samedi 25 avril 2020

Research on the International Space Station Shows Key Changes in Cultured Heart Cells

ISS - International Space Station logo.

April 25, 2020

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Spaceflight changes much about the human body, including how the heart functions and how cells that create heart tissue behave. Scientists studying these changes on the International Space Station continue to report important discoveries.

For the Cardiac Stem Cells investigation, researchers cultured human heart stem cells, or cardiovascular progenitor cells (CPCs), aboard the space station. These immature heart cells can develop into several different types of cardiovascular cells and produce greater numbers of them.

The investigation showed that spaceflight affects communication within and between cells, cell development and core stem cell properties, as reported in two papers published in 2018, one in the journal npj Microgravity and another in Stem Cells and Development.

Image above: NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson exchanging growth media for the Cardiac Stem Cells investigation. Image Credit: NASA.

The researchers recently presented new studies in a related paper that compared the Hippo signaling pathway in CPCs cultured on the space station with the same cells cultured in a clinostat, which simulates microgravity conditions on Earth. The Hippo signaling pathway, necessary for cardiac development, is normally active in adults and inactivates Yes-associated protein, or YAP1. YAP1 regulates cell survival and increases in the number of cells, so inactivating it reduces cell proliferation. When the Hippo pathway is inhibited or inactive, though, YAP1 becomes active, resulting in more progenitor cells and possible organ growth. This paper reports that the adult cells in space and in the clinostat both showed an increase in the expression of YAP1.

Prior work in rodents has shown that introducing YAP1 into adult hearts can reactivate regenerative ability. This most recent finding shows that microgravity can induce adult human CPCs to express YAP1, which could have interesting implications.

“The focus of this paper was on YAP1 specifically because it is one of the key players in cardiovascular repair,” says Mary Kearns-Jonker, a researcher in the Department of Pathology and Human Anatomy at Loma Linda University School of Medicine in California and one of the paper’s authors. “YAP1 stimulates cardiovascular regeneration when it is upregulated, or expressed at a higher level. Now we know it is upregulated on a short-term basis by microgravity.” She noted that the change in YAP1 expression is temporary. The impermanence of the effect is a good thing, she adds, otherwise cells could proliferate in an uncontrolled way and lead to cancers.

Image above: Cardiovascular progenitor cells (CPCs) cultured for the Cardiac Stem Cell investigation aboard the International Space Station. Image Credit: Loma Linda University.

“YAP1 has a history of playing a role in organ development and size,” explains lead author Victor Camberos, also in the Department of Pathology and Human Anatomy at Loma Linda. “YAP1 levels are higher in neonatal cardiovascular progenitor cells, which are known to be very effective for cell-based repair. Once the neonatal period is over, YAP1 expression and the efficacy of the cells for cardiovascular repair are reduced. Since YAP1 is an important regulator of growth and repair, temporarily increasing its expression in cells from older adults could be useful therapeutically.”

“Inducing YAP1 by exposing cells to microgravity gives us the capacity to alter cells in a way that may benefit organ repair,” Kearns-Jonker points out. The researchers in effect raised the expression of YAP1 in cells that do not regularly express it and showed that this outcome is not permanent.

The team’s finding that simulated microgravity has the same effect as actual microgravity also is important. Researchers can easily access samples in a clinostat versus samples orbiting roughly 250 miles above Earth. “The clinostat sufficiently emulates microgravity that we see on the space station,” says Camberos. “That is significant, because not a lot of labs have the opportunity to do research in space.”

Fortunately, some do, and that opportunity is leading to promising advances toward healthier hearts in space and on Earth.

One of several studies relating to cardiovascular health sponsored by the ISS National Lab, the Cardiac Stem Cells investigation received a 2018 International Space Station Compelling Results Award in Biology and Medicine at the ISS Research and Development Conference.

Related links:

Cardiac Stem Cells:

npj Microgravity:

Stem Cells and Development:

Related paper:

Compelling Results Award:

ISS National Lab:

Space Station Research and Technology:

 International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/JSC/International Space Station Program Research Office/Melissa Gaskill.


Progress Cargo Ship Docked to Station

ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicles for ISS patch.

April 25, 2020

Image above: The Progress 75 cargo craft moments after launching from the pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Image Credits: ROSCOSMOS TV/NASA TV.

