samedi 28 janvier 2017

Kennedy Space Center's NASA Day of Remembrance Honors Fallen Astronauts

NASA - Apollo 1 Mission patch / NASA - STS-51L Mission patch / NASA - STS-107 Mission patch.

Jan. 28, 2017

On Jan. 26, 2017, Kennedy Space Center employees and guests paid their respects to astronauts who have perished in the conquest of space. The annual Kennedy Day of Remembrance activities included a ceremony in the Center for Space Education at Kennedy's visitor complex. The observance was hosted by the Astronauts Memorial Foundation (AMF), paying tribute to those who acknowledged space is an unforgiving environment, but believed exploration is worth the risk.

The following day, Jan. 27, marks the 50th anniversary of the loss of the crew of Apollo 1. The ceremony also honored the astronauts of the STS-51L Challenger crew who perished in 1986, the STS-107 crew of Columbia who died in 2003, along with other astronauts who were lost in the line of duty.

Image above: Gemini 10 and Apollo 11 astronaut Mike Collins, served as keynote speaker for the Kennedy Space Center's NASA Day of Remembrance ceremony which took place in the Astronauts Memorial Foundation's Center for Space Education at Kennedy's visitor complex. Image Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett.

NASA Acting Administrator, Robert Lightfoot, noted that spaceflight is a tough, unforgiving business.

"The reward is the pursuit of knowledge and the advancement of what we learn as human beings. It's written in our DNA to continue that journey," he said. "My generation stands on the shoulders of these giants we are honoring and recognizing. They exemplify the pioneering spirit that got us to where we are today."

Center Director Bob Cabana, a former space shuttle commander, spoke on the reason for the ceremony.

"Each year, at this time, we come together and we pause to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in our quest to explore beyond our home planet," he said. "We pause to enforce the lessons learned so they are not repeated again."

Looking ahead, Cabana challenged the NASA-industry team to apply the crucial instructions from previous tragedies.

"Creating and maintaining a culture of trust and openness is the greatest lesson we can learn from the past," he said. "It is critical for our future success and the success of our commercial partners."

Apollo 1 was scheduled to lift off from Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral) Air Force Station on Feb. 21, 1967. A veteran of both Mercury and Gemini, Gus Grissom was selected as commander. Senior pilot was Ed White, the first American to walk in space. Rounding out the crew was first-time flyer Roger Chaffee, a member of the third group of NASA astronauts.

Image above: Astronauts, from the left, Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee stand near Cape Kennedy's Launch Complex 34 during training for Apollo 1 in January 1967. Image Credit: NASA.

On the afternoon of Jan. 27, 1967, the Apollo 1 crew arrived at the Cape's Launch Complex 34 for a launch countdown rehearsal. They boarded their spacecraft perched atop a Saturn 1B rocket. At 6:31 p.m. EST a cockpit fire was reported by the crew. Ground crews worked valiantly to open the complex hatch, but the crew perished before it could be removed.

Former Gemini 10 and Apollo 11 astronaut Mike Collins, served as keynote speaker. He noted that the lessons learned from the Apollo 1 accident were crucial to the ultimate success of the lunar landing program.

"Apollo 1 is just as important to contemplate as a launch that did not take place, but which was, in many ways, as important as any that flew," he said. "It slowed things down, but we gained increased reliability."

Sheryl Chaffee, daughter of Roger Chaffee, recently retired after working for NASA at Kennedy for 33 years. She echoed Collins comments.

"From the ashes of the Apollo 1 fire came the hard lessons NASA had to learn in order to have successful flights to the moon and for further exploration of space," she said. "I'm so proud to be here today with all of you to pay tribute to my father, his crewmates and the other fallen astronauts memorialized on the space mirror."

Apollo 16 lunar module pilot Charlie Duke, State Rep. Thad Altman, president and chief executive officer of the AMF, and Apollo launch team member John Tribe also participated in the ceremony.

Image above: Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana speaks to guests at the Florida spaceport's NASA Day of Remembrance ceremony. "Creating and maintaining a culture of trust and openness is the greatest lesson we can learn from the past," he said. Image Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett.

The ceremony included the Viera High School Army junior ROTC color guard and the national anthem performed by a vocal ensemble from DeLaura Middle School in Satellite Beach. A musical selection also was performed by Brandon Heath, a contemporary Christian musician from Nashville, Tennessee.

The AMF is a private, not-for-profit organization that honors and memorializes astronauts who sacrificed their lives for the nation and the space program. AMF built and maintains the Space Mirror Memorial and The Center for Space Education at the Kennedy visitor complex.

The Space Mirror Memorial includes the names of the fallen astronauts from Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia, as well as astronauts who perished in training and commercial airplane accidents. The names are emblazoned on the monument's 45-foot-high-by-50-foot-wide polished black granite surface. It was dedicated in 1991 and since has been designated a National Memorial by Congress.

Through the Center for Space Education, AMF partners with NASA to provide space-related educational technology training to teachers and students to foster an understanding of space exploration, to improve education through technology and to improve the quality of the space industry workforce.

Image above: STS-51L crew members pose during a break in countdown training in the White Room at Launch Pad 39B in November of 1985. From the left are Christa McAuliffe; Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik, Francis "Dick" Scobee, Ronald McNair, Mike Smith and Ellison Onizuka. Image Credit: NASA.

The STS-51L crew of Challenger included the first Teacher-in-Space participant, Christa McAuliffe, a Concord, New Hampshire, high school instructor. Also aboard were Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Judy Resnik, Ellison Onizuka and Ron McNair, along with payload specialist Greg Jarvis, an engineer with the Hughes Aircraft Company. After lifting off on Jan. 28, 1986, the crew perished when the vehicle exploded 73 seconds into the flight.

The STS-107 crew of the shuttle Columbia, Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark and Israeli Space Agency astronaut Ilan Ramon, were lost when the shuttle broke apart during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003.

