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

SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket to Attempt Daring Ocean Platform Landing with Next Launch

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – In a key test of rocket reusability, SpaceX will attempt a daring landing of their Falcon 9 first stage rocket on an ocean platform known as the “autonomous spaceport drone ship” following the planned Friday, Dec. 19, blastoff on a high stakes mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon cargo freighter is slated to liftoff on its next unmanned cargo run, dubbed CRS-5, to the ISS under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract. In a late development, there is a possibility the launch could be postponed to January 2015.

The instantaneous launch window for the Falcon 9/Dragon is slated for 1:20 p.m from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

As the Dragon proceeds to orbit, SpaceX engineers will attempt to recover the Falcon 9 first stage via a precision landing for the first time “on a custom-built ocean platform known as the autonomous spaceport drone ship,” according to a SpaceX statement.

Testing operation of Falcon 9 hypersonic grid fins (x-wing config) launching on next Falcon 9 flight, CRS-5.   Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk
Testing operation of Falcon 9 hypersonic grid fins (x-wing config) launching on next Falcon 9 flight, CRS-5. Credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk

“While SpaceX has already demonstrated two successful soft water landings, executing a precision landing on an unanchored ocean platform is significantly more challenging.”

SpaceX rates the chances of success at “perhaps 50% at best.”

Of course since this has never been attempted before, tons of planning is involved and lots can go wrong.

But this is space exploration, and it’s not for the meek and mild.

It’s time to go boldly where no one has gone before and expand the envelope if we hope to achieve great things.

SpaceX Falcon 9 erect at Cape Canaveral launch pad 40  awaiting launch on Sept 20, 2014 on the CRS-4 mission. Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
A SpaceX Falcon 9 erect at Cape Canaveral launch pad 40 prior to launch on Sept 20, 2014, on the CRS-4 mission. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The 14 story Falcon 9 will be zooming upwards at 1300 m/s (nearly 1 mi/s). Engineers will then relight the Merlin 1D first stage engines to stabilize and lower the rocket.

Four hypersonic grid fins had been added to the first stage and placed in an X-wing configuration. They will be deployed only during the reentry attempt and will be used to roll, pitch, and yaw the rocket in concert with gimballing of the engines.

Here’s a description from SpaceX:

“To help stabilize the stage and to reduce its speed, SpaceX relights the engines for a series of three burns. The first burn—the boostback burn—adjusts the impact point of the vehicle and is followed by the supersonic retro propulsion burn that, along with the drag of the atmosphere, slows the vehicle’s speed from 1300 m/s to about 250 m/s. The final burn is the landing burn, during which the legs deploy and the vehicle’s speed is further.”

“To complicate matters further, the landing site is limited in size and not entirely stationary. The autonomous spaceport drone ship is 300 by 100 feet, with wings that extend its width to 170 feet. While that may sound huge at first, to a Falcon 9 first stage coming from space, it seems very small. The legspan of the Falcon 9 first stage is about 70 feet and while the ship is equipped with powerful thrusters to help it stay in place, it is not actually anchored, so finding the bullseye becomes particularly tricky. During previous attempts, we could only expect a landing accuracy of within 10km. For this attempt, we’re targeting a landing accuracy of within 10 meters.”

Watch for Ken’s ongoing SpaceX launch coverage from onsite at the Kennedy Space Center.

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

Ken Kremer

………….

Learn more about SpaceX, Orion, Antares, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Dec 18: “SpaceX CRS-5, Orion EFT-1, Antares Orb-3 launch, Curiosity Explores Mars,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

NASA and SpaceX targeting Dec. 19 for next Space Station Launch

NASA and SpaceX are now targeting Dec. 19 as the launch date for the next unmanned cargo run to the International Space Station (ISS) under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract.

The fifth SpaceX cargo mission was postponed from Dec. 16 to Dec. 19 to “allow SpaceX to take extra time to ensure they do everything possible on the ground to prepare for a successful launch,” according to a statement from NASA.

The Dragon spacecraft will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Both the Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon spacecraft are in good health, according to NASA.

The mission dubbed SpaceX CRS-5 is slated for liftoff at 1:20 p.m.

An on time liftoff will result in a rendezvous with the ISS on Sunday. The crew would grapple the Dragon with the stations 57 foot long robotic arm at about 6 a.m.

The SpaceX Dragon capsule is snared by the International Space Station's Canadarm 2. Credit: NASA
The SpaceX Dragon capsule is snared by the International Space Station’s Canadarm 2. Credit: NASA

US astronaut and station commander Barry Wilmore will operate the Canadarm2 to capture the SpaceX Dragon when it arrives Sunday morning. ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will assist Wilmore working at a robotics workstation inside the domed Cupola module during the commercial craft’s approach and rendezvous.

The unmanned cargo freighter is loaded with more than 3,700 pounds of scientific experiments, technology demonstrations, crew supplies, spare parts, food, water, clothing and assorted research gear.

The Dragon research experiments will support over 256 science and research investigations for the six person space station crews on Expeditions 42 and 43.

Among the payloads is the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS), a remote-sensing laser instrument to measure clouds and the location and distribution of pollution, dust, smoke, and other particulates and aerosols in the atmosphere.

A secondary objective of SpaceX is to attempt to recover the Falcon 9 first stage on an off shore barge.

The SpaceX CRS-4 mission to the ISS concluded with a successful splashdown on Oct 25 after a month long stay.

The SpaceX CRS-5 launch is the first cargo launch to the ISS since the doomed Orbital Sciences Antares/Cygnus launch ended in catastrophe on Oct. 28.

With Antares launches on indefinite hold, the US supply train to the ISS is now wholly dependent on SpaceX.

Orbital Sciences has now contracted United Launch Alliance (ULA) to launch the firms Cygnus cargo freighter to the ISS by late 2015 on an Atlas V rocket.