NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson Sets US Space Endurance Record, Speaks to President Trump

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, currently living and working aboard the International Space Station, broke the record Monday for cumulative time spent in space by a U.S. astronaut – an occasion that was celebrated with a phone call from President Donald Trump, First Daughter Ivanka Trump, and fellow astronaut Kate Rubins. Credits: NASA TV

NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson set the endurance record for time in space by a U.S, astronaut today, Monday, April 24, during her current stint of living and working aboard the International Space Station (ISS) along with her multinational crew of five astronauts and cosmonauts.

Furthermore Whitson received a long distance phone call of exuberant congratulations from President Donald Trump, First Daughter Ivanka Trump, and fellow astronaut Kate Rubins direct from the Oval Office in the White House to celebrate the momentous occasion.

“This is a very special day in the glorious history of American spaceflight!” said President Trump during the live phone call to the ISS broadcast on NASA TV.

As of today, Whitson exceeded 534 cumulative days in space by an American astronaut, breaking the record held by NASA astronaut Jeff Williams.

“Today Commander Whitson you have broken the record for the most total time spent in space by an American astronaut. 534 days and counting,” elaborated President Trump.

“That’s an incredible record to break. And on behalf of the nation and frankly the world I would like to congratulate you. That is really something!”

“You’re an incredible inspiration to us all.”

Trump noted that thousands of school students were listening in to the live broadcast which also served to promote students to study STEM subjects.

“Peggy is a phenomenal role model for young women, and all Americans, who are exploring or participating in STEM education programs and careers,” said President Trump.

“As I have said many times before, only by enlisting the full potential of women in our society will we be truly able to make America great again. When I signed the INSPIRE Women Act in February, I did so to ensure more women have access to STEM education and careers, and to ensure America continues to benefit from the contributions of trailblazers like Peggy.”

How does it feel to break the endurance record? Trump asked Whitson.

“It’s actually a huge honor to break a record like this, but it’s an honor for me basically to be representing all the folks at NASA who make this spaceflight possible and who make me setting this record feasible,” Whitson replied from orbit to Trump.

“And so it’s a very exciting time to be at NASA. We are all very much looking forward, as directed by your new NASA bill — we’re excited about the missions to Mars in the 2030s. And so we actually, physically, have hardware on the ground that’s being built for the SLS rocket that’s going to take us there.”

“It’s a very exciting time, and I’m so proud of the team.”

“We have over 200 investigations ongoing onboard the space station, and I just think that’s a phenomenal part of the day.”

NASA astronaut Jack Fischer is also serving aboard the station on his rookie flight and also took part in the phone call with President Trump.

Whitson is currently serving as Space Station Commander of Expedition 51. She most recently launched to the ISS on Nov 17, 2016 aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, as part of a three person crew.

At the time of her Soyuz launch she had accumulated 377 total days in space.

She holds several other prestigious records as well. Whitson is the first woman to serve twice as space station commander.

Indeed in 2008 Whitson became the first woman ever to command the space station during her prior stay on Expedition 16 a decade ago. Her second stint as station commander began earlier this month on April 9.

Whitson also holds the record for most spacewalks by a female astronaut. Altogether she has accumulated 53 hours and 23 minutes of EVA time over eight spacewalks.

Overall, Expedition 51 involved her third long duration stay aboard the massive orbiting laboratory complex.

Seen here on a spacewalk in March 2017, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson holds the record for most spacewalks conducted by a female astronaut. Credits: NASA

“This is an inspirational record Peggy is setting today, and she would be the first to tell you this is a record that’s absolutely made to be broken as we advance our knowledge and existence as both Americans and humans,” said NASA acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot, in a statement.

“The cutting-edge research and technology demonstrations on the International Space Station will help us go farther into our solar system and stay there longer, as we explore the mysteries of deep space first-hand. Congratulation to Peggy, and thank you for inspiring not only women, but all Americans to pursue STEM careers and become leaders.”

When she returns to Earth in September she will have accumulated some 666 days in space.