Image above: The STS-107 crewmembers strike a ‘flying’ pose for their traditional in-flight crew portrait in the SPACEHAB Research Double Module aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia. Bottom row, from the left, are Kalpana Chawla, Rick Husband, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon. Top row, from the left, are David Brown, William McCool,and Michael Anderson. Ramon represented the Israeli Space Agency. Image Credit: NASA.

Mike Adams, the first in-flight fatality of the space program, died as he piloted an X-15 rocket plane on Nov. 15, 1967. Robert Lawrence, Theodore Freeman, Elliott See, Charles Bassett, and Clifton Williams were lost in training accidents. Manley "Sonny" Carter died in a commercial aircraft crash while on NASA business.

Following the ceremony, a memorial wreath was placed at the Space Mirror Memorial by Sheryl Chaffee; Lowell Grissom, brother of Gus Grissom; Carly Sparks, granddaughter of Grissom; along with Bonnie White Baer, daughter of Ed White.

Image above: Following the Kennedy Space Center's NASA Day of Remembrance ceremony, a memorial wreath was placed at the Space Mirror Memorial by family members of the Apollo 1 crew. From the left, are Lowell Grissom, brother of Gus Grissom; Carly Sparks, granddaughter of Grissom; Bonnie White Baer, daughter of Ed White; and Sheryl Chaffee; daughter of Roger Chaffee. They are standing in front of the Space Mirror Memorial which includes the names of the fallen astronauts from Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia, as well as the astronauts who perished in training and commercial airplane accidents. The names are emblazoned on the monument's 45-foot-high-by-50-foot-wide polished black granite surface. Image Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett.

Less than a month before the Apollo 1 accident, Gus Grissom completed the first draft manuscript for a book titled "Gemini" about the program that bridged Project Mercury to Apollo. On the last page, he wrote about the hazards of human spaceflight.

"There will be risks, as there are in any experimental program," he said. "But I hope the American people won't feel it's too high a price for our space program."

Related article:

The Lost Cosmonauts - "In Memoriam"

Related links:

Apollo 1:



NASA History:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Kennedy Space Center, by Bob Granath.


This Space Radio Could Change How Flights Are Tracked Worldwide

NASA logo.

Jan. 28, 2017

Under a new space-based tracking system, no plane would ever have to be off the grid, thanks in part to a reconfigurable radio developed for NASA.

NASA’s powerful radio communications network allows us to receive data such as pictures of cryovolcanoes on Pluto — or tweets from astronauts aboard the International Space Station. But to send larger quantities of data back and forth faster, NASA engineers wanted higher-frequency radios that can be reprogrammed from a distance using software updates.

Image above: NASA wanted a higher-frequency space-based radio that can be reprogrammed from a distance. Harris Corporation worked with the agency to design one, and is now selling them commercially as the AppSTAR. In this artist’s rendering, the radio is mounted on the satellite under a white cover. Image Credit: Iridium Communications Inc.

“A reconfigurable radio lets engineers change how the radio works throughout the life of [any space mission],” explains Thomas Kacpura, Advanced Communications Program manager at NASA’s Glenn Research Center. “It can also be upgraded to work better with future missions or to enhance performance, just by adding new software.”

Flexible Solutions

In the past, Kacpura says, engineers were reluctant to build reconfigurable devices for space, because it’s harder to guarantee performance — after all, how do you test for functions you don’t even know you’ll be using?

However, NASA has recently been allotting more resources to reconfigurable devices, and the agency worked with Palm Bay, Florida-based Harris Corporation to design and develop a new reconfigurable, higher-bandwidth radio.

The radio has been put through its paces through exhaustive testing both on the ground and in space, and in 2013, it was honored with an R&D 100 Award as one of the year’s 100 most significant innovations.

Image above: This map plots scheduled flights — more than 50,000 of them — from June 2009. With Aireon flight tracking, powered by a radio developed by Harris Corporation, air traffic control agencies will be able to see in real time the location and heading of every plane in the air. Image Credits: Wikipedia user Jpatokal, CC BY-SA 3.0.

The biggest selling point of the new device, which Harris sells as the AppSTAR, turned out to be its flexibility. With hardware and software both fully reconfigurable, the company could quickly and cheaply redesign the radio to fit any customer’s needs, explains Harris program manager Kevin Moran.

One of the biggest contracts so far is with Aireon LLC, a joint venture that will use the radios to create the first space-based global air traffic control system.

All the Planes, All the Time

For decades, airplanes have relied on radar surveillance via land-based radar stations. That’s left huge gaps — particularly over oceans — where air traffic controllers have no real-time information. To compensate, pilots file detailed flight plans and are required to remain within prescribed lanes at different altitudes so air traffic controllers can estimate where they are and work to ensure there are no mid-air collisions.

Plane traffic. Image Credit: NASA

But that is all set to change when a constellation of 66 satellites, owned by Iridium Communications Inc., goes into orbit equipped with AppSTAR radios. The radios are programmed to receive signals from new airplane transceivers called ADS-B, which automatically send out a flight’s number, location, heading and other details.

“Within seconds you can keep track of all the aircraft in the world,” says Harris systems engineer Jeff Anderson. Aireon has already signed contracts with a number of air traffic control agencies to integrate the space-based system into their flight tracking when the system goes live in 2018. Nav Canada, a founding partner in Aireon, was one of the first.

With real-time global tracking, planes can fly with less space between them and take more direct routes. “It tremendously improves public safety and potentially saves a lot of fuel costs, because you no longer have to remain in the particular airline traffic lanes,” Anderson says.

And if something does go wrong, search and rescue teams will have detailed information on where the plane was last spotted through a free service called Aireon ALERT.

Using an extra card slot on the radio, Harris was also able to add global tracking for ships, which the company markets as exactAIS RealTime, powered by Harris with their partner exactEarth.