Carrying almost three tons of food, fuel and supplies for the International Space Station crew, The Progress 75 spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 9:51 p.m. EDT (6:51 a.m. Saturday, April 25, Baikonur time).

Progress MS-14 launch

The resupply ship reached preliminary orbit and deployed its solar arrays and navigational antennas as planned. Following a 2-orbit rendezvous, the Russian cargo spacecraft it's docked to the orbiting laboratory at 1:12 a.m.

Image above: April 25, 2020: International Space Station Configuration. Four spaceships are attached at the space station including the U.S. Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo craft and Russia’s Progress 74 and 75 resupply ships and Soyuz MS-16 crew ship. Image Credit: NASA.

Traveling about 260 miles over Northwestern China, south of the Mongolian border, the unpiloted Russian Progress 75 cargo ship docked at 1:12 a.m. EDT to the Zvezda Service Module on the Russian segment of the complex.

Progress MS-14 docking to the ISS

Progress 75 will remain docked at the station for more than seven months before departing in December for its deorbit in Earth’s atmosphere.

For almost 20 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. As a global endeavor, 239 people from 19 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 2,800 research investigations from researchers in 108 countries.

Related link:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Norah Moran/NASA TV/SciNews.

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vendredi 24 avril 2020

Russian Cargo Craft Launching Live on NASA TV Tonight

ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicles for ISS patch.

April 24, 2020

NASA Television will provide live launch coverage of a Russian Progress cargo spacecraft carrying almost three tons of food, fuel and supplies for the Expedition 63 crew aboard the International Space Station. Watch live on NASA TV and the agency’s website beginning at 9:30 p.m. EDT.  Allow more than 7 hours for GMT.

The Progress 75 spacecraft is scheduled to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 9:51 p.m. EDT (6:51 a.m. Saturday, April 25, Baikonur time).

Image above: The Progress 75 cargo craft stands at its launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Image Credit: Roscosmos.

The spacecraft is expected to dock to the Earth-facing port of the Zvezda Service Module on the station’s Russian segment at 1:12 a.m (EDT). Saturday, April 25. NASA TV coverage of rendezvous and docking will begin at 12:30 a.m (EDT).

Progress 75 will remain docked at the station for more than seven months, departing in December for its deorbit into Earth’s atmosphere.

Related article:

NASA Television to Air Space Station Cargo Ship Launch, Docking

Related links:


International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Norah Moran.

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Tianwen-1 will be China’s first Mars mission

CNSA - Tianwen-1 (天問-1) Mission to Mars logo.

April 24, 2020

China's planetary exploration program has been named Tianwen, or Quest for Heavenly Truth, the China National Space Administration announced on Friday.

The program was named after a long poem by the famous ancient poet Qu Yuan of the Kingdom of Chu during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC). He is known for his patriotism and contributions to classical poetry and verses, especially through the poems of the Chu Ci anthology, also known as Songs of Chu (天問, Questions to Heaven).

Image above: Picture released on Aug 23, 2016 by the lunar probe and space project center of Chinese State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence shows the concept portraying what the Mars rover and lander would look like. Photo Credit: Xinhua.

The name represents the Chinese people's relentless pursuit of truth, the country's cultural inheritance of its understanding of nature and universe, as well as the unending explorations in science and technology.

The country's first Mars mission, which is expected to take place in the coming months, was named Tianwen 1, the administration said.

It also released the planetary exploration program's emblem. The shape of the letter C, it incorporates the elements of China, cooperation and capability in deep-space expedition.

Tianwen-1 - China’s first Mars mission

According to the administration, the country's first Martian probe will conduct scientific investigations about the Martian soil, geological structure, environment, atmosphere as well as water.

The robotic probe will consist of three parts – the orbiter, the lander and the rover. The rover will have six wheels and four solar panels, and will carry 13 scientific instruments. It will be more than 200 kilograms in weight and will work about three months on the planet, said Sun Zezhou, the probe's chief designer at the China Academy of Space Technology.

China unveils its 2020 Mars probe

Ye Peijian, a leading scientist in deep-space exploration at the academy, said the probe will land on the Martian surface before July 2021.

