samedi 3 juin 2017

Dragon Launches to Station, Cygnus Departs Sunday

SpaceX - CRS-11 Dragon Mission patch.

June 3, 2017

Image above: The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Dragon spacecraft onboard, launches from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, Saturday, June 3, 2017. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls).

The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 5:07 p.m. EDT, and Dragon has begun its journey to the International Space Station with an arrival scheduled for June 5. Dragon separated from Falcon 9 about 10 minutes after launch, and solar arrays successfully deployed shortly after separation from the second stage. A post-launch news conference is scheduled to begin on NASA TV at approximately 6:30 p.m.

SpaceX CRS-11: Falcon 9 launch & landing

Before Dragon arrives at the space station, the Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft will depart the station Sunday, June 4. Expedition 52 Flight Engineers Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson of NASA will be at the controls of the Canadarm2 robotic arm to release Cygnus at 9:10 a.m. NASA TV coverage of the spacecraft’s departure will begin at 8:30 a.m.

For more information on the SpaceX CRS-11 mission, visit: For more information about the International Space Station, visit:


Image (mentioned), Video (SpaceX/NASA TV), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.

Best regards,

A South Polar Pit or an Impact Crater?

NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) patch.

June 3, 2017

This observation from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show it is late summer in the Southern hemisphere, so the Sun is low in the sky and subtle topography is accentuated in orbital images.

We see many shallow pits in the bright residual cap of carbon dioxide ice (also called "Swiss cheese terrain"). There is also a deeper, circular formation that penetrates through the ice and dust. This might be an impact crater or it could be a collapse pit.

This is a stereo pair with

The map is projected here at a scale of 50 centimeters (19.7 inches) per pixel. [The original image scale is 49.7 centimeters (19.6 inches) per pixel (with 2 x 2 binning); objects on the order of 149 centimeters (67.3 inches) across are resolved.] North is up.

The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Mars, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO):

Image, Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona.


vendredi 2 juin 2017

Weekly Recap From the Expedition Lead Scientist, week of May 22, 2017

ISS - Expedition 51 Mission patch.

June 2, 2017

(Highlights: Week of May 22, 2017) - An unscheduled spacewalk on the International Space Station to replace a failed piece of critical command and control hardware delayed some planned investigations. However, right after the spacewalk ended, crew members picked right back up on the science timeline.

One of the investigations was in human research, as crew members drew blood for the Cardiac and Vessel Structure and Function with Long-Duration Space Flight and Recovery (Vascular Echo) study. The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) investigation examines the changes in blood vessels and the heart while crew members are in space, and follows their recovery after returning to Earth.

Image above: European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet works on the airlock in the Japanese Experiment Module, which is used to move investigations outside the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

As humans get older on Earth, arteries can stiffen, which causes an increase in blood pressure, elevating the risk of heart disease. Physicians have observed that crew members returning from the space station also have much stiffer arteries than before they went into space. The Vascular Echo investigation aims to give researchers a better understanding of the changes in the cardiovascular system, which may provide insight into potential countermeasures to maintain health in space and on Earth.

Ground teams commanded operations for the Combustion Integration Rack (CIR) on the space station in support of the Cool Flames Investigation. Some types of fuels initially burn very hot, then appear to go out — but they continue burning at a much lower temperature with no visible flames. These phenomena are called cool flames. Understanding cool flame combustion could help scientists develop new engines and fuels that are more efficient and less harmful to the environment. The Cool Flames Investigation provides new insight into this phenomenon, as well as new data on fire safety in space.

Image above: CubeSats that are part of the the QB50 constellation of CubeSats provided by countries from around the world are deployed from the NanoRacks CubeSat deployer. The constellation aims to study the upper reaches of the Earth’s atmosphere over a period of 1 to 2 years. Image Credit: NASA.

Crew members also collected samples for the Biochemical Profile (Biochem Profile) investigation. The astronauts study themselves to learn how the human body reacts to long-duration spaceflight. Biochem Profile tests bodily fluid samples obtained from astronauts before, during and after spaceflight. Specific proteins and chemicals in the samples are used as biomarkers, or indicators of health. Post-flight analysis yields a database of samples and test results, which scientists can use to study the effects of spaceflight on the body. Establishing a chemical profile of the body’s response to spaceflight will help scientists understand how different systems in the body interact in microgravity in different groups of people. Scientists can also test the effectiveness of possible countermeasures like exercise and nutrition and their effects on crew health during long-duration exploration missions.

Space to Ground Surprise Spacewalk!

Video above: NASA's Space to Ground is a weekly update on what is happening on the International Space Station. Video Credit: NASA.

An improved understanding of the biochemical effects of microgravity could help patients with limited mobility on Earth, such as those on bed rest. Understanding how various physiological systems respond and interact to changing gravity conditions could help physicians design different treatments or exercises for people with limited mobility.