Because AppSTAR software can be reconfigured remotely, both the Aireon and exactAIS systems can be updated well after launch. And it all started with the same box, processor and power supply cards as the NASA radio.

To learn more about this NASA spinoff, read the original article from Spinoff 2017:

For more information on how NASA is bringing its technology down to Earth, visit

Related article:

SpaceX successfully returns to launch with Iridium-1 NEXT

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Loura Hall/Goddard Space Flight Center/Naomi Seck.


SmallGEO First Flight Reaches Orbit

ARIANESPACE - Flight VS16 Mission poster.

28 January 2017

SmallGEO/H36W-1 liftoff

ESA’s new small telecom platform was launched on its first mission in the early hours of this morning.

The Hispasat 36W-1 satellite, based on the SmallGEO platform, lifted off on a Soyuz rocket at 01:03 GMT this morning from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

SmallGEO is Europe’s response to the market demand for more flexible, modular telecommunications platforms. It marks the first time the German satellite manufacturing company OHB System AG have been the prime contractor for a telecommunications satellite mission. Its Hispasat payload marks the first ESA partnership with a Spanish operator.

SmallGEO/H36W-1 liftoff replay

The three-tonne satellite was released by Soyuz into its transfer orbit 29 minutes after liftoff this morning. It will now use its own thrusters to make its way to its final destination over the course of the next few weeks.

It is heading towards ‘geostationary’ orbit at an altitude of 36 000 km over the equator, where it will take a day to circle Earth and therefore appear to hang over the same point, in this case at 36°W over the Atlantic Ocean.

OHB will test the satellite’s health and performance, making sure the sensitive technology made it unscathed through the violence of the launch.

After all is deemed well, they will hand the control over to Hispasat and the satellite will begin providing broadband services to Europe, South America and the Canary Islands.

Artist's impression of the SmallGEO H36W-1 Fregat separation

“The launch of this first SmallGEO platform marks another major success for ESA’s programme of Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems, known as ARTES, which aims to boost the competitiveness of its Member State industry through innovation,” noted Magali Vaissiere, ESA’s Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications.

“SmallGEO is part of our continuous efforts to strengthen the position of European and Canadian industry in the commercial telecommunications market, expanding the current range of available products.

“The next satellite based on SmallGEO will be EDRS-C, as the second node to the European Data Relay System.”

Carlos Espinós Gómez, CEO of Hispasat, said: “For Hispasat, this new satellite represents an important step forward in its innovation strategy.

“Hispasat 36W-1 is not only the first mission of the new SmallGEO platform, but also incorporates an advanced regenerative payload that will provide the satellite with greater flexibility and signal quality thanks to its reconfigurable antenna and onboard processor, thus improving the telecommunications services it will provide to our clients.

Hispasat 36W-1 with SmallGEO platform

“We are very satisfied with our collaboration with ESA, which has allowed us to participate in a leading technological project to which they have added significant value with their knowledge and experience in the space sector.”

Marco Fuchs, CEO of OHB System AG, commented: “The launch is a major milestone in the history of OHB. Hispasat 36W-1 proves that OHB’s concept of a modular and flexible SmallGEO platform fits into the market.

“SmallGEO is destined to build a cornerstone for Europe’s future activities in the segment of geostationary satellites in the three-tonne class.

“For OHB, Hispasat 36W-1 is the first project of a wide scope of future missions based on the SmallGEO platform, including a revolution in satellite technology: the full electric propulsion mission Electra.”



OHB System AG:

DLR German Aerospace Center:

SmallGEO at a glance:


Images, Video, Text, Credits: ARIANESPACE/ESA.

Best regards,

vendredi 27 janvier 2017

NASA Studies Cosmic Radiation to Protect High-Altitude Travelers

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center logo.

Jan. 27, 2017

NASA scientists studying high-altitude radiation recently published new results on the effects of cosmic radiation in our atmosphere. Their research will help improve real-time radiation monitoring for aviation industry crew and passengers working in potentially higher radiation environments.

Imagine you’re sitting on an airplane. Cruising through the stratosphere at 36,000 feet, you’re well above the clouds and birds, and indeed, much of the atmosphere. But, despite its looks, this region is far from empty.

Image above: RaD-X prepares to launch from Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Image Credits: NASA/Christopher Mertens.

Just above you, high-energy particles, called cosmic rays, are zooming in from outer space. These speedy particles crash wildly into molecules in the atmosphere, causing a chain reaction of particle decays. While we are largely protected from this radiation on the ground, up in the thin atmosphere of the stratosphere, these particles can affect humans and electronics alike.

Launched in September 2015 near Fort Sumner, New Mexico, NASA’s Radiation Dosimetry Experiment, or RaD-X, used a giant helium-filled balloon to send instruments into the stratosphere to measure cosmic radiation coming from the sun and interstellar space. The results, presented in a special issue of the Space Weather Journal, showcase some of the first measurements of their kind at altitudes from 26,000 to over 120,000 feet above Earth.

“The measurements, for the first time, were taken at seven different altitudes, where the physics of dosimetry is very different,” said Chris Mertens, principal investigator of the RaD-X mission at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. “By having the measurements at these seven altitudes we’re really able to test how well our models capture the physics of cosmic radiation.”

Cosmic radiation is caused by high-energy particles that continually shower down from space. Most of these energetic particles come from outside the solar system, though the sun is an important source during solar storms.

Image above: The RaD-X payload ascended into the stratosphere to measure cosmic radiation coming from the sun and interstellar space. Image Credit: NASA.

Earth’s magnetosphere, which acts as a giant magnetic shield, blocks most of the radiation from ever reaching the planet. Particles with sufficient energy, however, can penetrate both Earth’s magnetosphere and atmosphere, where they collide with molecules of nitrogen and oxygen. These collisions cause the high-energy particles to decay into different particles through processes known as nucleonic and electromagnetic cascades.