For more information about China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), visit:

For more information about China National Space Administration (CNSA), visit:

Image (mentioned), Videos, Text, Credits: CASC/CNSA/SciNews/CCTV/CGTN America/China Daily/Zhao Lei/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of April 20, 2020

ISS - Expedition 63 Mission patch.

April 24, 2020

The week of April 20, crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted studies of high-temperature alloy melts and plant growth in space along with other scientific investigations.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Now in its 20th year of continuous human presence, the space station provides a platform for long-duration research in microgravity and for learning to live and work in space. Experience gained on the orbiting lab supports Artemis, NASA’s program to go forward to the Moon and on to Mars.

Here are details on some of the microgravity investigations currently taking place:

A melting pot without the pot

The crew conducted preparations for the next sample run of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency Electrostatic Levitation Furnace (JAXA-ELF). To produce glass, metal alloys and other materials on Earth, raw materials are melted in a container called a crucible. But chemical reactions between the materials and the crucible can cause imperfections and contaminations. JAXA-ELF investigates the properties of high-temperature melts and solidification of various materials without a container, a process possible only in the microgravity environment of the space station.

Plant portraits

Image above: NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy works on Veggie PONDS, an investigation that cultivates lettuce and mizuna greens in the Veggie plant growth facility for on-orbit consumption and analysis on Earth. Image Credit: NASA.

Single-celled bacteria, plants, humans and other organisms grow differently in space. Because future long-duration space missions will require crew members to grow their own food, understanding how plants respond to space and demonstrating reliable vegetable production on orbit are important steps toward that goal. Using a new Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System, Veggie PONDS cultivates lettuce and mizuna greens in the Veggie plant growth facility aboard the space station. On previous expeditions, plants have been harvested on-orbit for consumption. During the week, the crew took photographs to document growth from this operation and prepped the Veggie Ponds modules for return to Earth.

Small satellites launched

The crew performed installation procedures during the week for the 13th mission of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD), a platform that provides the capability for launching small satellites from the space station. The Japanese Experiment Module Remote Manipulator System (JEMRMS) provides positioning and deployment for individual satellites once crew members pass J-SSOD through the JEM airlock. J-SSOD-13 deploys Guatemala’s Quetzal-1 CubeSat, which tests a multispectral remote sensor, and Japan's CubeSat G-SATELLITE that demonstrates a new way to unite entertainment and space exploration.

Space Station Crew Snaps an Image of the Susquehanna River

Image above: The Susquehanna River cuts through the folds of the Valley-and-Ridge province of the Appalachian Mountains in this photograph taken by the crew of the International Space Station. Image Credits: NASA/Expedition 61; Caption by Laura Phoebus, Jacobs, JETS Contract at NASA-JSC.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- Food Acceptability examines the effect of repetitive consumption of the somewhat limited selection of foods available during spaceflight. “Menu fatigue” resulting from this limited choice may, over time, contribute to the loss of body mass often experienced by crew members.

- ActiWatch is a wrist device worn by crew members that contains an accelerometer to measure motion and a detector to monitor ambient lighting. The device analyzes circadian rhythms, sleep-wake patterns and activity.

- Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) uses a light detection and ranging (lidar) system to provide high-resolution observations of the height and structure of Earth’s forests, which helps advance the understanding of important carbon and water cycling processes, biodiversity and habitat.

Related links:

Expedition 63:

JAXA Electrostatic Levitation Furnace (JAXA-ELF):

Veggie PONDS:

JAXA Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD):

Quetzal-1 CubeSat:


ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Michael Johnson/John Love, Lead Increment Scientist Expedition 63.

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Hubble Celebrates its 30th Anniversary with a Tapestry of Blazing Starbirth

ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

April 24, 2020

Tapestry of Blazing Starbirth

Hubble Space Telescope’s iconic images and scientific breakthroughs have redefined our view of the Universe. To commemorate three decades of scientific discoveries, this image is one of the most photogenic examples of the many turbulent stellar nurseries the telescope has observed during its 30-year lifetime. The portrait features the giant nebula NGC 2014 and its neighbour NGC 2020 which together form part of a vast star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, approximately 163 000 light-years away. The image is nicknamed the “Cosmic Reef” because it resembles an undersea world.