Progress was made on other investigations, outreach activities, and facilities this week, including Cardio Ox, NanoRack CubeSat Deployer (NRCSD), Radi-N, Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ISS Ham Radio (ARISS)), Light Microscopy Module Biophysics, Fine Motor Skills, Passive Thermal Flight Experiment, OsteoOmics, Body Measures, Dose Tracker, and Marrow.

Related links:

Vessel Structure and Function with Long-Duration Space Flight and Recovery (Vascular Echo):

Combustion Integration Rack (CIR):

Cool Flames Investigation:

Biochemical Profile (Biochem Profile):

Cardio Ox:

NanoRack CubeSat Deployer (NRCSD):


Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ISS Ham Radio) (ARISS):

Light Microscopy Module Biophysics:

Fine Motor Skills:

Passive Thermal Flight Experiment:


Body Measures:

Dose Tracker:


Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Kristine Rainey/Jorge Sotomayor, Lead Increment Scientist Expeditions 51 & 52.

Best regards,

NASA Scientists Assist LIGO in Third Gravitational Wave Observation

NASA logo.

June 2, 2017

Image above: Artist's view of a pair of orbiting black holes collides. Image Credit: NASA.

About 3 billion years ago, a pair of orbiting black holes collided to form a single object with 49 times the mass of our sun. The event unleashed powerful gravitational waves—ripples in the very fabric of space and time—that reached Earth seconds before 5:12 a.m. EST on Jan. 4, 2017. That's when they were detected by the ground-based twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) facilities in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana.

The event, known as GW170104, after the date, is the third detection of gravitational waves by LIGO. Located at a distance of about 3 billion light-years, the coalesced black hole is twice as far away as both of the two mergers previously detected.

The LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC), an international group of researchers that includes NASA scientists, reported the findings in a paper published online June 1 in the journal Physical Review Letters.

"We have further confirmation of the existence of stellar-mass black holes that are larger than 20 solar masses—these are objects we didn't know existed before LIGO detected them," said LSC spokesperson David Shoemaker of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. "It is remarkable that humans can put together a story, and test it, for such strange and extreme events that took place billions of years ago and billions of light-years distant from us."

Visualization of Merging Black Holes and Gravitational Waves

Video above: This visualization shows gravitational waves emitted by two black holes (black spheres) of nearly equal mass as they spiral together and merge in an event like GW170104. Yellow structures near the black holes illustrate the strong curvature of space-time in the region. Orange ripples represent distortions of space-time caused by the rapidly orbiting masses. These distortions spread out and weaken, ultimately becoming gravitational waves (purple). This simulation was performed on the Pleiades supercomputer at NASA's Ames Research Center. Video Credits: NASA/Bernard J. Kelly (Goddard and University of Maryland Baltimore County), Chris Henze (Ames) and Tim Sandstrom (CSC Government Solutions LLC).

LIGO detected the first black hole mergers in September and December 2015. In the instant before the black holes merged, all three of these events produced more power as gravitational waves than is radiated as light by all the stars in the observable universe at any given time.

"Up until the success of LIGO, almost everything we knew about the universe came from light," said Tyson Littenberg, principal investigator of the LIGO research group at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. "Gravitational wave observations are now firmly part of the toolbox for understanding some of the most exotic objects and violent events in the universe."

Littenberg's contributions to the project have helped push the extremes of signal-processing techniques. He is on the team that developed sophisticated algorithms needed to accurately parse out signals that are barely measureable—disturbances 10,000 times smaller than an atomic nucleus. He also helped develop and run large-scale simulations to determine how sensitive LIGO is to different gravitational wave signals.

"LIGO could not succeed without the effort and continued support of more than a thousand scientists and engineers from all corners of the globe," Littenberg said. "Gravitational wave detection is an incredibly challenging endeavor, both scientifically and technologically, and we have only just begun to reap the benefits."

NASA researchers are also deeply interested in detecting high-energy light from mergers using orbiting observatories. Having both the gravitational and X-ray or gamma-ray signals from a merger would provide scientists with the greatest amount of information about these events. While mergers of binary black holes are not generally expected to produce electromagnetic signals, theorists have proposed exotic systems that possibly could. And mergers between black holes and other types of objects, such as neutron stars, are expected to produce high-energy flares.

Image above: LIGO has discovered a new population of black holes with masses that are larger than what had been seen before with X-ray studies alone (purple). The three confirmed detections by LIGO (GW150914, GW151226 and GW170104) and one lower-confidence detection (LVT151012) all point to a population of stellar-mass binary black holes that, once merged, are larger than 20 solar masses. Image Credits: LIGO/Caltech/Sonoma State (Aurore Simonnet).

"We're refining techniques to narrow down the amount of sky we'll need spacecraft to search in order to find a flare associated with a gravitational wave event," said Tito Dal Canton, a post-doctoral researcher in the LIGO group at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who contributed to the detection algorithm used to identify the gravitational signal from this event.

Astronomers will need both ground-based and space-based observatories to take full advantage of this new observational window on the universe. NASA is working closely with ESA (the European Space Agency) to develop a concept for a space-based gravitational wave observatory and contributed to ESA's LISA Pathfinder mission, which demonstrated critical technologies needed for such an undertaking.