On her 2007 mission aboard the International Space Station, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, Expedition 16 commander, worked on the Capillary Flow Experiment (CFE), which observes the flow of fluid, in particular capillary phenomena, in microgravity. Credits: NASA

Trump made note of the science and commercial industrial work being carried out aboard the station.

“Many American entrepreneurs are racing into space. I have many friends that are so excited about space. They want to get involved in space from the standpoint of entrepreneurship and business,” said President Trump.

“And I’m sure that every student watching wants to know, what is next for Americans in space.”

Indeed the private SS John Glenn Cygnus cargo freighter just arrived at the ISS on Saturday, April 22, carrying nearly 4 tons or science experiments, hardware, parts and provisions.

Whitson was one of two ISS astronauts involved in capturing Cygnus with the Canadian built robotic arm for attachment to the stations Unity node.

Trump also mentioned his strong support for sending humans on a mission to Mars in the 2030s and for NASA’s development of the SLS heavy lift rocket and Orion deep space capsule.

“I’m very proud that I just signed a bill committing NASA to the aim of sending America astronauts to Mars. So we’ll do that. I think we’ll do it a lot sooner than we’re even thinking.”

“Well, we want to try and do it during my first term or, at worst, during my second term. So we’ll have to speed that up a little bit, okay?”

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

Ken Kremer

Book review: Success Strategies from Women in STEM

Have you ever wished that there was an instruction manual for life? A second edition of “Success Strategies from Women in STEM” aims to be that book for women in research – a ‘portable mentor’ to help individual researchers find their way. It’s part of a much larger attempt to tackle the huge problem of gender equity in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Continue reading “Book review: Success Strategies from Women in STEM”

Virtual Summer Camp Alert! Maker Camp Kicks Off Today

If you’re a high school student who’s really into space, Maker Camp bills itself as a great spot for you to get involved. Every summer, the organization runs a virtual summer camp for six weeks, encouraging people to build fun things such as glowing bikes and stroboscopes.

The festivities kick off today with a field trip: “Join us for a truly stellar Hangout as we launch Maker Camp live from +New York Hall of Science. We’ll be joined by Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and the folks at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center will share their dreams for the future of space exploration,” Maker Camp wrote on its event page.

You can watch the event at 2 p.m. EDT (6 p.m. UTC) below! .

Maker Camp is a collaboration of Make Magazine and Google+, and runs daily from today to Aug. 15 at 2 p.m. EDT (6 p.m. UTC). Joining is completely free and is targeted to students between ages 13 to 18; younger students can also participate as long as they have access to (and permission from) an adult’s Google+ account.

NSF Report Biased, Expert Says: Americans Don’t Think Astrology is Scientific

Every Thanksgiving when I was home from college, at least one family member would turn to me and ask me how that astrology degree was going, or tell me about a new astrology article they read. It wasn’t that my family members really thought I was studying astrology or even believed astrology was scientific, it was just that they mixed up “astronomy” with “astrology.” In all fairness, for those who don’t follow either astrology or astronomy very closely, it might be considered an honest mistake.

So when a report from the National Science Foundation claimed a majority of young Americans believed astrology was scientific I had my doubts. But so did psychologist, Richard Landers from Old Dominion University who performed a small second study and found the report to be biased.

Since 1979, NSF surveys have asked Americans whether they view astrology — the study of how the movement of celestial bodies affects the here and now — as being scientific.

Their most recent survey showed that nearly half of all Americans (42 percent) believe astrology to be scientific. But what’s more alarming, according to the NSF, is that American understandings of science are moving in the wrong direction. It seems our golden year was in 2004, when 66 percent of Americans said astrology was not at all scientific. That number has been dropping ever since.

It should come as no surprise that those with a higher education are more willing to demote astrology entirely. In 2012, 72 percent of those with graduate degrees indicated that astrology is not scientific, compared with only 34 percent of those who didn’t graduate high school.

