jeudi 23 janvier 2020

Mars Curiosity Rover Says Farewell to Murray Buttes

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) logo.

Jan. 23, 2020

This view from the Curiosity Mars rover's Mast Camera (Mastcam) shows an outcrop with finely layered rocks within the "Murray Buttes" region on lower Mount Sharp. The buttes and mesas rising above the surface in this area are eroded remnants of ancient sandstone that originated when winds deposited sand after lower Mount Sharp had formed. Curiosity closely examined that layer -- called the "Stimson formation" -- during the first half of 2016, while crossing a feature called "Naukluft Plateau" between two exposures of the Murray formation. The layering within the sandstone is called "cross-bedding" and indicates that the sandstone was deposited by wind as migrating sand dunes. The image was taken on Sept. 8, 2016, the 1,454th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars.

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) or Curiosity rover

Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity):

Image, Animation, Credits: NASA/Yvette Smith/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.


Spacewalk Preps Underway as Station Orbits Higher Ahead of Crew Departure

ISS - Expedition 61 Mission patch.

January 23, 2020

The International Space Station is orbiting higher today as three Expedition 61 crewmates get ready to return to Earth in two weeks. Meanwhile, two astronauts are finalizing preparations for a spacewalk early Saturday.

Russia’s Progress 74 cargo craft fired its engines twice boosting the space station’s altitude Thursday morning. The orbital adjustment sets up the correct trajectory for the undocking and landing of the Soyuz MS-13 crew ship on Feb. 6.

Image above: Astronaut Andrew Morgan holds on to a handrail during the second spacewalk to repair the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer on Nov. 22, 2019. Image Credit: NASA.

The Soyuz MS-13 will be commanded by Alexander Skvortsov returning home with astronauts Christina Koch and Luca Parmitano. The trio will parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan at 4:14 a.m. EST (3:14 p.m. Kazakh time). Koch will have lived in space continuously for 328 days, second only to U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly with 340 days.

The third spacewalk of January 2020 is set to begin Saturday at 6:50 a.m. EST with live NASA TV coverage getting under way at 5:30 a.m. Parmitano with NASA Flight Engineer Andrew Morgan will complete the complex thermal repairs on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a dark matter and antimatter detector.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Koch and fellow NASA astronaut Jessica Meir will assist the spacewalkers with the Canadarm2 robotic arm and are getting up to speed with the fine-tuned robotics maneuvers. They were joined by Morgan and Parmitano as the quartet reviewed spacewalk tasks and procedures.

Related links:

Expedition 61:

Progress 74 cargo craft:

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS):


Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.

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Chang'e 4 lander "Yutu 2" lunar rover awakens independently and enters the 14th day sunlight on the Moon

 CLEP - China Lunar Exploration Program logo.

Jan. 23, 2020

The two pioneers of Yuebei pioneered the wild cold and trudged in spring and autumn. On the occasion of the Spring Festival, the most important traditional festival of the Chinese nation, the Chang'e 4 lander "Yutu 2" lunar rover was awakened by light and started work on the 14th day of the day. This industrious "rabbit" will join hands with the lander and work on the moon to spend the Spring Festival again with everyone.

Chang'e 4 lander and "Yutu 2" lunar rover successfully awakened autonomously at 22 o'clock on January 18 and 17:55 on the 19th, respectively. The telemetry signal is normal, the energy balance is normal, and the scientific load is turned on normally. Lunar science continues Probe activity. The latest scientific results and scientific discoveries will be released in time.

Saying goodbye to 2019, China's lunar exploration and deep space exploration cause fruitful results. Chang'e-4 shined on the moon's back, and the results of in-situ detection and patrol detection have been fruitful, and it has become the longest working time detector on the moon in human history. The Long March 5 was reborn and the go-around mission was successfully completed. A solid foundation has been laid for space exploration activities and for going further into deep space.

Yutu 2 lunar rover

The spirit shines, and the future continues. Following this, Chinese astronauts will continue to uphold the "two bombs and one star" spirit, the manned spaceflight spirit, and the spirit of "chasing dreams, courage to explore, collaborate to overcome difficulties, and win-win cooperation" to trace the grand blueprint for the development of China's space industry and climb the space. Explore the scientific peak of innovation, submit satisfactory answers to people across the country, and make contributions to the construction of a community of shared future for mankind.