"LIGO is unveiling a population of stellar-mass black holes far more massive than those that have been detected through previous observations," said Jordan Camp, principal investigator for the Goddard LIGO team. "The mystery now is how these larger black holes form, and how they end up close enough to one another that we observe them merging so frequently."

LIGO is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and operated by MIT and Caltech, which conceived and built the project. Financial support for the Advanced LIGO project was led by NSF with Germany (Max Planck Society), the U.K. (Science and Technology Facilities Council) and Australia (Australian Research Council) making significant commitments and contributions to the project. More than 1,000 scientists from around the world participate in the effort through the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, which includes the GEO Collaboration. LIGO partners with the Virgo Collaboration, a consortium including 280 additional scientists throughout Europe supported by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN) and Nikhef, as well as Virgo's host institution, the European Gravitational Observatory. Additional partners are listed at:

Related links:

Physical Review Letters:

Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO):

ESA's LISA Pathfinder:

National Science Foundation (NSF):

Max Planck Society:

Science and Technology Facilities Council:

Australian Research Council:

Virgo Collaboration:

LIGO Scientific Collaboration:

GEO Collaboration:

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Molly Porter/Goddard Space Flight Center/Lee Mohon/Goddard Space Flight Center/Francis Reddy.

Best regards,

Expedition 51 Crew Back on Earth After 196 Days

ROSCOSMOS - Soyuz MS-03 Mission patch.

June 2, 2017

Expedition 51 Crew Departs Space Station

Video above: On June 2, Expedition 51 Flight Engineer and Soyuz Commander Oleg Novitskiy of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) said farewell to the crew remaining onboard the International Space Station. The pair then climbed aboard their Soyuz spacecraft and prepared for their journey back to Earth. The two crew members spent 196 days in space overall and 194 days on the station conducting research and operational work. Video Credit: NASA TV.

After spending 196 days in space, Expedition 51 crew members Oleg Novitskiy of Roscosmos and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) landed their Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft in Kazakhstan at approximately 10:10 a.m. EDT. Russian recovery teams are helping the crew exit the Soyuz vehicle and adjust to gravity after their stay in space.

Expedition 51 Crew Lands Safely in Kazakhstan to Complete More Than Six Months in Space

The duo arrived at the International Space Station on Nov.19, 2016, along with NASA’s Peggy Whitson, who will remain on the space station and return home with NASA’s Jack Fischer and Roscosmos’ Fyodor Yurchikhin. That landing is targeted for September.

The Expedition 51 crew descends to a parachuted landing inside the Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft. Image Credit: Roscosmos.

At the time of undocking, Expedition 52 began aboard the station under Yurchikhin’s command. Along with Whitson and Fischer of NASA, the three-person crew will operate the station until the arrival of three new crew members. Randy Bresnik of NASA, Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos, and Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli of ESA are scheduled to launch July 28 from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

For more information about the International Space Station, visit:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

Curiosity Peels Back Layers on Ancient Martian Lake

NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) logo.

June 2, 2017

Fast Facts:

- NASA's Curiosity Mars rover mission has provided an unprecedented level of detail about an ancient lake environment on Mars that offered favorable conditions for microbial life.

- A lake in Mars' Gale Crater long ago was stratified, with oxidant-rich shallows and oxidant-poor depths.

- The lake offered multiple types of microbe-friendly environments simultaneously.

Image above: This evenly layered rock imaged in 2014 by the Mastcam on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows a pattern typical of a lake-floor sedimentary deposit near where flowing water entered a lake. Shallow and deep parts of an ancient Martian lake left different clues in mudstone formed from lakebed deposits. Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

A long-lasting lake on ancient Mars provided stable environmental conditions that differed significantly from one part of the lake to another, according to a comprehensive look at findings from the first three-and-a-half years of NASA's Curiosity rover mission.

Different conditions favorable for different types of microbes existed simultaneously in the same lake.

Previous work had revealed the presence of a lake more than three billion years ago in Mars' Gale Crater. This study defines the chemical conditions that existed in the lake and uses Curiosity's powerful payload to determine that the lake was stratified. Stratified bodies of water exhibit sharp chemical or physical differences between deep water and shallow water. In Gale's lake, the shallow water was richer in oxidants than deeper water was.

"These were very different, co-existing environments in the same lake," said Joel Hurowitz of Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York, lead author of a report of the findings in the June 2 edition of the journal Science. "This type of oxidant stratification is a common feature of lakes on Earth, and now we've found it on Mars. The diversity of environments in this Martian lake would have provided multiple opportunities for different types of microbes to survive, including those that thrive in oxidant-rich conditions, those that thrive in oxidant-poor conditions, and those that inhabit the interface between those settings."

Whether Mars has ever hosted any life is still unknown, but seeking signs of life on any planet -- whether Earth, Mars or more-distant icy worlds -- begins with reconstruction of the environment to determine if it was capable of supporting life.