Wide-field view of NGC 2014 and NGC 2020 in the Large Magellanic Cloud (Ground-based Image)

On 24 April 1990 the Hubble Space Telescope was launched aboard the space shuttle Discovery, along with a five-astronaut crew. Deployed into low-Earth orbit a day later, the telescope has since opened a new eye onto the cosmos that has been transformative for our civilization.

Zooming Into the Cosmic Reef

Hubble is revolutionising modern astronomy not only for astronomers, but also by taking the public on a wondrous journey of exploration and discovery. Hubble’s seemingly never-ending, breathtaking celestial snapshots provide a visual shorthand for its exemplary scientific achievements. Unlike any other telescope before it, Hubble has made astronomy relevant, engaging, and accessible for people of all ages. The mission has yielded to date 1.4 million observations and provided data that astronomers around the world have used to write more than 17 000 peer-reviewed scientific publications, making it one of the most prolific space observatories in history. Its rich data archive alone will fuel future astronomy research for generations to come.

Pan Across the Cosmic Reef

Each year, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope dedicates a small portion of its precious observing time to taking a special anniversary image, showcasing particularly beautiful and meaningful objects. These images continue to challenge scientists with exciting new surprises and to fascinate the public with ever more evocative observations.

This year, Hubble is celebrating this new milestone with a portrait of two colourful nebulae that reveals how energetic, massive stars sculpt their homes of gas and dust. Although NGC 2014 and NGC 2020 appear to be separate in this visible-light image, they are actually part of one giant star formation complex. The star-forming regions seen here are dominated by the glow of stars at least 10 times more massive than our Sun. These stars have short lives of only a few million years, compared to the 10-billion-year lifetime of our Sun.

Cosmic Reef for Fulldome

The sparkling centerpiece of NGC 2014 is a grouping of bright, hefty stars near the centre of the image that has blown away its cocoon of hydrogen gas (coloured red) and dust in which it was born. A torrent of ultraviolet radiation from the star cluster is illuminating the landscape around it. These massive stars also unleash fierce winds that are eroding the gas cloud above and to the right of them. The gas in these areas is less dense, making it easier for the stellar winds to blast through them, creating bubble-like structures reminiscent of brain coral, that have earned the nebula the nickname the “Brain Coral.”

By contrast, the blue-coloured nebula below NGC 2014 has been shaped by one mammoth star that is roughly 200 000 times more luminous than our Sun. It is an example of a rare class of stars called Wolf-Rayet stars. They are thought to be the descendants of the most massive stars. Wolf-Rayet stars are very luminous and have a high rate of mass loss through powerful winds. The star in the Hubble image is 15 times more massive than the Sun and is unleashing powerful winds, which have cleared out the area around it. It has ejected its outer layers of gas, sweeping them around into a cone-like shape, and exposing its searing hot core. The behemoth appears offset from the centre because the telescope is viewing the cone from a slightly tilted angle. In a few million years, the star might become a supernova. The brilliant blue colour of the nebula comes from oxygen gas that is heated to roughly 11 000 degrees Celsius, which is much hotter than the hydrogen gas surrounding it.

3D Animation of the Cosmic Reef

Stars, both big and small, are born when clouds of dust and gas collapse because of gravity. As more and more material falls onto the forming star, it finally becomes hot and dense enough at its centre to trigger the nuclear fusion reactions that make stars, including our Sun, shine. Massive stars make up only a few percent of the billions of stars in our Universe. Yet they play a crucial role in shaping our Universe, through stellar winds, supernova explosions, and the production of heavy elements.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

“The Hubble Space Telescope has shaped the imagination of truly a whole generation, inspiring not only scientists, but almost everybody,” said Günther Hasinger, Director of Science for the European Space Agency. “It is paramount for the excellent and long-lasting cooperation between NASA and ESA.”

More information:

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA. This image was taken with the Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3.


Hubblecast 128: 30 Years of Science with the Hubble Space Telescope:

Hubblecast 129: Hubble’s Collection of Anniversary Images:

Hubble 30th Anniversary Press Package:

Hubble30 Webpage:

Call for Happy Birthday Wishes: Make Hubble a Birthday Cake!:

Call for Artistic Creations: Let’s Say Thank-You to Hubble!:

HubbleSite release:

Link to Space Scoop:

Images of Hubble:

Images, Animation, Text Credits: NASA, ESA/STScI/ESA/Hubble/Bethany Downer/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin/Videos: ESA/Hubble, NASA, STScI/Digitized Sky Survey 2, L. Calçada. Music: Astral Electronic/NASA, ESA, G. Bacon, J. DePasquale, L. Hustak, J. Olmstead, A. Pagan, D. Player, and F. Summers (STScI). Music: "Cosmic Reef" by J. DePasquale (STScI).


