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Olympic torch to go on a spacewalk

TWO RUSSIAN COSMONAUTS will carry the Olympic torch when they venture outside the International Space Station Saturday, November 9, for a six-hour spacewalk to perform maintenance work on the orbiting laboratory.

NASA Television will provide live coverage of the spacewalk beginning at 1:00am Australian Eastern Summer Time.

Expedition 37 Flight Engineers Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) will open the hatch to the Pirs docking compartment airlock at 1:30am and float outside for a brief photo opportunity with the unlit torch. They then will stow it back inside the airlock before they begin their chores 420 kilometres above Earth.

Expedition 38 flight members holding the Olympic torch

Expedition 38 Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, left, Soyuz Commander Mikhail Tyurin of Roscosmos, and Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio of NASA, hold an Olympic torch that will be flown with them to the International Space Station, during a press conference held Wednesday, November 6, at the Cosmonaut Hotel in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

The torch, an icon of international co-operation through sports competition, arrived at the space station Thursday aboard a Soyuz spacecraft carrying three crew members Mikhail Tyurin of Roscosmos, Rick Mastracchio of NASA and Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. It will return to Earth on Sunday, November 10, aboard another Soyuz spacecraft vehicle along with crew members Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos, Karen Nyberg of NASA, and Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency.

The spacewalk is a high-flying extension of a relay that began in Olympia, Greece, in October. The relay will culminate with the torch being used to light the Olympic flame at the February 7 opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

This is not the first time that an Olympic torch has been carried into space, but it will be the first time in which one has been taken on a spacewalk.

After the photo opportunity, Kotov and Ryazanskiy will prepare a pointing platform on the hull of the station’s Zvezda service module for the installation of a high resolution camera system in December, relocate of a foot restraint for use on future spacewalks and deactivate an experiment package.

The spacewalk will be the 174th in support of space station assembly and maintenance, the fourth in Kotov’s career and the first for Ryazanskiy. This will be the eighth spacewalk conducted at the station this year. In December, Tyurin will accompany Kotov on his fifth spacewalk.

All the times of International Space Station programming, key Soyuz event coverage and other NASA Television programming can be found at: nasa.gov/stationnews

Europe/NASA join forces for next step

Artist's concept of the joint Orion/ATV module in Earth orbit

An artist’s impression of the cone-shaped NASA Orion craft attached to the cylindrical European ATV-based service module in Earth orbit. The service module will supply power generated by four solar panel ‘wings’.

  • Europe’s service module to power/supply NASA’s crew module
  • Similar in concept to Apollo’s service and command modules
  • First test flight, a lunar fly-by, set for 2017

NASA’S ORION SPACECRAFT will carry astronauts further into space than ever before using a module based on Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATV).

ATV’s distinctive four-wing solar array is recognisable in this concept. The ATV-derived service module, sitting directly below Orion’s crew capsule, will provide propulsion, power, thermal control, as well as supplying water and gas to the astronauts in the habitable module.

The first Orion mission will be an uncrewed lunar fly-by in 2017, returning for a re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 11 kilometres per second – the fastest re-entry ever.

Artist's impression of an Orion/ATV-based craft approaching an asteroid

In this artist’s impression, an Orion crew module and ATV-based service module are attached to further modules and a solar power array as they approach an asteroid. The supplies carried by, and energy generated by, the service module, will enable medium-duration missions to be attempted.

Albert Einstein to launch

This collaboration between ESA and NASA continues the spirit of international cooperation that forms the foundation of the International Space Station.

Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATVs) have been resupplying the International Space Station since 2008. The fourth in the series, named Albert Einstein, is being readied for launch this year from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

The ATV-derived service module, sitting directly below Orion’s crew capsule, will provide propulsion, power, thermal control, as well as supplying water and gas to the astronauts in the habitable module.

Artist's concept of the joint Orion/ATV module

The ATV-based service module will carry the craft’s main propulsion rocket, the nozzle of which can be seen on the right of this artist’s impression.

Critical element for exploration

The ATV performs many functions during missions to the International Space Station. The space freighter reboosts the Station into higher altitudes and can even push the orbital complex out of the way of space debris. While docked, ATV becomes an extra module for the astronauts. Lastly, at the end of its mission it leaves the Space Station with waste materials.

“ATV has proven itself on three flawless missions to the Space Station and this agreement is further confirmation that Europe is building advanced, dependable spacecraft,” said Nico Dettmann, Head of ATV’s production programme.

Thomas Reiter, ESA director of Human Spaceflight and Operations says: “NASA’s decision to co-operate with ESA on their exploration programme with ESA delivering a critical element for the mission is a strong sign of trust and confidence in ESA’s capabilities, for ESA it is an important contribution to human exploration.”