Curiosity's primary goal when it landed inside Gale Crater in 2012 was to determine whether Mars has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life. In its first year, on the crater floor at "Yellowknife Bay," the rover found evidence of ancient freshwater river and lake environments with all the main chemical ingredients for life and a possible energy source for life. Curiosity has since driven to the base of Mount Sharp, a layered mountain inside the crater, and inspected rock layers that grow progressively younger as the rover gains elevation on lower Mount Sharp.

Image above: This diagram presents some of the processes and clues related to a long-ago lake on Mars that became stratified, with the shallow water richer in oxidants than deeper water was. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Stony Brook University.

Differences in the physical, chemical and mineral characteristics of several sites on lower Mount Sharp at first presented a puzzle to the rover team. For example, some rocks showed thicker layering with a larger proportion of an iron mineral called hematite, while other rocks showed very fine layers and more of an iron mineral called magnetite. Comparing these properties suggested very distinctive environments of deposition.

Researchers considered whether these differences could have resulted from environmental conditions fluctuating over time or differing from place to place.

"We could tell something was going on," Hurowitz said. "What was causing iron minerals to be one flavor in one part of the lake and another flavor in another part of the lake? We had an 'Aha!' moment when we realized that the mineral information and the bedding-thickness information mapped perfectly onto each other in a way you would expect from a stratified lake with a chemical boundary between shallow water and deeper water."

In addition to revealing new information about chemical conditions within the lake, the report by Hurowitz and 22 co-authors also documents fluctuations in the climate of ancient Mars. One such change happened between the time crater-floor rocks were deposited and the time the rocks that now make up the base of Mount Sharp were deposited. Those later rocks are exposed at "Pahrump Hills" and elsewhere.

The method the team used for detecting changes in ancient climate conditions on Mars resembles how ice cores are used to study past temperature conditions on Earth. It is based on comparing differences in the chemical composition of layers of mud-rich sedimentary rock that were deposited in quiet waters in the lake. While the lake was present in Gale, climate conditions changed from colder and drier to warmer and wetter. Such short-term fluctuations in climate took place within a longer-term climate evolution from the ancient warmer and wetter conditions that supported lakes, to today's arid Mars.

Animation above: Curiosity Self-Portrait at 'Okoruso' Drill Hole, Mars. This animated image blinks two versions of a May 11, 2016, selfie of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover at a drilled sample site called "Okoruso." In one version, cameras atop the rover's mast face the arm-mounted camera taking the portrait. In the other, they face away. Animation Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

"These results give us unprecedented detail in answering questions about ancient environmental conditions on Mars," said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "I'm struck by how these fascinating conclusions on habitability and climate took everything the mission had to offer: a set of sophisticated science instruments, multiple years and miles of exploration, a landing site that retained a record of the ancient environment, and a lot of hard work by the mission team."

In mid-2017, Curiosity is continuing to reach higher and younger layers of Mount Sharp to study how the ancient lake environment evolved to a drier environment more like modern Mars. The mission is managed by JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Curiosity and other Mars science missions are all part of ambitious robotic exploration to understand Mars, which helps lead the way for sending humans to Mars in the 2030s. For more about Curiosity, visit:

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Laurie Cantillo/Dwayne Brown/JPL/Guy Webster/Caltech/Robert Perkins/Stony Brook University/Gregory Filiano.


Returning to the Moon

ESA - European Space Agency International patch.

June 2, 2017

The last manned mission to the Moon took place in December 1972. Although several probes have targeted the Moon since then, we humans have concentrated on living and working in low Earth orbit and on exploring the rest of the Solar System with some ambitious robotic missions.

Today, the general view shared by Earth's space agencies is changing. The exploration of outer space is still high on everybody's list but it has become apparent that many future space activities will require a human presence on the Moon first.

Super moon

So far, no humans have ever been to the polar regions of the Moon, where unmanned missions have found water in the form of ice. Water is an important resource because it can be used to produce oxygen, which will be vital for human survival on the Moon.

But what does this all mean? If we are going to return to the Moon, astronauts will need somewhere to live, in a safe and stable environment.

A new study launched under ESA’s General Studies Programme (GSP), called ‘Conceiving a lunar base using 3D printing technologies’, is set to find out ways of creating habitable structures using all resources available at the destination.

The study is looking into additive manufacturing (or 3D printing) technology from a wider perspective, including the ancillary equipment needed to operate this and the high-level requirements to ultimately achieve a lunar habitat.

3D-printed lunar base design

Several studies have been carried out by different space agencies to see how humans could survive on the Moon. In this respect, additive manufacturing (or 3D printing) has been identified as one of the most promising applications for building structures on the Moon.

Lunar soil as a base material for a 3D printer has already been used to fabricate honeycomb-like bricks from which all kinds of useful structures can be made. An even faster way of producing a lunar habitat would make use of an inflatable base that can be covered layer-by-layer with lunar soil (or ‘regolith’) to create a protective shell.