Swiss astronaut helped restore correct vision to Hubble

NASA & ESA - Hubble Space Telescope 30th Anniversary patch.

April 24, 2020

Claude Nicollier biography:

Claude Nicollier (born 2 September 1944 in Vevey, Switzerland) is the first astronaut from Switzerland. He has flown on four Space Shuttle missions. His first spaceflight (STS-46) was in 1992, and his final spaceflight (STS-103) was in 1999. He took part in two servicing missions to the Hubble Space Telescope (called STS-61 and STS-103). During his final spaceflight he participated in a spacewalk, becoming the first European Space Agency astronaut to do so during a Space Shuttle mission (previous ESA astronauts conducted spacewalks aboard Mir, see List of spacewalks and moonwalks 1965–1999). In 2000 he was assigned to the Astronaut Office Extravehicular Activity Branch, while maintaining a position as Lead ESA Astronaut in Houston. Nicollier retired from ESA in April 2007.  He was appointed full professor of Spatial Technology at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) on 28 March 2007.

Astronaut Claude Nicollier

Hubble problem - Flawed mirror

Within weeks of the launch of the telescope, the returned images indicated a serious problem with the optical system. Although the first images appeared to be sharper than those of ground-based telescopes, Hubble failed to achieve a final sharp focus and the best image quality obtained was drastically lower than expected. Images of point sources spread out over a radius of more than one arcsecond, instead of having a point spread function (PSF) concentrated within a circle 0.1 arcseconds (485 nrad) in diameter, as had been specified in the design criteria.

Image above: An extract from a WF/PC image shows the light from a star spread over a wide area instead of being concentrated on a few pixels.

Analysis of the flawed images revealed that the primary mirror had been polished to the wrong shape. Although it was believed to be one of the most precisely figured optical mirrors ever made, smooth to about 10 nanometers, the outer perimeter was too flat by about 2200 nanometers. This difference was catastrophic, introducing severe spherical aberration, a flaw in which light reflecting off the edge of a mirror focuses on a different point from the light reflecting off its center.

Hubble being deployed from Discovery in 1990

The effect of the mirror flaw on scientific observations depended on the particular observation—the core of the aberrated PSF was sharp enough to permit high-resolution observations of bright objects, and spectroscopy of point sources was affected only through a sensitivity loss. However, the loss of light to the large, out-of-focus halo severely reduced the usefulness of the telescope for faint objects or high-contrast imaging. This meant nearly all the cosmological programs were essentially impossible, since they required observation of exceptionally faint objects. NASA and the telescope became the butt of many jokes, and the project was popularly regarded as a white elephant. For instance, in the 1991 comedy The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear, in a scene where high-profile disasters were displayed, Hubble was pictured with Lusitania, the Hindenburg, and the Edsel. Nonetheless, during the first three years of the Hubble mission, before the optical corrections, the telescope still carried out a large number of productive observations of less demanding targets. The error was well characterized and stable, enabling astronomers to partially compensate for the defective mirror by using sophisticated image processing techniques such as deconvolution.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

Origin of the problem

A commission headed by Lew Allen, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, was established to determine how the error could have arisen. The Allen Commission found that a reflective null corrector, a testing device used to achieve a properly shaped non-spherical mirror, had been incorrectly assembled—one lens was out of position by 1.3 mm (0.051 in). During the initial grinding and polishing of the mirror, Perkin-Elmer analyzed its surface with two conventional refractive null correctors. However, for the final manufacturing step (figuring), they switched to the custom-built reflective null corrector, designed explicitly to meet very strict tolerances. The incorrect assembly of this device resulted in the mirror being ground very precisely but to the wrong shape. A few final tests, using the conventional null correctors, correctly reported spherical aberration. But these results were dismissed, thus missing the opportunity to catch the error, because the reflective null corrector was considered more accurate.