Adapted from information issued by NASA / ESA.

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Space Station to test inflatable module

NASA HAS ANNOUNCED PLANS for an addition to the International Space Station… one that will use the orbiting laboratory to test expandable space habitat technology.

NASA has awarded a US$17.8 million contract to Bigelow Aerospace to provide a Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), which is scheduled to arrive at the space station in 2015 for a two-year technology demonstration.

The BEAM is scheduled to launch aboard the eighth SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the station contracted by NASA, currently planned for 2015.

Following the arrival of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft carrying the BEAM to the station, astronauts will use the station’s robotic arm to install the module on the aft port of the Tranquility node.

After the module is berthed to the Tranquility node, the station crew will activate a pressurisation system to expand the structure to its full size using air stored within the packed module.

Garver and Bigelow next to the Bigelow BEAM

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver and President and founder of Bigelow Aerospace Robert T. Bigelow, talk while standing next to the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) during a media briefing.

A unique test bed

During the two-year test period, station crewmembers and ground-based engineers will gather performance data on the module, including its structural integrity and leak rate.

An assortment of instruments embedded within module also will provide important insights on its response to the space environment. This includes radiation and temperature changes compared with traditional aluminium modules.

“The International Space Station is a uniquely suited test bed to demonstrate innovative exploration technologies like the BEAM,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for human exploration and operations at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

“As we venture deeper into space on the path to Mars, habitats that allow for long-duration stays in space will be a critical capability. Using the station’s resources, we’ll learn how humans can work effectively with this technology in space, as we continue to advance our understanding in all aspects for long-duration spaceflight aboard the orbiting laboratory.”

Astronauts periodically will enter the module to gather performance data and perform inspections. Following the test period, the module will be jettisoned from the station, burning up on re-entry.

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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Shooting star, seen from above

ISS image of a meteor

The bright streak of a Perseid meteor as it flashes into Earth's upper atmosphere. The image was snapped by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station.

THIS ASTRONAUT PHOTOGRAPH, taken from the International Space Station (ISS) while over China (approximately 400 kilometres to the northwest of Beijing), provides the unusual perspective of looking down on a meteor as it passed through the atmosphere.

Many people have spent time outdoors under a dark sky, watching for “shooting stars” to streak across the firmament. In some cultures, this event is an occasion to make a wish; in others it is viewed as a herald of important events, such as the birth of a future ruler.

While not actual stars, “shooting stars” do come from outer space, in the form of meteoroids entering the Earth’s atmosphere.

Meteor or meteorite?

Meteoroids are small objects moving through the Solar System that are attracted to the Earth by its gravitational pull.

These small objects—typically fragments of asteroids or comets, though they can also originate from the Moon or Mars—begin to heat and burn up as they collide with air molecules in Earth’s atmosphere, creating a bright vapour trail or streak.

At this point, the object is known as a meteor. If any remnant of the object survives to impact the Earth’s surface, it becomes known as a meteorite.

While most meteorites are natural in origin, on occasion manmade space debris can re-enter the atmosphere and also become a meteor or even a meteorite!

Comes from a comet

The image was taken on August 13, 2011, during the Perseid Meteor Shower that occurs every August. The Perseid meteors are particles that originate from Comet Swift-Tuttle; the comet’s orbit is close enough for these particles to be swept up by the Earth’s gravitational field every year—leading to one of the most dependable meteor shower displays.

Green and yellow airglow appears in thin layers above the limb of the Earth, extending from image left to the upper right. Atoms and molecules above 50 kilometres in the atmosphere are excited by sunlight during the day, and then release this energy at night, producing primarily green light that is observable from orbit.

Part of a ISS solar panel is visible at upper right; behind the panel.

Astronaut photograph provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Centre. Text adapted from information issued by William L. Stefanov, Jacobs/ESCG at NASA-JSC.

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Tribute to the shuttle

http://youtu.be/b9VXeqzqqss

THE SPACE SHUTTLE IS PERHAPS the most complex technological system ever built. In 30 years, it has launched 135 times and helped humankind to dispatch and partially even return many satellites and deep-space probes, to build the International Space Station and to conduct out-of-this-world science. The shuttle has transported also 24 European astronauts to Earth orbit on 25 missions.

This short video highlights the flights that had a European flavour—from STS-9 in 1983 to STS-134 in May 2011.

Adapted from information issued by ESA.

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Shuttle is dead — long live the MPCV

AS NASA CLOSES THE CHAPTER on the space shuttle programme, a new era of exploration vehicles is beginning to take off.

Testing began this month in the new Hydro Impact Basin at NASA’s Langley Research Centre, to certify the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) for water landings.