1.5 tonne building block produced as a demonstration

However, these studies have focused on conceptual designs, often based on single elements, rather than taking into account the overall needs in terms of energy, collection and transportation of the regolith, machinery, and so on.

This new GSP study is to analyse the possibilities of using additive manufacturing for the realisation of a lunar base, including the production of internal equipment for the crew, the processing of food based on a limited number of basic elements, and the possibility of making spare parts needed to maintain such base. It will address technologies that could be used in a lunar environment and investigate the developmental needs of 3D printing to ensure a sustainable, safe place for astronauts on the Moon.

This article was first published on the ESA GSP pages on 2 June 2017.

Related links:

ESA GSP pages:

Lunar exploration interactive guide:

Printing bricks from moondust using the Sun’s heat:

How to keep warm on the Moon:

Acta Futura: Space architecture:

Moon Village: humans and robots together on the Moon:

Euronews: Moon village:

Building a lunar base with 3D printing:

GSP study on 3D printing of building blocks using lunar soil:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/NASA/Foster + Partners.


jeudi 1 juin 2017

Inspiration Links The Beatles, a Fossil and a NASA Mission

NASA - LUCY Mission patch.

June 1, 2017

Fifty years ago today (June 1), The Beatles released their album 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,' which included the iconic song "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds." The popular song was critically acclaimed for evoking a surreal dreamscape, along the lines of Lewis Carroll’s classic "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" fantasy. John Lennon said it was inspired by a drawing his son Julian — then age 3 — had made of a nursery school classmate named Lucy.

Image above: Photo from the 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' album. Image Credits: ©Apple Corps Ltd.

Fast forward to Nov. 24, 1974, when, during a fossil-hunting expedition in Hadar, Ethiopia, anthropologist Donald Johanson and a student decided to take an alternate route back to their Land Rover through a nearby gully. There, Johanson discovered a fossil forearm bone and quickly identified it as a species of hominin, a human ancestor originating after the evolutionary split from the ancestors of apes. Shortly thereafter, he saw an occipital (skull) bone, then a femur, some ribs, a pelvis and the lower jaw. Two weeks later, after many hours of excavation, screening and sorting, several hundred fragments of bone had been recovered, representing 40 percent of a single hominin skeleton.

Image above: The Lucy fossil, photographed in 2009. Image Credits: Jason Kuffer (via Creative Commons).

Later that night, there was much celebration and excitement over the discovery of what looked like a fairly complete hominin skeleton. There was dancing and singing; The Beatles’ song "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" was playing. At some point during that night, expedition member Pamela Alderman named the skeleton "Lucy," and the name stuck.

"When we sat down to write the song at John’s house, Julian’s drawing of Lucy and the stars was what inspired us," said Paul McCartney. "At the top of the drawing Julian had written in childlike script, 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.'"

Said Ringo Starr, "How great it would be for Lucy to go back in the sky with diamonds. Peace & Love, Ringo."

Jump ahead to 2013, when a proposed NASA mission to explore Jupiter's Trojan asteroids was in search of a name. While most NASA missions are acronyms, this particular mission took a different path.

Planets were built from solid materials orbiting the sun that came together under their mutual gravitational attraction. Primitive, volatile-rich bodies like the Trojans — in swarms ahead of and behind Jupiter in its orbit around the sun — are fossils of these first planetary building blocks and hold valuable clues to how the planets formed. Earth's oceans and atmosphere may have been supplemented by impacts from primitive bodies similar to the Trojans, so these fossils may help reveal our most distant origins.

Image above: This is the patch for the Lucy mission. The diamond shape references “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by The Beatles, while the skeleton on the left represents the Lucy hominin fossil. Image Credits: NASA/SwRI.

That link to our beginnings inspired the mission's principal investigator, Harold Levison of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, Colorado, to name the spacecraft after the Lucy fossil. The connection to The Beatles' song was the icing on the cake. "These asteroids really are like diamonds in the sky in terms of their scientific value for understanding how the giant planets formed and the solar system evolved," said Levison.

News of the Lucy mission name was welcomed by the team that discovered the famous fossil.

"When I first learned of the Lucy mission, during a visit to Bhutan, I was thrilled and overwhelmed with pride," said anthropologist Johanson. "As a teenager, I was very involved in astronomy with a 10-inch Clark refractor telescope at my high school. It is deeply rewarding that more than 40 years after my discovery of Lucy, she continues to play an important role in scientific exploration."

Image above: Illustration of NASA’s Lucy spacecraft, the first space mission to study Jupiter's Trojan asteroids — swarms of primitive bodies that are time capsules from the birth of our solar system. Image Credits: NASA/SwRI.

So this is how a hit song, inspired by a drawing from a rock star's young son, inspired the name of a fossil human ancestor, which inspired the name of a NASA mission to understand our origins.

"We are conscious of all the ways the name we chose for this mission has different cultural meanings," said Keith Noll, project scientist for Lucy at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "If Lucy resonates with someone, brings them in and gets them asking questions, that's just great."