Shockingly, age was also related to perceptions of astrology. Younger respondents (ages 18-24) seemed to give astrology a high vote of confidence,with only 42 percent claiming that it isn’t scientific. So roughly six in every 10 young adults believe astrology is absolutely scientific.

But such dramatic conclusions are being drawn from a single question: “Is astrology scientific?” It’s based on the crucial assumption that people are correctly interpreting the word “astrology.”

Landers guessed that the survey respondents might be mixing up the term “astrology” with “astronomy.” So he performed a quick survey himself, using Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) — a crowdsourcing internet marketplace. He collected 100 responses to a survey that asked three questions:

— Please define astrology in 25 words or less.
— Do you believe astrology to be scientific?
— What is your highest level of education completed?

His initial assessment — without taking into account how the respondent defined astrology — showed results very similar to the original survey provided by the NSF — approximately 30 percent found astrology to be scientific. While this percentage is less than what the NSF report found, Landers believes this is due to a user bias (MTurk users tend to be more educated and older than the average American).

But once Landers included the answer to the first question into his results, he saw a very clear trend: those who defined astrology correctly did not believe it to be scientific, while those who confused astrology with astronomy did believe it to be scientific.

Data collected from 100 participants using MTurk.
Data collected from 100 participants using MTurk. Image Credit: R. Landers

Among those that correctly identified astrology, only 13.5 percent found it to be “pretty scientific.” And only one person found it to be “very scientific.” Among those that confused astrology with astronomy, the discipline was overwhelmingly seen as scientific.

“My little quick study doesn’t ‘overturn’ the NSF results” Landers told Universe Today. “It only suggests that the NSF results are probably biased to some degree.”

With such small number statistics Landers certainly didn’t prove the NSF results wrong, but he does call the study into question. Landers also noted an additional study from the European Commission which corroborated his findings.

I for one would love to see the NSF conduct a more detailed study. Including a definition of astrology in the next round of surveys would certainly bring clarification and shed light on the root of the problem.

Update: After posting this article, a reader informed me of a critique of Richard landers’ assessment, posted by The Washington Post’s Jim Lindgren. He conducted another follow-up study to explore the issue. In his own sample, Lindgren found that probably only one respondent out of 108 confused “astrology” with “astronomy.” He claims it’s unlikely the NSF report was biased at all.

However, the back and forth banter between experts suggests these words and their corresponding definitions do need to be clarified. Science journalists have their work cut out for them.

Sequester Cancels NASA Outreach

 

Well, it looks like it’s finally happened: the U.S. sequester — a “series of across-the-board cuts to government agencies totaling $1.2 trillion over 10 years” (CNN) — has finally hit NASA… right where it hurts, too: in public outreach and STEM programs. (UPDATE: some clarifications as to what this means — namely, that nothing’s actually been “canceled” but rather subject to review and possibly suspension — can be found at the end of this article. –JM)

In an internal memo issued on the evening of Friday, March 22, the Administration notes that “effective immediately, all education and public outreach activities should be suspended, pending further review. In terms of scope, this includes all public engagement and outreach events, programs, activities, and products developed and implemented by Headquarters, Mission Directorates, and Centers across the Agency, including all education and public outreach efforts conducted by programs and projects.”

Bummer.

Read the full memo from NASA Public Affairs below:

Subject: Guidance for Education and Public Outreach Activities Under Sequestration

As you know, we have taken the first steps in addressing the mandatory spending cuts called for in the Budget Control Act of 2011. The law mandates a series of indiscriminate and significant across-the-board spending reductions totaling $1.2 trillion over 10 years.

As a result, we are forced to implement a number of new cost-saving measures, policies, and reviews in order to minimize impacts to the mission-critical activities of the Agency. We have already provided new guidance regarding conferences, travel, and training that reflect the new fiscal reality in which we find ourselves. Some have asked for more specific guidance at it relates to public outreach and engagement activities. That guidance is provided below.

Effective immediately, all education and public outreach activities should be suspended, pending further review. In terms of scope, this includes all public engagement and outreach events, programs, activities, and products developed and implemented by Headquarters, Mission Directorates, and Centers across the Agency, including all education and public outreach efforts conducted by programs and projects.