If you could see the particles from the airplane window, you would notice them clustering in a region above the plane. The density of the atmosphere causes the decay to happen predominantly at a height of 60,000 feet, which creates a concentrated layer of radiation particles known as the Pfotzer maximum.

Radiation in the atmosphere can be measured in two ways – by how much is present or by how much it can harm biological tissue. The latter is known as the dose equivalent and is the standard for quantifying health risks. This quantity is notoriously hard to measure, as it requires knowing the both the type and energy of the particle that deposited the radiation, not simply how many particles there are.   

These particles, both the primary high-energy particles and the secondary decay particles, can have adverse health effects on humans. Cosmic radiation breaks down DNA and produces free radicals, which can alter cell functions.

Animations above: Radiation dose rates, seen in this NAIRAS model, increase with altitude and latitude and can vary from hour to hour. Rates for Nov. 14, 2012, 20:00-21:00 GMT are shown above. Warmer colors indicate higher amounts of radiation. Animations Credits: NASA/NAIRAS.

The RaD-X mission took high-altitude measurements, few of which previously existed, to better understand how cosmic radiation moves through Earth’s atmosphere. Measuring dose equivalent rate over a range of altitudes, they found a steady increase in the rate higher in the atmosphere, a finding seemingly contrary to the concentration of particles at the Pfotzer maximum. This can be explained by the complex interplay of primary and secondary particles at these altitudes, as the primary particles found higher up have a much more damaging effect on tissue than the secondary particles.

Because of their time spent in Earth’s upper atmosphere, aircrew in the aviation industry are exposed to nearly double the radiation levels of ground-based individuals. Exposure to cosmic radiation is also a concern for crew aboard the International Space Station and future astronauts journeying to Mars, which has a radiation environment similar to Earth’s upper atmosphere. Learning how to protect humans from radiation exposure is a key step in future space exploration.

The results from RaD-X will be used to improve space weather models, like the Nowcast of Atmospheric Ionizing Radiation for Aviation Safety, or NAIRAS, model, which predicts radiation events. These predictions are used by commercial pilots to know when and where radiation levels are unsafe, allowing rerouting of aircraft in the affected region when necessary.

While balloon flights like RaD-X are essential for modelling the radiation environment, they cannot provide real-time radiation monitoring, which NAIRAS requires for forecasting. NASA’s Automated Radiation Measurements for Aerospace Safety program works in conjunction with RaD-X to develop and test instruments that can be flown aboard commercial aircraft for real-time monitoring at high altitudes.

Currently, an instrument called a TEPC – short for tissue equivalent proportional counter – is the standard instrument for measuring cosmic radiation. This instrument is large, expensive and cannot be commercial built – making it less than ideal for wide-scale distribution.

“We need small, compact, solid-state based instruments calibrated against the TEPC that can reliably measure the dose equivalents and can be integrated into aircraft cheaply and compactly,” Mertens said.

The flight mission tested two new instruments – the RaySure detector and the Teledyne TID detector – in hope that they can be installed on commercial aircraft in the future. These new instruments offer the advantage of being compact and easily produced. During RaD-X mission testing, both instruments were found to be promising candidates for future real-time, in situ monitoring.

Related Links:

Space Weather Journal:

More information about NASA’s RaD-X mission:

Images (mentioned), Animations (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, by Mara Johnson-Groh/Rob Garner.


Sixth Japanese HTV Cargo Ship Leaves Station

JAXA - HTV-6 Mission patch.

January 27, 2017

Image above: HTV-6 resupply ship release operation underway. Image Credits: ISS HD Live/Roland Berga.

Expedition 50 Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) and Commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA commanded the International Space Station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm to release a Japanese cargo vehicle at 10:46 a.m. EST. At the time of release, the station was flying 261 statute miles above the south Atlantic Ocean. Earlier, ground controllers used the robotic arm to unberth the cargo craft.

Japanese Cargo Ship Departs the ISS

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA’s) H-II Transport Vehicle-6 (HTV-6) arrived to the space station Dec. 13, after launching from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan Dec. 9.

Image above: The Japanese HTV-6 resupply ship is pictured just before its release on astronaut Shane Kimbrough’s 100th day in space. Image Credit: @Astro_Kimbrough.

The cargo ship will now move to a safe distance below and in front of the station for about a week’s worth of data gathering with a JAXA experiment designed to measure electromagnetic forces using a tether in low-Earth orbit. JAXA is scheduled to deorbit the craft on Feb. 5. Loaded with trash, the vehicle will burn up harmlessly over the Pacific Ocean.

Related link:

JAXA experiment:

For more information about the International Space Station, visit:

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.

Best regards,

Star Birth With a Chance of Winds?

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Jan. 27, 2017

The lesser-known constellation of Canes Venatici (The Hunting Dogs), is home to a variety of deep-sky objects — including this beautiful galaxy, known as NGC 4861. Astronomers are still debating on how to classify it. While its physical properties — such as mass, size and rotational velocity — indicate it to be a spiral galaxy, its appearance looks more like a comet with its dense, luminous “head” and dimmer “tail” trailing off. Features more fitting with a dwarf irregular galaxy.

Although small and messy, galaxies like NGC 4861 provide astronomers with interesting opportunities for study. Small galaxies have lower gravitational potentials, which simply means that it takes less energy to move stuff about inside them than it does in other galaxies. As a result, moving in, around, and through such a tiny galaxy is quite easy to do, making them far more likely to be filled with streams and outflows of speedy charged particles known as galactic winds, which can flood such galaxies with little effort.

These galactic winds can be powered by the ongoing process of star formation, which involves huge amounts of energy. New stars are springing into life within the bright, colorful ‘head’ of NGC 4861 and ejecting streams of high-speed particles as they do so, which flood outwards to join the wider galactic wind. While NGC 4861 would be a perfect candidate to study such winds, recent studies did not find any galactic winds in it.