Lucy will launch in October 2021 and fly by its targets between 2025 and 2033. In all, Lucy will study six Trojans and one Main Belt asteroid.

For more information about NASA’s Lucy mission:

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Bill Steigerwald/Nancy Jones.


Ariane 5 launches its heaviest telecom payload

ARIANESPACE - Flight VA237 Mission poster.

June 1,  2017

Ariane 5 liftoff

The Ariane 5 rocket, operated by Arianespace, has carried its heaviest telecommunications payload ever to deliver the ViaSat-2 and Eutelsat-172B satellites into their planned orbits.

Liftoff came at 23:45 GMT (20:45 local time, 01:45 CEST on 2 June) last night from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana on a mission lasting about 41 minutes.

Liftoff of Arianespace’s Ariane 5 with ViaSat-2 and EUTELSAT 172B

ViaSat-2, with a launch mass of 6418 kg, was the first to be released after about 29 minutes. The 3551 kg Eutelsat-172B was released 12 minutes later.

ViaSat-2, owned and operated by ViaSat, will provide extended broadband coverage to North and Central America, the Caribbean, northern South America, and the aeronautical and maritime routes in the Atlantic Ocean between North America and Europe. The satellite has a design life of more than 14 years.

ViaSat-2 satellite

Eutelsat-172B, an all-electric satellite built in Europe for Eutelsat, will provide telecommunications and broadcasting services as well as inflight broadband and maritime connectivity to the Asia–Pacific region. The satellite has a design life of more than 15 years.

Eutelsat-172B satellite

The payload mass for this launch was 10 865 kg. The satellites totalled about 9969 kg, with payload adapters and carrying structures making up the rest.

Flight VA237 was the 93rd Ariane 5 mission.

For more information about Arianespace, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits:ESA/Arianespace/Eutelsat.

Best regards,

Station Changes Command Before Friday Crew Return & Dragon Launch Slips to Saturday, Cygnus Departs Sunday

ISS - Expedition 51 Mission patch / ISS - Expedition 52 Mission patch.

June 1, 2017

Expedition 51 Crew Hands Over the Space Station to Expedition 52

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson handed over command of the International Space Station to Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin in a traditional Change of Command ceremony, which began at 11:50 a.m. EDT. Expedition 52 will officially begin under Yurchikhin’s command when the Soyuz spacecraft carrying Expedition 51 Flight Engineers Oleg Novitskiy of Roscosmos and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) undocks from the space station early Friday morning.

Image above: NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson (front row, center) hands over station command to cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin (front row, right). To Whitson’s right is astronaut Jack Fischer. Behind the trio are (from left) Expedition 51 crew members Thomas Pesquet and Oleg Novitskiy who return to Earth on Friday. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Their return will wrap up 196 days in space, since their launch on Nov. 17, 2016.

Dragon Launch Slips to Saturday, Cygnus Departs Sunday

The launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon cargo craft was scrubbed today because of lightning in the vicinity of the launch pad. The next launch opportunity for SpaceX is on Saturday, June 3 at 4:07pm Central time, 5:07pm Eastern time. NASA TV coverage will begin at 3:30pm CT, 4:30pm ET.

Image above: The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon cargo craft stands at its launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Image Credit: SpaceX.

This clears the way for the Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo craft to be unberthed from the nadir port of Unity on Sunday, June 4. NASA TV coverage on Sunday of Cygnus’ departure will begin at 0730 CT. Release of Cygnus is scheduled at 0810 CT. Cygnus will remain in orbit for a week in support of scientific experiments and will deorbit on Sunday, June 11.

A launch of the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft Saturday will result in its arrival at the ISS on Monday, June 5 for a capture at 0900 CT. NASA TV coverage will begin at 0730 CT. There will be no installation coverage.

For more information about the International Space Station, visit:

You can follow the crew’s activities in space on social media. Follow space station activities via:




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

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The heat is on for Sentinel-3B

ESA - Sentinel-3 Mission logo.

1 June 2017

While the Copernicus Sentinel-3A satellite is in orbit delivering a wealth of information about our home planet, engineers are putting its twin, Sentinel-3B, through a series of vigorous tests before it is shipped to the launch site next year.

The Sentinel-3 mission is designed as a two-satellite constellation to give optimum global coverage and data delivery for Europe’s environmental monitoring Copernicus programme.

Sentinel-3A has been in orbit since February 2016 and will be joined by Sentinel-3B next year.

Into the chamber

First, however, it has to be put through its paces to make sure it is ready for a life in space.

It is now in the thermal–vacuum chamber at Thales Alenia Space’s facilities in Cannes, France. This huge chamber simulates the huge swings in temperature facing the satellite in space.

ESA’s Sentinel-3 engineering manager, Kristof Gantois, said, “It is full steam ahead to make sure Sentinel-3B is fit and ready to join its twin.

“Our Thales colleagues are working around the clock monitoring and testing the satellite under these harsh conditions.

