part of mission design. It’ll affect all the vital aspects of the mission, including how spacecraft will rendezvous and land at the station.

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Soyuz Launch Carrying Two Astronauts is Forced to Abort, Landing Safely Back on Earth

Soyuz MS-10 shortly after launch, but before the failure. The craft executed an emergency ballistic landing and both crew members are safe. Image: NASA
Soyuz MS-10 shortly after launch, but before the failure. The craft executed an emergency ballistic landing and both crew members are safe. Image: NASA

The Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft carrying crew to the ISS was aborted shortly after launch on Thursday, Oct. 11th when its booster failed. The spacecraft executed an emergency ballistic landing with a sharp angle of descent. Both crew members on board—American astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin—exited the capsule safely and are in good condition.

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2 US Astronauts Conduct Unplanned, Rapidly Executed Contingency Space Walk on Space Station

Astronaut Jack Fischer waves while attached to the Destiny laboratory during a spacewalk on May 23, 2017 to replace a failed data relay box and install a pair wireless antennas. Credit: NASA

Astronaut Jack Fischer waves while attached to the Destiny laboratory during a spacewalk on May 23, 2017 to replace a failed data relay box and install a pair wireless antennas. Credit: NASA

In the space of just 3 days, a pair of NASA astronauts conducted an unplanned and rapidly executed contingency space walk on the exterior of the space station on Tuesday, May 23 in order to replace a critical computer unit that failed over the weekend.

The spacewalk was conducted by Expedition 51 Commander Peggy Whitson – NASA’s most experienced astronaut – and Flight Engineer Jack Fischer aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

This marked the 10th spacewalk for Whitson – who already has the most cumulative spacewalk time by a female and the most time in space by a NASA astronaut. This was Fischer’s second spacewalk.

Furthermore Whitson now moves into third place all-time for cumulative spacewalking time totaling 60 hours, 21 minutes. Only Russia’s Anatoly Solovyev and NASA’s Michael Lopez-Alegria have more spacewalking time to their credit.

Peggy Whitson @AstroPeggy is 3rd place all-time for cumulative spacewalk time with 10 spacewalks totaling 60 hours, 21 minutes. Credit: NASA

NASA managers ordered the spacewalk over the weekend when a computer unit known as multiplexer-demultiplexer-1 (MDM-1) unexpectedly failed Saturday morning, May 20 at 1:13 p.m. Central time.

The cause of the MDM failure is not known, says NASA. Multiple attempts by NASA flight controllers to restore power to the MDM-1 relay box were not successful.

The US dynamic duo successfully changed out the MDM computer relay box with a spare unit on board the station. They also installed a pair of antennas on the station on the U.S. Destiny Laboratory module to enhance wireless communication for future spacewalks.

The MDM functions as a data relay box and is located on the S0 truss on the exterior of the US segment of the ISS, thereby necessitating a spacewalk by astronaut crew members.

After NASA engineers thoroughly assessed the situation and reviewed spacewalk procedures on Sunday, May 21, they gave the go ahead for Whitson and Fischer to carry out the hurriedly arranged extravehicular activity (EVA) spacewalk on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Whitson worked on Sunday to prepare the spare data relay box and test its components to ensure it was ready for Tuesdays swap out of the failed unit.

“The relay box, known as a multiplexer-demultiplexer (MDM), is one of two units that regulate the operation of radiators, solar arrays and cooling loops.” says NASA.

“Because each MDM is capable of performing the critical station functions, the crew on the station was never in danger and station operations have not been affected.”

The two MDM’s housed in the truss are fully redundant systems.

“The other MDM in the truss is functioning perfectly, providing uninterrupted telemetry routing to the station’s systems.”

The spacewalk began Tuesday morning, May 23 at 7:20 a.m. EDT when the two NASA astronauts switched their spacesuits to battery power.

While Whitson focused on the MDM swap, Fischer worked on the antenna installation.

The unplanned spacewalk marks the second this month by Whitson and Fischer. The first was on May 12 and the 200th overall. The Destiny module antenna installation was deferred from the May 12 spacewalk.

Astronaut Peggy Whitson is pictured May 12, 2017, during the 200th spacewalk at the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

The relatively short EVA lasted a total of two hours and 46 minutes. It concluded at 10:06 a.m. EDT.

Overall this was the 201st spacewalk in support of the space station assembly, maintenance and upgrade. Spacewalkers have now spent a total of 1,250 hours and 41 minutes working outside the orbiting lab complex since its inception.

Spacewalk 201 was also the sixth spacewalk conducted from the Quest airlock in 2017 aboard the ISS.

The International Space Station with its prominent solar arrays and radiators attached to the truss structure was pictured May 2010 from space shuttle Atlantis. Credit: NASA

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

Ken Kremer