For images and more information about Hubble, visit:

Image, Text, Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA/Text credit: European Space Agency/NASA/Karl Hille.

Best regards,

jeudi 26 janvier 2017

Spaceship Ready for Release as Crew Studies Vision

ISS - Expedition 50 Mission patch.

January 26, 2017

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

The Expedition 50 crew is getting ready for Friday morning’s release of Japan’s sixth cargo craft to visit the International Space Station. The station residents are also continuing to explore how their eyes adapt to living in space for months at a time.

The Kounotori HTV-6 resupply ship, from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, is being disconnected from station systems today as it prepares for its departure Friday at 10:30 a.m. EST. Overnight, ground controllers will operate the Canadarm2 and maneuver the HTV-6 away from the Harmony module where it is attached.  NASA TV will broadcast the release and departure activities live beginning at 10 a.m.:

Image above: Astronauts Thomas Pesquet (left) and Shane Kimbrough pose for a portrait with Japan’s HTV-6 resupply ship orbiting a short distance away from the space station’s cupola on Dec. 13, 2016. Image Credit: NASA.

European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA will then command the 57.7-foot-long robotic arm to release Kounotori back into orbit. After the HTV supports science experiments for a week, Japanese flight controllers will command the craft to deorbit on Feb. 5 for a fiery reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.

More Fluid Shifts research took place today as astronauts study the possibility of using a special suit, the Lower Body Negative Pressure (LBNP) suit, to prevent the upward flow of fluids towards the head caused by microgravity. This headward flow may be causing pressure on the back of crew members’ eyes potentially causing damage and affecting vision.

Image above: The six-person Expedition 50 crew poses for a group portrait inside the Columbus lab module from the European Space Agency. (Top row from left) Flight Engineers Thomas Pesquet, Peggy Whitson and Oleg Novitskiy. (Bottom row from left) Flight Engineer Andrey Borisenko, Commander Shane Kimbrough and Flight Engineer Sergey Ryzhikov. Image Credit: NASA.

During the afternoon, the crew also participated in ultrasound eye scans. Doctors on the ground assisted the crew to ensure good views of the optic nerve, cornea and back of the eye.

Related links:

Fluid Shifts:

Lower Body Negative Pressure (LBNP) suit:

Ultrasound eye scans:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

January 1986 - Voyager 2 Flyby of Miranda

NASA - Voyager 1 & 2 Mission patch.

Jan. 26, 2017

Uranus' moon Miranda is shown in a computer-assembled mosaic of images obtained Jan. 24, 1986, by the Voyager 2 spacecraft. At its closest, the spacecraft came within 81,500 kilometers (50,600 miles) of Uranus's cloudtops on Jan. 24. Voyager 2's images of the five largest moons around Uranus revealed complex surfaces indicative of varying geologic pasts. The cameras also detected 10 previously unseen moons. Several instruments studied the ring system, uncovering the fine detail of the previously known rings and two newly detected rings.

Miranda is the innermost and smallest of the five major Uranian satellites, just 480 kilometers (about 300 miles) in diameter. Nine images were combined to obtain this full-disc, south-polar view, which shows the varying geologic provinces of Miranda. The bulk of the photo comprises seven high-resolution images from the Voyager closest-approach sequence. Data from more distant, lower-resolution images were used to fill in gaps along the limb.

Miranda's surface consists of two strikingly different major types of terrain. One is an old, heavily cratered, rolling terrain with relatively uniform albedo, or reflectivity. The other is a young, complex terrain characterized by sets of bright and dark bands, scarps and ridges features found in the ovoid regions at the top and bottom and in the distinctive "chevron" feature above and to the right of center.

Final image processing was done by the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Ariz. Special navigational data used to improve Voyager's camera pointing were also used to "control" or register the images in the assembly of the mosaic; the data were generated by means of new techniques developed by JPL's Navigation Ancillary Information Facility. The images were projected onto a global sinusoidal map base. The Voyager Project is managed for NASA by Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.


Image, Text, Credits:  Credit: NASA/JPL/USGS/Sarah Loff.


New Space Weather Model Helps Simulate Magnetic Structure of Solar Storms

ESA & NASA - SOHO Mission patch / NASA - STEREO Mission logo.

Jan. 26, 2017

The dynamic space environment that surrounds Earth – the space our astronauts and spacecraft travel through – can be rattled by huge solar eruptions from the sun, which spew giant clouds of magnetic energy and plasma, a hot gas of electrically charged particles, out into space. The magnetic field of these solar eruptions are difficult to predict and can interact with Earth’s magnetic fields, causing space weather effects.

A new tool called EEGGL – short for the Eruptive Event Generator (Gibson and Low) and pronounced “eagle" – helps map out the paths of these magnetically structured clouds, called coronal mass ejections or CMEs, before they reach Earth. EEGGL is part of a much larger new model of the corona, the sun’s outer atmosphere, and interplanetary space, developed by a team at the University of Michigan. Built to simulate solar storms, EEGGL helps NASA study how a CME might travel through space to Earth and what magnetic configuration it will have when it arrives. The model is hosted by the Community Coordinated Modeling Center, or CCMC, at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The new model is known as a “first principles” model because its calculations are based on the fundamental physics theory that describes the event – in this case, the plasma properties and magnetic free energy, or electromagnetics, guiding a CME’s movement through space.

Such computer models can help researchers better understand how the sun will affect near-Earth space, and potentially improve our ability to predict space weather, as is done by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Animations above: These animated images show the propagation of a CME as it erupts from the sun and travels through space, comparing actual NASA and ESA’s SOHO satellite observations on the right to the simulation from the new CME-modeling tool at the Community Coordinated Modeling Center on the left. SOHO observed this CME on March 7, 2011. Animations Credits: NASA/CCMC/University of Michigan/Joy Ng.