The Orion MPCV will carry astronauts into space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel and ensure safe re-entry and landing.

Engineers have dropped a 10-tonne MPCV mock-up into the basin. The test item is similar in size and shape to MPCV, but is more rigid so that it can withstand multiple drops.

Each test has a different drop velocity to represent the MPCV’s possible entry conditions during water landings.

The last of three drop tests to verify the new facility is scheduled for the end of this month.

Testing will resume in September with a slightly modified test article that is more representative of the actual MPCV.

The new Hydro Impact Basin is 35 metres long, 27 metres wide and 6 metres deep. It is located at the west end of Langley’s historic Landing and Impact Research Facility, or Gantry, where Apollo astronauts trained for moonwalks.

Here’s an overview video of the Orion MPCV programme:

http://youtu.be/ClupWQ6NdBM?hd=1

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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Space spiders coming home

CARRIED ALOFT BY THE SPACE SHUTTLE Endeavour in May 2011, the Spiders in Space experiment saw two spiders—Gladys and Esmerelda—take up residence aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

The two golden orb spiders (Nephila clavipes) were kept in separate habitat chambers. Each chamber had a food supply of fruit flies, and was equipped with cameras and lighting systems. The lights were set to a 24-hour cycle that provided 12 hours of “daylight,” and 12 hours of “nighttime”. Night photographs were captured using infrared light.

One of the Earth-bound spiders

One of the Earth-bound spiders

The video above shows Esmerelda catching a fly.

The educational experiment was designed for school students to get involved in science while having fun. Students were encouraged set up spider habitats in their classrooms, so that they could compare the behaviour of their Earth-based spiders with the spiders living in space.

Hourly images of the spiders have been streaming onto the BioEd Online web site, where they are available as downloadable PowerPoint files or video clips.

After their holiday in weightlessness, Gladys and Esmerelda will be returning to Earth this week aboard the space shuttle Atlantis.

Adapted from information issued by BioEd Online.

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Salute to the Space Shuttle

FROM THE FIRST FLIGHT IN 1981 aboard shuttle Columbia, the world has marvelled and been inspired by NASA’s space shuttle program. For more than three decades NASA and its partners such as Lockheed Martin—and tens of thousands of dedicated men and women in industry, academia, science and engineering—have made every mission and new discovery possible on the ground and in space.

Adapted from information issued by Lockheed Martin.

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Atlantis – the final launch

SPACE SHUTTLE ATLANTIS lifted off at 1:29am Sydney time, July 9, 2011 (11:29am US Eastern Time, July 8th) to begin the STS-135 mission, the last of the shuttle programme.

“With today’s final launch of the space shuttle we turn the page on a remarkable period in America’s history in space, while beginning the next chapter in our nation’s extraordinary story of exploration,” Administrator Charles Bolden said. “Tomorrow’s destinations will inspire new generations of explorers, and the shuttle pioneers have made the next chapter of human spaceflight possible.”

The STS-135 crew consists of Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim. They will deliver the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module filled with more than 4,000 kilograms of supplies and spare parts to sustain space station operations after the shuttles are retired.

“The shuttle’s always going to be a reflection to what a great nation can do when it dares to be bold and commits to follow through,” Ferguson said shortly before lift-off. “We’re not ending the journey today—we’re completing a chapter of a journey that will never end.”

The mission includes flying the Robotic Refuelling Mission, an experiment designed to demonstrate and test the tools, technologies and techniques needed for robotic refuelling of satellites in space, even satellites not designed for servicing. The crew also will return with an ammonia pump that recently failed on the station. Engineers want to understand why the pump failed and improve designs for future spacecraft.

Atlantis is on a 12-day mission and scheduled to dock to the station at 1:06am Sydney time on Monday, July 11 (11:06am on Sunday, July 10, US Eastern Time).

STS-135 is the 135th shuttle flight, the 33rd flight for Atlantis and the 37th shuttle mission dedicated to station assembly and maintenance.

Here are some more clips of the launch, from different angles and at different stages of the process:

Information and videos courtesy NASA.

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Space shuttle – Go for launch!

WITH THE VERY LAST SPACE SHUTTLE flight upon us, it’s timely to take a look at just what happens during preparations for a launch. In this remarkable video made by a team of photographers from Air & Space Magazine, we see the shuttle Discovery being moved from the Orbiter Processing Facility to the giant Vehicle Assembly Building, where it is lifted upright and mated to its fuel tank and booster rockets. It is then moved to the launch pad and … we have lift-off!

This was Discovery‘s second-last flight, STS-131, in April 2010.

Please note that the video is silent until the moment of lift-off.

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