“Here, the air has been removed by a vacuum pump and over the course of about  four weeks the satellite is being subjected to temperatures as low as –45°C and as high as 50°C.


“This is an essential part of the testing programme to make sure the satellite can withstand the harsh environment of space.”

Once this is over, the satellite will be put through other tests to prepare it for liftoff in 2018.

The Sentinel-3 satellites carry the same suite of cutting-edge instruments to measure oceans, land, ice and atmosphere.

Mediterranean from Sentinel-3A

Feeding a new generation of data products, the mission is at the heart of operational oceanography. For example, it provides measurements to monitor aquatic biological productivity and marine pollution, to map sea-level change and to forecast the sea state for efficient and safe ship routeing.

As well as measuring the oceans, Sentinel-3A also provides unique and timely information about changing land cover, vegetation, urban heat islands, and for tracking wildfires.

Related links:


Sentinel data access & technical information:

Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service:

Copernicus Land Monitoring Service:


Images, Text, Credits: ESA/ATG medialab/Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016) processed by Eumetsat, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO/Thales Alenia Space.


Successful Launch of H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 34 carrying MICHIBIKI No. 2

JAXA - Quasi Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) patch.

June 1, 2017

H-IIA rocket carrying a Michibiki 2 satellite launch

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. and JAXA successfully launched H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 34 (H-IIA F34) which encapsulates MICHIBIKI No. 2, Quasi-Zenith Satellite System at 9:17:46 a.m. on June 1, 2017 (JST) from JAXA’s Tanegashima Space Center.

H-IIA F34 launches QZSS-2 (Michibiki 2)

The launch and flight of H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 34 proceeded as planned and the separation of the satellite confirmed 28 minutes 21 seconds after the launch time.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. and JAXA express appreciation for the support in behalf of the successful launch.

An artist's rendering of the Michibiki satellite in orbit

Michibiki 2 navigation spacecraft, the second member of Japan’s Quasi-Zenith Satellite System. Japan plans to initially deploy four QZSS satellites to augment regional navigation services over Japan and neighboring countries provided by the U.S. Global Positioning System.

Related links:

H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 34 Flight Sequence (Quick Estimation):

MHI Launch Services:

H-IIA Launch Vehicle:

Quashi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS):

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)/National Research and Development Agency/Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd./ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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mercredi 31 mai 2017

Station Ramps Up for Cardiac Research Loaded on Dragon

ISS - Expedition 51 Mission patch.

May 31, 2017

Flying over the Earth aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

The Expedition 51 crew members are awaiting a new space shipment and getting ready for new science experiments. The crew is also preparing for the departure of a pair of International Space Station flight engineers.

The Falcon 9 rocket that will launch the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft to space is resting at its launch pad today at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Dragon will lift off Thursday at 5:55 p.m. EDT on a three-day trip to the station’s Harmony module.

Image above: he liftoff of the SpaceX Dragon atop its Falcon 9 rocket is pictured Feb. 19, 2017, from the Kennedy Space Center. Image Credit: NASA.

Inside the commercial space freighter is nearly 6,000 pounds of crew supplies, station hardware and science experiments. One of those experiments, Cardiac Stem Cells, will research how stem cells affect cardiac biology and tissue regeneration in space. The station’s Microgravity Science Glovebox is being readied for the study which may provide insight into accelerated aging due to living in microgravity.

Image above: ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy celebrate Pesquet's birthday aboard the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

On Friday, cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy will command the Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft to return him and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet back to Earth after 196 days in space. The two crew members are packing their spacecraft with research samples, hardware and personal items for the near 3.5 hour ride home. The duo will undock from the Rassvet module at 6:47 a.m. EDT. They will then parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan at 10:10 a.m. (8:10 p.m. Kazakh time).

Friday, June 2. Coverage of their departure and return to Earth will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website beginning Thursday, June 1, with the space station change of command ceremony:

Related links:

Expedition 51:

SpaceX Dragon:

Cardiac Stem Cells:

Microgravity Science Glovebox:

Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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From 2D to 3D, Space Station Microscope Gets an Upgrade

ISS - International Space Station patch.

May 31, 2017

In science, it’s best to have a clean, sharp picture of what you’re studying. Microscopes afford us the opportunity to look at particles that would otherwise be invisible to the naked eye, but these particles can sometimes be masked by gravity. That’s right, the same force that keeps your feet firmly planted to the ground also interferes with getting a good look at how things move and interact at the microscopic level.

The Light Microscopy Module (LMM) microscope aboard the International Space Station is an advanced microscope that gives researchers a look at what is happening on a fundamental level without the interference of gravity. NASA will be sending an upgrade to the LMM on the upcoming SpaceX cargo resupply mission that will enable 3D imaging of complex fluid structures and allow for modeling the movement of individual particles at the micron level.