Taking into account the magnetic structure of a CME from its initiation at the sun could mark a big step in CME modeling; various other models initiate CMEs solely based on the kinematic properties, that is, the mass and initial velocity inferred from spacecraft observations. Incorporating the magnetic properties at CME initiation may give scientists a better idea of a CME’s magnetic structure and ultimately, how this structure influences the CME’s path through space and interaction with Earth’s magnetic fields – an important piece to the puzzle of the sun’s dynamic behavior.

The model begins with real spacecraft observations of a CME, including the eruption’s initial speed and location on the sun, and then projects how the CME could travel based on the fundamental laws of electromagnetics. Ultimately, it returns a series of synthetic images, which look similar to those produced of actual observations from NASA and ESA’s SOHO or NASA’s STEREO, simulating the CME’s propagation through space.

A team led by Tamas Gombosi at the University of Michigan’s Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering developed the model as part of its Space Weather Modeling Framework, which is also hosted at the CCMC. All of the CCMC’s space weather models are available for use and study by researchers and the public through runs on request. In addition, EEGGL, and the model it supports, is the first “first principles” model to simulate CMEs including their magnetic structure open to the public.

Related Links:

How to Read a STEREO Image:

Wayward Field Lines Challenge Solar Radiation Models:

More about the Community Coordinated Modeling Center:



SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory):

STEREO (Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory):

Animations (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, by Lina Tran/Rob Garner.


Study Tracks 'Memory' of Soil Moisture

NASA - SMAP Mission patch.

January 26, 2017

NASA SMAP Data Provide Insights for Weather, Agriculture, Climate

A new study of the first year of observational data from NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission is providing significant surprises that will help in modeling Earth's climate, forecasting our weather and monitoring agricultural crop growth.

Image above: Artist's rendering of NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite.Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The findings are presented in a paper published recently in the journal Nature Geosciences by scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge; and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. They used SMAP measurements to estimate soil moisture memory in the top 2 inches (5 centimeters) of Earth's topsoils. The estimates improve upon earlier ones that were predicted from models or based on sparse data from ground observation stations. Soil moisture memory, which refers to how long it takes for soil moisture from rainfall to dissipate, can influence our weather and climate.

The team found that, on average, about one-seventh of the amount of rain that falls is still present in the topmost layer of soils three days later. This persistence is greatest in Earth's driest regions.

The top 2 inches of topsoil on Earth's land masses contains an infinitesimal fraction of our planet's water -- less than one-thousandth of one percent. Yet because of its position at the interface between land and atmosphere, that tiny amount plays a crucial role in everything from agriculture, weather, climate and even the spread of disease. This thin layer is a key part of the global water cycle over the continents and is also a key factor in the global energy and carbon cycles.

The behavior and dynamics of this moisture reservoir have been hard to quantify and analyze, however, because soil moisture measurements have been slow and laborious to make, or too sparse for researchers to make general conclusions. That situation changed in 2015 with the launch of SMAP, designed to provide high-quality, globally comprehensive and frequent measurements of the moisture in that top layer of soil.

"SMAP's ability to collect soil moisture data samples every two to three days over the globe gives scientists an unprecedented tool for tracking changes in soil moisture over time," said SMAP Project Scientist Simon Yueh of JPL, a study co-author. "For the first time, we can accurately quantify these rainfall memory effects on soil moisture on a global scale and for various types of land cover."

Image above: Global map and associated averages, by zone, of a new measure of how long it takes for soil moisture from rainfall to dissipate (estimated soil moisture water cycle fraction), produced from one year of data from NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive mission. Image Credits: MIT/NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Our ocean, containing 97 percent of Earth's water, plays a major role in storing and releasing heat. Over land, the moisture in the topmost layer of the soil also stores and releases heat, albeit through different mechanisms. That moisture "is a tiny, tiny fraction of the water budget, but it's sitting at a very critical zone at the surface of the land, and plays a disproportionately critical role in the cycling of water," says SMAP Science Team Leader and study co-author Dara Entekhabi of MIT.

Among the study's other findings, the team found that SMAP data identify regions where soil moisture memory has the potential to influence weather and affect and amplify droughts and floods. When moisture evaporates from wet soil, it cools the soil in the process, but when the soil gets too dry, that cooling diminishes. This, in turn, can lead to hotter weather and heat waves that extend and deepen drought conditions. Such effects had been speculated, but hadn't been directly studied until now.

To read more about the NASA/National Science Foundation-funded study, visit:

SMAP launched Jan. 31, 2015, on a minimum three-year mission to map global soil moisture and detect whether soils are frozen or thawed. The mission is designed to help scientists understand the links between Earth's water, energy and carbon cycles; reduce uncertainties in Earth system modeling; and enhance our ability to monitor and predict natural hazards like floods and droughts. SMAP data have additional practical applications, including improved weather forecasting and crop yield predictions.

SMAP is managed for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington by JPL, with instrument hardware and science contributions made by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. To learn more about SMAP, visit:

NASA collects data from space, air, land and sea to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth's interconnected natural systems with long-term data records. The agency freely shares this unique knowledge and works with institutions around the world to gain new insights into how our planet is changing.

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Alan Buis/Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Karl-Lydie Jean-Baptiste.


Cosmic lenses support finding on faster than expected expansion of the Universe

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

26 January 2017

Lensed quasar and its surroundings

By using galaxies as giant gravitational lenses, an international group of astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have made an independent measurement of how fast the Universe is expanding. The newly measured expansion rate for the local Universe is consistent with earlier findings. These are, however, in intriguing disagreement with measurements of the early Universe. This hints at a fundamental problem at the very heart of our understanding of the cosmos.