Image above: Optical evolution of Hubble's primary camera system. These images show spiral galaxy M100 as seen with WFPC1 in 1993 before corrective optics (left), with WFPC2 in 1994 after correction (center), and with WFC3 in 2018 (right).

The commission blamed the failings primarily on Perkin-Elmer. Relations between NASA and the optics company had been severely strained during the telescope construction, due to frequent schedule slippage and cost overruns. NASA found that Perkin-Elmer did not review or supervise the mirror construction adequately, did not assign its best optical scientists to the project (as it had for the prototype), and in particular did not involve the optical designers in the construction and verification of the mirror. While the commission heavily criticized Perkin-Elmer for these managerial failings, NASA was also criticized for not picking up on the quality control shortcomings, such as relying totally on test results from a single instrument.

Exploded view of the Hubble Space Telescope

Servicing missions and new instruments

Hubble was designed to accommodate regular servicing and equipment upgrades while in orbit. Instruments and limited life items were designed as orbital replacement units. Five servicing missions (SM 1, 2, 3A, 3B, and 4) were flown by NASA space shuttles, the first in December 1993 and the last in May 2009. Servicing missions were delicate operations that began with maneuvering to intercept the telescope in orbit and carefully retrieving it with the shuttle's mechanical arm. The necessary work was then carried out in multiple tethered spacewalks over a period of four to five days. After a visual inspection of the telescope, astronauts conducted repairs, replaced failed or degraded components, upgraded equipment, and installed new instruments. Once work was completed, the telescope was redeployed, typically after boosting to a higher orbit to address the orbital decay caused by atmospheric drag.

Hubble servicing missions planning

Servicing Mission 1 (STS-61):

After the problems with Hubble's mirror were discovered, the first servicing mission assumed greater importance, as the astronauts would need to do extensive work to install corrective optics. The seven astronauts for the mission were trained to use about a hundred specialized tools. SM1 flew aboard Endeavour in December 1993, and involved installation of several instruments and other equipment over ten days.

Most importantly, the High Speed Photometer was replaced with the COSTAR corrective optics package, and WFPC was replaced with the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) with an internal optical correction system. The solar arrays and their drive electronics were also replaced, as well as four gyroscopes in the telescope pointing system, two electrical control units and other electrical components, and two magnetometers. The onboard computers were upgraded with added coprocessors, and Hubble's orbit was boosted.

Astronauts Musgrave and Hoffman install corrective optics during SM1

For Claude Nicollier was his second spaceflight was as a Mission Specialist on the 10-day mission aboard Endeavour, called STS-61, in 1993. It was the first mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope, which had been launched three years previously.

On January 13, 1994, NASA declared the mission a complete success and showed the first sharper images. The mission was one of the most complex performed up until that date, involving five long extra-vehicular activity periods. Its success was a boon for NASA, as well as for the astronomers who now had a more capable space telescope.

Servicing Mission 2 (STS-82):

(Without C. Nicollier)

Hubble as seen from Discovery during its second servicing mission

Servicing Mission 2, flown by Discovery in February 1997, replaced the GHRS and the FOS with the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) and the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS), replaced an Engineering and Science Tape Recorder with a new Solid State Recorder, and repaired thermal insulation. NICMOS contained a heat sink of solid nitrogen to reduce the thermal noise from the instrument, but shortly after it was installed, an unexpected thermal expansion resulted in part of the heat sink coming into contact with an optical baffle. This led to an increased warming rate for the instrument and reduced its original expected lifetime of 4.5 years to about two years.

Servicing Mission 3A (STS-103):

Servicing Mission 3A, flown by Discovery, took place in December 1999, and was a split-off from Servicing Mission 3 after three of the six onboard gyroscopes had failed. The fourth failed a few weeks before the mission, rendering the telescope incapable of performing scientific observations. The mission replaced all six gyroscopes, replaced a Fine Guidance Sensor and the computer, installed a Voltage/temperature Improvement Kit (VIK) to prevent battery overcharging, and replaced thermal insulation blankets.

Claude Nicollier repairing Hubble

In this picture, ESA astronaut Claude Nicollier, part of Hubble Servicing Mission 3A, is working with a power screwdriver during his spacewalk with NASA astronaut Micheal Foale, installing a camera and upgrading the main computer.