CNSA Press Release:

China National Space Administration (CNSA):

Images (CNSA/CLEP), Animation (CNSA/CLEP), Text, Credits: CNSA/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


Spacewalks, science and Beyond

ESA - Beyond Mission logo.

Jan. 23, 2020

Luca and Drew with their spacesuits

Spacewalk season continues on the International Space Station. ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano and NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan are getting ready to step outside the Quest airlock for their fourth and final time together on Saturday. But before they do, we look back at an action-packed fortnight of science and operations on the world’s only orbital outpost.

Hearing test

Acoustic Diagnostics

Acoustic Diagnostics is an Italian Space Agency (ASI) experiment, developed in cooperation with the University of Rome Tor Vergata, to study the effects of microgravity on the hearing of astronauts. Both Luca and Drew lent their ears to this experiment over the past six months and on 17 January Luca performed his fifth and final session of the experiment in space.

Those who have listened to episode four of the ESA Explores Beyond mission podcast will know, the International Space Station can be a noisy place. In order to understand the impact of this environment on astronauts’ hearing, Acoustic Diagnostics monitors what are known as optoacoustic emissions (OAEs).

OAEs are caused when hairs in the inner ear move in response to auditory stimulation. That means the measurement is passive. Astronauts put on headphones with a special inner-ear tip that simultaneously plays sound and measures their ears’ reactions.

Though his space sessions are complete, in his second week back on Earth Luca will perform the experiment again allowing researchers to compare data.

Finishing TIME

Timing is everything

Luca also performed his sixth and final mandatory session of another familiar experiment – TIME. Pending sessions on the ground at the end of their missions, Luca and Drew are subjects five and six for this experiment that uses a virtual reality headset to better understand how astronauts perceive time in space.

TIME’s first two tasks require each astronaut to reproduce the perceived duration of an event. Tasks three and four require them to estimate the amount of time elapsed for a given event. Task five measures response time and task six requires the participants to judge the length of a minute.

Time perception is fundamental to motion perception, sound localisation, speech, and fine motor coordination. The results of ground-based studies have shown that distance perception and time perception are intimately linked and it is thought that microgravity could be responsible for an underestimation of the time between events. It is also thought that this misperception of time carries over to the early post-flight period. Luca is scheduled to perform more sessions once he is back on the ground to help researchers’ understanding.

Safer surfaces

Matiss-2 experiment on the Space Station

In the constantly recycled atmosphere of the International Space Station, buildup of bacteria poses a challenge to astronaut health – in fact, bacteria and viruses are often more virulent in microgravity than on earth. Mitigating this will be vital during missions to the Moon and Mars.

MATISS is an experiment from the French space agency CNES investigating the antibacterial properties of materials in space to determine whether future spacecraft could be easier to clean and better for astronaut hygiene.

Last September, Drew Morgan installed two MATISS-2.5 sample holders in Europe’s Columbus laboratory. These sample holders are a continuation of the experiment and contain new patterned hydrophobic materials that will remain exposed in the lab for a further two months. Hydrophobic materials are non-polar, meaning they repel water and could present a self-cleaning solution.

More in store

Experiment cube

In addition to these experiments, crewmembers have been studying the physics of flame spread as part of an experiment called Confined Combustion, completed surveys to help researchers better understand the effect of “menu fatigue” caused by the limited food options available in space and even communicated with a community centre in Japan via ham radio.

Autonomous experiments on everything from cyber security to an interactive artistic kaleidoscope have been running in Europe’s first commercial research facility ICE Cubes and – despite Luca returning to Earth – the European science will continue in earnest.

In fact, you can get an even closer look at life on board the International Space Station this Saturday on ESA Web TV ahead of the next #SpacewalkForAMS as we premiere an hour-long tour filmed by Luca and Drew themselves. Stay tuned.

Related links:

Confined Combustion:

“Menu fatigue”:

Ham radio:

ICE Cubes:


Human and Robotic Exploration:

Science & Exploration:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/NASA.

Best regards,

Second space data highway satellite set to beam

ESA - EDRS Mission logo.