Studied lensed quasars of H0LiCOW collaboration

The Hubble constant — the rate at which the Universe is expanding — is one of the fundamental quantities describing our Universe. A group of astronomers from the H0LiCOW collaboration, led by Sherry Suyu (associated with the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Germany, the ASIAA in Taiwan and the Technical University of Munich), used the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and other telescopes [1] in space and on the ground to observe five galaxies in order to arrive at an independent measurement of the Hubble constant [2].

Lensed quasar

The new measurement is completely independent of — but in excellent agreement with — other measurements of the Hubble constant in the local Universe that used Cepheid variable stars and supernovae as points of reference [heic1611].

Lensed quasar

However, the value measured by Suyu and her team, as well as those measured using Cepheids and supernovae, are different from the measurement made by the ESA Planck satellite. But there is an important distinction — Planck measured the Hubble constant for the early Universe by observing the cosmic microwave background.

Lensed quasar

While the value for the Hubble constant determined by Planck fits with our current understanding of the cosmos, the values obtained by the different groups of astronomers for the local Universe are in disagreement with our accepted theoretical model of the Universe. “The expansion rate of the Universe is now starting to be measured in different ways with such high precision that actual discrepancies may possibly point towards new physics beyond our current knowledge of the Universe,” elaborates Suyu.

Lensed quasar

The targets of the study were massive galaxies positioned between Earth and very distant quasars — incredibly luminous galaxy cores. The light from the more distant quasars is bent around the huge masses of the galaxies as a result of strong gravitational lensing [3]. This creates multiple images of the background quasar, some smeared into extended arcs.

Lensed quasar

Because galaxies do not create perfectly spherical distortions in the fabric of space and the lensing galaxies and quasars are not perfectly aligned, the light from the different images of the background quasar follows paths which have slightly different lengths. Since the brightness of quasars changes over time, astronomers can see the different images flicker at different times, the delays between them depending on the lengths of the paths the light has taken. These delays are directly related to the value of the Hubble constant. “Our method is the most simple and direct way to measure the Hubble constant as it only uses geometry and General Relativity, no other assumptions,” explains co-lead Frédéric Courbin from EPFL, Switzerland.

Strong Gravitational lensing

Using the accurate measurements of the time delays between the multiple images, as well as computer models, has allowed the team to determine the Hubble constant to an impressively high precision: 3.8% [4]. “An accurate measurement of the Hubble constant is one of the most sought-after prizes in cosmological research today,” highlights team member Vivien Bonvin, from EPFL, Switzerland. And Suyu adds: “The Hubble constant is crucial for modern astronomy as it can help to confirm or refute whether our picture of the Universe — composed of dark energy, dark matter and normal matter — is actually correct, or if we are missing something fundamental.”

Flickering quasar images


[1] The study used, alongside the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, the Keck Telescope, ESO’s Very Large Telescope, the Subaru Telescope, the Gemini Telescope, the Victor M. Blanco Telescope, the Canada-France-Hawaii telescope and the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope. In addition, data from the Swiss 1.2-metre Leonhard Euler Telescope and the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope were used.

[2] The gravitational lensing time-delay method that the astronomers used here to achieve a value for the Hubble constant is especially important owing to its near-independence of the three components our Universe consists of: normal matter, dark matter and dark energy. Though not completely separate, the method is only weakly dependent on these.

[3] Gravitational lensing was first predicted by Albert Einstein more than a century ago. All matter in the Universe warps the space around itself, with larger masses producing a more pronounced effect. Around very massive objects, such as galaxies, light that passes close by follows this warped space, appearing to bend away from its original path by a clearly visible amount. This is known as strong gravitational lensing.

[4] The H0LiCOW team determined a value for the Hubble constant of 71.9±2.7 kilometres per second per Megaparsec. In 2016 scientists using Hubble measured a value of 73.24±1.74 kilometres per second per Megaparsec. In 2015, the ESA Planck Satellite measured the constant with the highest precision so far and obtained a value of 66.93±0.62 kilometres per second per Megaparsec.

More information:

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.

This research was presented in a series of papers to appear in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The papers are entitled as follows: "H0LiCOW I. H0 Lenses in COSMOGRAIL’s Wellspring: Program Overview", by Suyu et al., "H0LiCOW II. Spectroscopic survey and galaxy-group identification of the strong gravitational lens system HE 0435−1223", by Sluse et al., "H0LiCOW III. Quantifying the effect of mass along the line of sight to the gravitational lens HE 0435−1223 through weighted galaxy counts", by Rusu et al., "H0LiCOW IV. Lens mass model of HE 0435−1223 and blind measurement of its time-delay distance for cosmology", by Wong et al., and "H0LiCOW V. New COSMOGRAIL time delays of HE 0435−1223: H0 to 3.8% precision from strong lensing in a flat ΛCDM model", by Bonvin et al.

The international team consists of: S. H. Suyu (Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics, Germany; Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Taiwan; Technical University of Munich, Germany), V. Bonvin (Laboratory of Astrophysics, EPFL, Switzerland), F. Courbin (Laboratory of Astrophysics, EPFL, Switzerland), C. D. Fassnacht (University of California, Davis, USA), C. E. Rusu (University of California, Davis, USA), D. Sluse (STAR Institute, Belgium), T. Treu (University of California, Los Angeles, USA), K. C. Wong (National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, Japan; Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Taiwan), M. W. Auger (University of Cambridge, UK), X. Ding (University of California, Los Angeles, USA; Beijing Normal University, China), S. Hilbert (Exzellenzcluster Universe, Germany; Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich, Germany), P. J. Marshall (Stanford University, USA), N. Rumbaugh (University of California, Davis, USA), A. Sonnenfeld (Kavli IPMU, the University of Tokyo, Japan; University of California, Los Angeles, USA; University of California, Santa Barbara, USA), M. Tewes (Argelander-Institut für Astronomie, Germany), O. Tihhonova (Laboratory of Astrophysics, EPFL, Switzerland), A. Agnello (ESO, Garching, Germany), R. D. Blandford (Stanford University, USA), G. C.-F. Chen (University of California, Davis, USA; Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Taiwan), T. Collett (University of Portsmouth, UK), L. V. E. Koopmans (University of Groningen, The Netherlands), K. Liao (University of California, Los Angeles, USA), G. Meylan (Laboratory of Astrophysics, EPFL, Switzerland), C. Spiniello (INAF – Osservatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte, Italy; Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics, Garching, Germany) and A. Yıldırım (Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics, Garching, Germany)