The scope comprises activities intended to communicate, connect with, and engage a wide and diverse set of audiences to raise awareness and involvement in NASA, its goals, missions and programs, and to develop an appreciation for, exposure to, and involvement in STEM. Audiences include employees, partners, educators, students, and members of the general public. The scope encompasses, but is not limited to:

– Programs, events, and workshops.
– Permanent and traveling exhibits, signage, and other materials.
– Speeches, presentations, and appearances, with the exception of technical presentations by researchers at scientific and technical symposia.
– Video and multimedia products in development (and renewal of existing products).
– Web and social media sites in development (excludes operational sites).
– External and internal publications, with the exception of Scientific and Technical Information as defined by NPD 2200.1B.
– Any other activity whose goal is to reach out to external and internal stakeholders and the public concerning NASA, its programs, and activities.

Additional information regarding the waiver and review process will be issued by the Associate Administrators for Communications and Education. The Agency has already made tough choices about conferences and travel. For those activities planned to be held between the date of this memorandum through April 30, 2013, that your organization deems to be Agency mission-critical, the Headquarters Offices of Communications and Education will conduct a waiver process to promptly evaluate those specific efforts.

For future activities, the Offices of Communications and Education have established a process to assess and determine, in light of the current budget situation, what education and public outreach activities should be determined Agency mission critical and thereby be continued or implemented. We are requesting Mission Directorates and Headquarters organizations submit a summary of activities, including those planned by their respective programs and projects. We are also requesting that Centers submit a summary of Center-sponsored or supported activities. For public outreach activities, these should be submitted to David Weaver, Associate Administrator for Communications, no later than April 15, 2013. For education activities, these should be submitted to Leland Melvin, Associate Administrator for Education, also no later than April 15, 2013. Required summary and waiver documentation is being provided for distribution to Mission Directorates, Centers, programs, and projects through the Communications and Education Coordinating Councils. The Headquarters Office of Communications, working in conjunction with the Office of Education, will review the requested data and will make a timely and appropriate determination regarding what activities will go forward as planned.

This guidance is to be applied to all NASA employees, civil servants, and contractors (working through their contract officers). Leadership in our Centers, Mission Directorates, as well as individual program and project managers are responsible for ensuring that all public engagement activities, including the education and public outreach efforts conducted by programs and projects, are suspended and submitted to the review process. This guidance applies to existing and future efforts at least through the end of FY2013.

As our budgetary situation evolves over the coming months, NASA senior managers will continue to review this guidance and adjust, as appropriate. We appreciate your cooperation during this challenging fiscal period. Any questions on this guidance should be directed to David Weaver, Associate Administrator for Communications, Leland Melvin, Associate Administrator for Education. Dr. Elizabeth Robinson, Chief Financial Officer, or David Radzanowski, Chief of Staff.

Source: SpaceRef.com and NASA Watch

Note: hopefully this is more a sign of the formation of an internal review process than an all-out moratorium on programs… stay tuned for more news regarding this. Updates to be posted below.

Update: SpaceRef has posted an additional memo regarding exemptions from immediate suspension, notably “mission announcement media events and products, breaking news activities, and responses to media inquiries.” See the full memo here.

Update #2: According to an article on AmericaSpace, the Administration’s popular NASA Socials will still be held — events where select social media followers of various NASA accounts are invited to participate in public events and behind-the-scenes VIP tours — plus other social activities will still be taking place. (Although neither the article above nor the original one on SpaceRef specifically mentioned cancellation of the Socials, the memo’s bullet list does seem to imply as much.) This according to Deputy Associate Administrator for Communications Bob Jacobs. Read the full article here.

Also, Scott Lewis has an article up regarding this and the importance of NASA’s outreach programs to the public… check it out on his site KnowTheCosmos.com.