Jan. 23, 2020

The second satellite in the European Data Relay System has reached its intended orbit and completed its in-orbit tests.

Dubbed the “SpaceDataHighway” by its commercial operator Airbus, EDRS uses innovative laser technology to enable Earth-observation satellites to deliver their information to users on the ground in near real-time, accelerating responses to emergency situations and spurring the development of new services and products.

EDRS-C is the second satellite in the system and was launched on 6 August.

After being delivered into its initial orbit by an Ariane 5 launcher, EDRS-C made its way to its final geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometres above Earth through five liquid apogee engine burns and a few relocation manoeuvres.

It has been thoroughly tested to ensure that all its components are operating as expected.


Control of the satellite has now been handed over to Airbus. In the coming months, the performance of its laser communication terminal will be fine-tuned as part of the nominal test sequence. To do so, several links are scheduled with the Copernicus programme’s four Sentinel Earth observation satellites.

Commercial service is expected to begin in the spring.

The satellite also hosts a commercial payload operated by British satellite operator Avanti that is about to start delivering communications services.

EDRS is a public–private partnership between ESA and Airbus as part of ESA’s efforts to federate industry around large-scale programmes, stimulating technology developments to achieve economic benefits.

The first satellite in the EDRS network, EDRS-A, was launched in January 2016.

Since then it has transmitted 1.7 petabytes of data, equivalent to binge watching almost 20 000 ultra high definition 4k films 24 hours a day for nearly four-and-a-half years.

The data was transmitted via almost 30 000 optical inter-satellite links established with the Copernicus programme’s four Sentinel Earth observation satellites.

Telecommunications & Integrated Applications:

Image, Text, Credit: European Space Agency (ESA).


mercredi 22 janvier 2020

Spacewalking Team Relaxing as Cosmonauts Work Science, Crew Departure

ISS - Expedition 61 Mission patch.

January 22, 2020

The Expedition 61 spacewalking team aboard the International Space Station is taking a light-duty day ahead of this weekend’s excursion. Meanwhile, the Russian space residents researched human biology and prepared for a crew departure early next month.

Astronauts Andrew Morgan and Luca Parmitano took it easy on Tuesday, relaxing before they begin a six-hour spacewalk on Saturday at 6:50 a.m. EST to repair a cosmic ray detector. The duo began organizing their spacewalk tools, custom-designed for the unique job, just after lunch today. NASA TV will start its live broadcast of the spacewalk at 5:30 a.m.

Image above: (From left) Commander Luca Parmitano of ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan work on U.S. spacesuits they will wear on a spacewalk scheduled for Jan. 25. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA Flight Engineers Jessica Meir and Christina Koch spent an hour today reviewing Canadarm2 robotics procedures they will use to assist Saturday’s spacewalkers. Meir and Koch also spent the majority of the day relaxing, having completed two spacewalks in less than a week on Monday.

The Russian duo, cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Skripochka explored ways to maximize the effectiveness of space exercise. They also studied wearing and operating a specialized suit, the Lower Body Negative Pressure suit, which counteracts the upward flow of body fluids caused by microgravity.

Extra Vehicular Activities (EVA). Animation Credit: NASA

Skvortsov is also packing the Soyuz MS-13 crew ship that will return him, Koch and Parmitano to Earth on Feb. 6. The trio will undock and parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan. Koch will have accumulated 328 consecutive days in space upon landing second only to U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly with 340 days.

Related links:

Expedition 61:


Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.

Best regards,

Study finds space station microbes are no more harmful than those found in similar ground environments

ISS - International Space Station logo.

Jan. 22, 2020

Rest assured, microbes do not, it turns out, become “super bugs” in space.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

When humans and equipment go to the International Space Station, microbes such as bacteria and fungi come along for the ride. In the extreme environment, only microbes that are most likely to survive in these conditions thrive. A recent ESA (European Space Agency) study, Extremophiles, found that the resulting microbes are not, however, more resistant to antibiotics or extremophilic – able to thrive in environments previously thought uninhabitable – than those found on Earth in similar conditions.

“The idea we had was to find out whether the microbiome on board the space station is more resistant or more harmful than it would be on ground. Spaceflight causes some crew members to have periods of stress, and we wondered if the microbes would be stressed as well and might react in a bad way,” said the study’s Principal Investigator Christine Moissl-Eichinger of Medical University of Graz, Austria.