Working in the weightless vacuum of space, it is not surprising that things do not always go to plan but the resourcefulness of the international team on Earth and the astronauts overcame most problems. Claude had trouble installing the camera because there was more friction than expected. He eventually found a different way to slot the computer in place but the operation took an hour longer than planned.

For Claude Nicollier was his final spaceflight was an 8-day mission aboard Space Shuttle Discovery, called STS-103, in 1999. It was the third servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. During this mission Nicollier participated in an 8-hour spacewalk; it was his first, and the first of any ESA astronaut during a Space Shuttle mission.

Servicing Mission 4 (STS-125):

(Without C. Nicollier)

Hubble during Servicing Mission 4

Servicing Mission 4 (SM4), flown by Atlantis in May 2009, was the last scheduled shuttle mission for HST. SM4 installed the replacement data-handling unit, repaired the ACS and STIS systems, installed improved nickel hydrogen batteries, and replaced other components. SM4 also installed two new observation instruments—Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) and the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS)—and the Soft Capture and Rendezvous System, which will enable the future rendezvous, capture, and safe disposal of Hubble by either a crewed or robotic mission. Except for the ACS's High Resolution Channel, which could not be repaired and was disabled, the work accomplished during SM4 rendered the telescope fully functional, and it remains so as of 2020.

Related links:

About - Hubble Servicing Missions:

NASA Hubblesite Servicing Missions:

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Images, Animation, Text, Credits: NASA/ESA/Hubble/Wikipedia/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards,

jeudi 23 avril 2020

Space Health Studies Today as Cargo, Commercial Crew Missions Near

ISS - Expedition 63 Mission patch.

April 23, 2020

The three-member Expedition 63 crew focused on biomedical research today helping scientists understand how living in space affects the human body. Meanwhile, a resupply ship is nearing its launch to the International Space Station ahead of global cargo and Commercial Crew missions planned for May.

NASA Commander Chris Cassidy began Thursday with a health exam that included temperature and blood pressure checks as well as pulse and respiratory rate measurements. In the afternoon, the three-time space visitor moved to physics research and explored techniques future astronauts may use to develop advanced building materials in space.

Image above: As of April 16, 2020, there are three spaceships are attached at the space station including the U.S. Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo craft and Russia’s Progress 74 resupply ship and Soyuz MS-16 crew ship. Image Credit: NASA.

Human research is also an important part of the Russian science agenda aboard the orbiting lab. The two cosmonauts, Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, collected and stowed their blood, saliva and hair samples today for a pair of biology studies. The two experiments are looking at how spaceflight impacts a crewmember’s immune system and metabolism.

Russia is also readying its Progress 75 (75P) resupply ship for liftoff on Friday from Kazakhstan at 9:51 p.m. EDT. The 75P is at the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome packed with nearly three tons of food, fuel and supplies. The 75th Progress cargo craft to visit the station will take a three-and-a-half hour delivery trip to the aft docking port of the Zvezda service module.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

May’s mission schedule will see a U.S. cargo craft depart the station on the 11th and a Japanese resupply ship launch on the 20th for a robotic capture and installation on the 25th. The first mission on a U.S. crew vehicle since 2011 is set for launch on May 27. NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Doug Hurley will lift off from Florida aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle and join the Expedition 63 crew one day later.

Related article:

NASA Television to Air Space Station Cargo Ship Launch, Docking

Related links:

Expedition 63:

Advanced building materials:

Immune system:


Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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Space Station Science Payload Operations Continue Amid Pandemic

ISS - International Space Station patch.

April 23, 2020

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

The International Space Station Payload Operations Integration Center at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, is the heartbeat of space station science research operations. As NASA’s primary space station science command post, the payload operations team coordinates scientific and commercial experiments on the station, synchronizes payload activities of international partners and directs communications between researchers around the world and their onboard experiments.

On March 29, as Marshall responded to the coronavirus pandemic and began transitioning operations to Stage 4 in the NASA response framework, the real-time links between the space station crew and scientists around the world continued to enable ongoing research on the space station.