“We’ll have a 3D capability that will expand our ability to see what is going on at a fundamental level,” said Ron Sicker, project manager at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

Image above: NASA astronaut Dan Burbank, Expedition 30 commander, conducts a session with the Preliminary Advanced Colloids Experiment at the Light Microscopy Module in the Fluids Integrated Rack aboard the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

When scientists examine particles suspended within another substance on Earth, the particles will quickly separate under the force of gravity. This behavior limits researchers’ ability to observe and study exactly what is happening.  In space, gravity is greatly reduced and does not mask or hide the movements and interactions of particles. Couple that with an advanced microscope that provides sharp-focus, and the result is a clear picture of what’s happening in real time.

Presently, the microscope provides detailed, 2D images that aid the advancement of science. The new hardware consists of a laser light package, scanner and two high-resolution digital scientific cameras. In addition to 3D imaging, this update will significantly improve the microscope’s resolution and contrast by eliminating unnecessary light.

After astronauts aboard the space station install the new hardware, the upgraded camera will use green laser lighting to tightly focus light onto brightly glowing microstructures. The images are acquired at 10 frames per second. As the microscope stage is raised, images of the test sample are assembled layer-by-layer into a stack, resulting in a 3D model. That stack can later be rotated and examined from any angle by researchers.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

By providing sharper images that can be studied from every angle, the LMM will aid researchers in gaining a better understanding about the microscopic world. That knowledge will help us on Earth and in space.

“This could open a whole new world of science,” said Sicker.

LMM is a remotely controllable, automated microscope that operates in the Fluids Integrated Rack of the space station's Destiny Laboratory.

LMM is sponsored by the Physical Sciences Research Program within the Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Related links:

Light Microscopy Module (LMM):

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

NASA’s Glenn Research Center:

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA Glenn Research Center/Mike Giannone/Kelly Heidman.

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GPM Sees Cyclone Mora Still Packing Punch After Landfall

NASA & JAXA - Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) patch.

May 31, 2017

Mora (No. Indian Ocean/Bay of Bengal)

Satellite data showed heavy rain and high cloud tops in Tropical Cyclone Mora after the storm came ashore in Bangladesh.

Image above: On May 30, GPM's radar swath (lighter shades) found that rain was still falling at a rate of over 120mm (4.7 inches) per hour in an intense rain band moving over southeastern Bangladesh. Image Credits: NASA/JAXA, Hal Pierce.

The Global Precipitation Measurement mission or GPM core observatory satellite passed over Cyclone Mora on May 30, 2017 at 1121 UTC (7:21 a.m. EDT), six hours after Mora made landfall in Bangladesh.

When GPM, a joint mission between NASA and the Japanese space agency JAXA passed over Mora, the storm's maximum sustained winds were estimated to be about 55 knots (63 mph). Data received by GPM's Microwave Imager (GMI) and Dual-Frequency Precipitation Radar (DPR) instruments revealed the location and intensity of rainfall around the dissipating cyclone.  GPM's radar swath covered the area west of the dissipating cyclone's center. GPM's DPR found that rain was still falling at a rate of over 120mm (4.7 inches) per hour in an intense rain band moving over southeastern Bangladesh.

Image above: This infrared image of Tropical Cyclone Mora was taken on May 30 at 1923 UTC (3:23 p.m. EDT) after the storm made landfall in Bangladesh. The purple areas indicate coldest cloud tops and strongest storms. Image Credits: NASA JPL/Ed Olsen.

At NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, GPM's Radar (DPR Ku Band) data was used to reveal the 3-D internal structure of precipitation within the intense storms to the west of cyclone Mora's center of circulation. Storm tops in those storms, located over southeastern Bangladesh, were found to reach heights greater than 15.3 kilometers (9.5 miles).  Even taller storms were scanned by GPM's radar over the open waters of the Bay of

Bengal west of Burma (Myanmar). Storm tops there were found to be reaching altitudes of almost 16 km (9.9 miles).

NASA Finds Heavy Rain and High Storms in Cyclone Mora

Video above: This is a 3-D Flyby animation of rainfall rates GPM satellite. GPM's radar swath (lighter shades) found that rain was still falling at a rate of over 120mm (4.7 inches) per hour in an intense rain band moving over southeastern Bangladesh. Storm tops in these storms over southeastern Bangladesh were greater than 15.3km (9.5 miles) and over the Bay of Bengal west of Burma (Myanmar) cloud tops were almost 16 km (9.9 miles) high. Video Credits: NASA JAXA, Hal Pierce.

Later on May 30 at 1923 UTC (3:23 p.m. EDT) infrared data on Mora was gathered by the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder instrument aboard NASA's Aqua satellite. The infrared data revealed some very cold cloud top temperatures in thunderstorms, even as the storm was dissipating. Some cloud tops were as cold as minus 63 degrees Fahrenheit or minus 53 degrees Celsius and cloud top temperatures that cold have been shown to generate heavy rainfall. So although Mora was dissipating, it was still dropping large amounts of rain.

Cyclone Mora is expected to continue dissipating as it moves into rough terrain and encounters strong vertical wind shear.

GPM (Global Precipitation Measurement): and

Images (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, by Hal Pierce/Rob Gutro.