To live in orbit above Earth, microbes must deal with exposure to microgravity, radiation, cleaning agents and metal surfaces. The Extremophiles investigation studied the microbiome of the inside of the space station. A recently published paper details the varieties and locations of the station’s microbiome – the community of bacteria, bacteriophages, fungi, protozoa and viruses that live in the environment, as well as on and in the human body. Extremophiles can be dangerous to human health and equipment, and scientists are careful to avoid transferring them to a new environment on a visiting vessel.

Image above: NASA astronaut Jack Fisher wipes designated surfaces in the Cupola with Wet Wipes as part of the Extremophiles investigation. Image Credit: NASA.

“Previous studies indicated that there is high level of resistant genes and a lot of allergy-causing microbes, but [previous research] never put it in context. They never compared the results to similar ground environments,” said Moissl-Eichinger.

Since the station is a closed system, new microbes are introduced through the arrival of new crew, cargo or hardware. A similar environment on Earth is a cleanroom, where access is controlled and staff enters and exits through airlocks, wearing protective clothing to minimize particulate transfer to the cleanroom environment.

ESA researchers compared the station’s microbial community with that of an Earth-based cleanroom that prepares items for the station. This comparison turned out to be key to the investigation’s findings.

“We analyzed two sets of data, comparing data from the station with data from normal ground surroundings,” said Moissl-Eichinger. “We found that microbial virulence was not increased, the resistances were not higher, the microbes were not stressed. We could not see any particular differences.”

As might be expected, most of the microbes on station are those associated with human presence. People literally could not live without these tiny organisms, many of which are beneficial (see Microbiology 101: Where People Go, Microbes Follow). On the station, larger numbers of human-related microbes are found wherever humans more frequently interact with surfaces.

Researchers found that after almost 20 years of continuous human presence, the space station has developed a core microbiome of 55 different microorganisms. Even though the quantities change over time, the long-term mix of biological material is stable.

“We have a lot of samples from the station which now are more than 15 years old,” said Moissl-Eichinger. “There is a group of microorganisms you can detect in any sample that you are analyzing from the space station. Obviously, these microbes are surviving very well,” said Moissl-Eichinger.

Image above: For the Genes in Space-3 experiment, the Biomolecule Sequencer demonstrates using portable, real-time DNA sequencing to assay microbial ecology, diagnose infectious diseases, and monitor crew health aboard the space station. Image Credit: NASA.

The one significant difference between the station microbiome and that of the ground areas studied had to do with microbes’ reactions to metal surfaces.

Some microbes respond negatively to station surfaces, potentially creating biofilms or corrosion. Experience with Russia’s Mir space station showed that some microbes, especially fungi, can become “technophilic,” or technology-loving, resulting in growth on metal areas, wiring connectors and inside panels. These communities caused the progressive destruction of a window on Mir as well as electrical outages. Since such microbes require wet conditions, it is important to keep metal surfaces dry.

Benefitting from the experience of Mir, designers of the space station ensured that the station does not have areas that collect moisture and are inaccessible to maintenance activities. Despite the dry environment, samples from the space station showed the presence of some technophiles.

“We found indications that the microbes are adapting to the surfaces on board. These microbes were really different to those that we found on the ground. These technophilic organisms are attacking the surfaces as they struggle to stay alive,” Moissl-Eichinger explained.

Going forward, the researchers recommend continuing to keep surfaces dry and conducting periodic sample collection. They also highlighted the potential benefits of equipment capable of identifying microbes in space without return to Earth or the use of cultures, such as the Biomolecule Sequencer, currently being used for the Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology (BEST) investigation. With quick-turnaround information, crew members could target areas of concern when needed rather than stressing microbes by constant cleaning.

After all, as Moissl-Eichinger explained, “We need our microbes.”

Related links:


The Extremophiles investigation paper:

Microbiology 101: Where People Go, Microbes Follow:

Biomolecule Sequencer:

Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology (BEST):

European Space Agency (ESA):

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Animation (mentioned), Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/JSC/International Space Station Program Science Office/Carrie Gilder.

Best regards,