Images of Hubble:

Hubblecast 70: Peering around cosmic corners:

H0LiCOW video on recent results:

Link to science paper 1:

Link to science paper 2:

Link to science paper 3:

Link to science paper 4:

Link to science paper 5:

H0LiCOW cooperation:

Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics:

ESA Planck satellite:

Keck Telescope:

ESO’s Very Large Telescope:

Subaru Telescope:

Gemini Telescope:

Victor M. Blanco Telescope:

Canada-France-Hawaii telescope:

NASA Spitzer Space Telescope:

Swiss 1.2-metre Leonhard Euler Telescope:

MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope:


Images, Videos, Text, Credits: NASA, ESA, Suyu (Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics), Auger (University of Cambridge)/Hubble, NASA, Suyu et al.

Best regards,

mercredi 25 janvier 2017

New Spacesuit Unveiled for Starliner Astronauts

NASA logo.

Jan. 25, 2017

Image Credit: Boeing.

Astronauts heading into orbit aboard Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft will wear lighter and more comfortable spacesuits than earlier suits astronauts wore. The suit capitalizes on historical designs, meets NASA requirements for safety and functionality, and introduces cutting-edge innovations. Boeing unveiled its spacesuit design Wednesday as the company continues to move toward flight tests of its Starliner spacecraft and launch systems that will fly astronauts to the International Space Station.

A few of the advances in the design:

-    Lighter and more flexible through use of advanced materials and new joint patterns
-    Helmet and visor incorporated into the suit instead of detachable
-    Touchscreen-sensitive gloves
-    Vents that allow astronauts to be cooler, but can still pressurize the suit immediately

The full suit, which includes an integrated shoe, weighs about 20 pounds with all its accessories – about 10 pounds lighter than the launch-and-entry suits worn by space shuttle astronauts.

Image above: Astronaut Eric Boe evaluates Boeing Starliner spacesuit in mockup of spacecraft cockpit. Image Credit: Boeing.

The new Starliner suit's material lets water vapor pass out of the suit, away from the astronaut, but keeps air inside. That makes the suit cooler without sacrificing safety. Materials in the elbows and knees give astronauts more movement, too, while strategically located zippers allow them to adapt the suit's shape when standing or seated.

"The most important part is that the suit will keep you alive," astronaut Eric Boe said. "It is a lot lighter, more form-fitting and it's simpler, which is always a good thing. Complicated systems have more ways they can break, so simple is better on something like this."

Of course, the suit has to be as functional as it is safe, Boe said. If an astronaut gets strapped in but can't reach the switches or work the touchscreen, the spacesuit would not be effective. That's why astronauts have spent some of their time sitting inside a Starliner mock-up wearing the spacesuit. They climb in and out repeatedly and try out different reaches and positions so they can establish the best ways for astronauts to work inside the spacecraft's confines.

Image above: A suit technician fits the communications carrier on an astronaut stand-in before pressurizing the spacesuit inside Crew Quarters at NASAKennedy Space Center in Florida. Image Credits: NASA/Cory Huston.

"The spacesuit acts as the emergency backup to the spacecraft's redundant life support systems," said Richard Watson, subsystem manager for spacesuits for NASA's Commercial Crew Program. "If everything goes perfectly on a mission, then you don't need a spacesuit. It's like having a fire extinguisher close by in the cockpit. You need it to be effective if it is needed."

Boe and astronauts Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley and Suni Williams are training for flight tests using spacecraft under development for NASA's Commercial Crew Program, including Boeing's Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon systems. Flight tests with astronauts aboard are slated to begin in 2018.

The spacesuits astronauts wear for walking in space are already aboard the station. Heavier and bulkier than launch-and-entry suits, spacewalking ensembles – called EMUs for extravehicular mobility units – have to function as a spacecraft unto themselves.

Image above: Astronaut Sunni Williams puts on the communications carrier of Boeing's new Starliner spacesuit. Image Credit: Boeing.

Standing inside the company's Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, former astronaut Chris Ferguson, who is now director of Crew and Mission Systems for Boeing, modeled the new suit in front of a mock-up of the Starliner spacecraft. On launch day, astronauts will don the suit in the historic Crew Quarters before striding across the Crew Access Arm at Space Launch Complex 41 and boarding a Starliner as it stands atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

"We slogged through some of the real engineering challenges and now we are getting to the point where those challenges are largely behind us and it's time to get on to the rubber meeting the road," Ferguson said.

Carrying up to four astronauts at a time for NASA, operational Commercial Crew missions are to take astronauts to the space station on a regular basis permitting the crew on the orbiting laboratory to grow to seven residents. That will mean more science and research time for NASA to seek vital answers for the challenges of future deep-space missions.

New Spacesuit Unveiled for Starliner Astronauts

From this point, Boeing will continue fit checks and other testing alongside the astronauts as all the teams train for the missions and push toward flight tests.

"To me, it's a very tangible sign that we are really moving forward and we are a lot closer than we've been," Ferguson said. "The next time we pull all this together, it might be when astronauts are climbing into the actual spacecraft."

Related links:

Commercial Crew:

Commercial Space:

Kennedy Space Center:

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA's Kennedy Space Center, By Steven Siceloff.

Best regards,