Update #3 3/23: After discussing this online today with Bob Jacobs, Deputy Associate Administrator for Communications, I learned that while most expenditures will now be critically reviewed first, it’s not like NASA is simply canceling all their programs wholesale.

“There’s a waiver process in place and there will be exemptions for mission activities…most activities will continue, I am confident of that,” Bob said. “But there are always things you can do better or more efficient, and these cuts are going to force the entire government to reduce services.”

“The more money saved the more likely you can avoid furloughs and maintain safe mission operations, which is the agency’s priority,” Bob added.

 

Chaos and Education at 120,000 feet for Camilla the Rubber Chicken

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In my travels, I’ve had the pleasure of regularly meeting up with Camilla the Rubber Chicken, the social media maven and mascot for NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. But lately I’ve been seeing here virtually everywhere — on television, splashed across all sorts of websites, and even in my local newspaper. What Camilla does is try to capture the imagination of students and get them interested in space and science. With her latest adventures she’s done just that, and now captured the attention of people all around the world, too.

What did she do? She flew to the stratosphere — about 36,000 meters (120,000 ft) up — on a helium balloon right into the throes of one of the most intense solar radiation storms since 2003.

“I am still glowing,” Camilla joked.

Inflating Camilla's ride. Image courtesy Bishop Union High School.

Students from Bishop Union High School’s Earth to Sky group spearheaded the flights, as Camilla actually flew twice — once on March 3 before the radiation storm and again on March 10 while the storm was in full swing. This would give the students a basis for comparison of the radiation environment.

On board with Camilla was a payload of four cameras, a cryogenic thermometer two GPS trackers, radiation detectors, Seven insects and two-dozen sunflower seeds (fittingly, the variety known as “Sunspot” — Helianthus annuus) all inside a modified department store lunchbox.

“We equipped Camilla with sensors to measure the radiation,” says Sam Johnson, 16, of Bishop Union High School’s Earth to Sky student group. “At the apex of our flight, the payload was above 99 percent of Earth’s atmosphere.”

Camilla made it back in one piece, but unfortunately, the insects died.

“This story is really about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and about these kids from Bishop, California who have worked really hard in developing the mission, planning it, and then executing it,” Camilla told Universe Today. “They had to overcome set-backs, review their processes, come up with better solutions and implement them. For them it was a great hands-on learning experience and they are and can be proud of their accomplishments.”

NASA knows that these kinds of programs, where kids can get involved in hands-on research, are very important for introducing and keeping students interested in STEM subjects, important areas of study for future NASA scientists and engineers.

“As you know, I not only want to educate about our Sun and space weather, but I want to inspire and show kids (and adults) how much fun science and engineering really is,” Camilla said via email. “Team SDO’s goal has always been to encourage more girls into STEM careers and seeing that this team had several girls on the team was just the most rewarding.”

Students prepare Camilla for her ride into the stratosphere. Image courtesy Bishop Union High School.

The video of the balloon popping and part of Camilla’s flight:

During the two-and-a-half-hour flights, Camilla spent approximately 90 minutes in the stratosphere where temperatures ( -40 to -60 C, -40 to -76 F) and air pressures (1 percent sea level) are akin to those on the planet Mars. The balloon popped, as planned, at an altitude of about 40 km (25 miles) and Camilla parachuted safely back to Earth. The entire payload was recovered intact from a landing site in the Inyo Mountains.

The fifth grade students who assisted with the flight have planted the sunflower seeds to see if radiated seeds produce flowers any different from seeds that stayed behind on Earth. They also pinned the corpses of the insects to a black “Foamboard of Death,” a rare collection of bugs that have been to the edge of space.

Meanwhile, Camilla’s radiation badges have been sent to a commercial laboratory for analysis.

The students say they are looking forward to the data and perhaps sending Camilla back for more.

“I truly believe that text books will always be around,” Camilla said, “but real-life hands-on projects like these are wonderful, and will become more popular.”

Here’s a video of an X-class flare from sunspot AR1429, which unleashed more than 50 solar flares during the first two weeks of March:

Read more about Camilla’s adventures, or our previous article, How a Rubber Chicken is Spreading the Word About NASA’s Space Missions and Science.

Historic Opportunity for Students to Participate on “Extra” Shuttle Mission

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A new opportunity for students to be part of history and fly an experiment on what could be the last space shuttle mission has been announced by the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) for the STS-135, the shuttle mission that might fly in June of 2011.

“We hope to get 50 communities and 100,000 students participating in the initiative which allows grade 5-14 student design of real experiments to fly aboard Atlantis, and engages entire communities,” Dr. Jeff Goldstein, the Director for the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education told Universe Today. “This is very unique opportunity for students and teachers to be part of a high visibility, keystone U.S. national STEM education program of the highest caliber.”

SSEP is a new program that launched in June 2010 by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education in partnership with NanoRacks, LLC, a company that is working with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory.

The company hopes to stimulate space station research by providing a very low-cost 1 kilogram platform that puts micro-gravity projects within the reach of universities and small companies, as well as elementary and secondary schools through SSEP. So, this is actually a commercial space program and not a NASA program.

This opportunity offers real research done on orbit, with students designing and proposing the experiments to fly in low Earth orbit.

Goldstein said the program is a U.S. national Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education initiative that gives up to 3,200 students across a community—middle and high school students (grades 5-12), and/or undergraduates at 2-year community colleges (grades 13-14)—the ability to fly their own experiments in low Earth orbit, first aboard the final flights of the Space Shuttle, and then later on the International Space Station.

For the STS-134 mission, now scheduled to launch in April 2011, 16 communities were chosen to participate from 447 student team proposals. Goldstein said the 16 selected experiments are now moving through formal NASA Flight Safety review.

But the end of the shuttle mission is not the end of this program – instead it is just the beginning. “This is meant to be a gateway to Phase 2 of the program, which will allow routine access to space for students conducting experiments, said Goldstein. “SSEP was designed to engage and inspire America’s next generation of scientists and engineers through immersion in real science. We believe that ‘student as scientist’ represents the very best in science education.”

What type of experiments would be accepted? Students and teachers should discuss what biological, chemical or physical system they would like to explore with no gravity off for 10 days. Examples of experiments are seed germination cell biology, life cycles of organisms, food preservation, and crystal growth. The SSEP program will help guide the teachers through implementation of the program in their classrooms.

Each participating school district will be provided an experiment slot in an easy-to-use real microgravity research mini-laboratory flying on Space Shuttle Atlantis. The SSEP center will then guide the school districts through an experiment design competition within the grade 5-12 range, which can be conducted across a single school, or district-wide to as many as 3,200 students. Student teams then design real experiments vying for your reserved slot on this historic flight, with designs constrained by mini-laboratory operation.

Other benefits of the program include a customized Blog for students and teachers to report on their program, and a design competition for each school to have a 4-inch x 4-inch emblem that we will fly aboard the Shuttle and returned to the school.

There is uncertainty, however, whether the STS-135 mission will fly. Funding for the additional STS-135 mission was authorized by Congress on September 29, 2010, and the authorization was signed by President Obama. NASA is currently awaiting Congressional allocation of funds for STS-135. On January 20, 2011, NASA formally added STS-135 to its launch schedule. Goldstein said there is now a high probability that STS-135 will indeed fly. But when it flies is the issue.

Because of the timing of when NASA needs to have a list of material that will be used in the experiments so that they can do a flight safety review, the SSEP program needs NASA to slip the launch date from June 28, 2011 until at least August 31, 2011. They fully expect this to occur given the significant launch slips that have occurred for STS-133 and STS-134, and the conversations already taking place in NASA.

But it is now time critical for schools to be able to participate. There is a proposal submission deadline of May 12, 2011. By the end of May, the flight experiments will be selected, so that NASA can be provided with the materials list 3 months in advance of launch.

For more information see the SSEP website

Testimonials for SSEP on STS-134

Watch a video of Dr. Jeff Goldstein talking about SSEP.