“Our payload operations facility is the nerve center for all the science that occurs daily on the space station,” said Joseph Pelfrey, acting payload operations cost account manager and deputy manager for the Human Exploration Development & Operations Office at Marshall. “We are mission-critical in the agency’s execution of science research, and I am proud of the team for continuing to rise to the challenge during this time.”

Image above: Astronaut Jessica Meir is photographed during Engineered Heart Tissues Tissue Chamber Media Change and Fix/Preservation in the Life Sciences Glovebox in the Japanese Experiment Module aboard the International Space Station. The Engineered Heart Tissues research model could be an effective tool for better understanding cardiac function in response to external factors, which would be useful for drug development and other applications related to cardiac dysfunction on Earth. Image Credit: NASA.

“We’ve not missed a beat, operationally,” said Mike Shell, Expedition 62 payload operations manager. “We have maintained a regular science and crew schedule without any change to our science plan as a result of the COVID-19 event.”

The payload operations team achieved about 46 hours of science the week of March 16, 50 hours the week of March 23, and continued with 40 hours during the week of March 30.  Beginning April 6, the team conducted 24 hours of science and prepared for the arrival of a Soyuz spacecraft carrying three additional crew members -- all within the scope of normal science operations. These hours include operations for NASA and its international partners.

Additionally, the team delivered commands to operate science payloads on the station. Science payloads such as MVP02, a study involving specialized heart muscle cells, and engineering heart tissue were studied on station during this time. According to Shell, the team downlinked an average of 1,052GB per day of science data during this time -- almost 15TB. 

To help the crew in orbit conduct record amounts of scientific study, the operations center is staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Marshall’s move to Stage 4 reduced the number of employees supporting payload operations from 30 flight and ground control team members, scheduled over three daily shifts, to 24 team members. Other team members are available on an on-call basis.

Behind The Scenes - How Marshall Makes Science Happen in Space

Video above: In their own words, hear how payload flight controllers help astronauts conduct hundreds of science experiments every year on the International Space Station. Video Credit: NASA.

“Our payload operations group already has that team mentality and they believe in it,” said Bobby Watkins, manager of the Human Exploration Development & Operations Office. “Their team mentality is essential to mission success as Marshall continues to conduct science operations during this pandemic.”

NASA is closely adhering to the CDC’s recommendations on infection control for the coronavirus. This includes cleaning of surfaces, physical distancing, emphasizing hand hygiene, limiting social contact whenever possible and asking NASA team members who are sick to stay home, even if they would otherwise fall into the telework exceptions.

Related links:

Space station science research:

NASA response framework:


Engineering heart tissue:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/William Bryan.


mercredi 22 avril 2020

Astronomers May Have Captured the First Ever Image of Nearby Exoplanet Proxima C

ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

April 21, 2020

It could be an unprecedented view of a world in the closest planetary system to our own, but uncertainties aplenty remain.

Image above: View of the Alpha Centauri system. The bright binary star Alpha Centauri AB lies at the upper left. The much fainter red dwarf star Proxima Centauri is barely discernible towards the lower right of the picture. Image Credits: Digitized Sky Survey 2; Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin and Mahdi Zamani.

Little is more enticing than the prospect of seeing alien worlds around other stars—and perhaps one day even closely studying their atmosphere and mapping their surface. Such observations are exceedingly difficult, of course. Although more than 4,000 exoplanets are now known, the vast majority of them are too distant and dim for our best telescopes to discern against the glare of their host star. Exoplanets near our solar system provide easier imaging opportunities, however. And no worlds are nearer to us than those thought to orbit the cool, faint red dwarf Proxima Centauri—the closest star to our sun at 4.2 light-years away.

In 2016 astronomers discovered the first known planet in this system: the roughly Earth-sized Proxima b. But because of its star-hugging 11-day orbit around Proxima Centauri, Proxima b is a poor candidate for imaging. Proxima c, by contrast, offers much better chances. Announced in 2019, based on somewhat circumstantial evidence, the planet remains unconfirmed. If real, it is estimated to be several times more massive than Earth—a so-called super Earth or mini Neptune—and to orbit Proxima Centauri at about 1.5 times the span between Earth and the sun. Its size and distance from its star make the world a tempting target for current and near-future exoplanet-imaging projects. Now, in a new preprint paper accepted for publication in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, some astronomers say they might—just might— have managed to see Proxima c for the first time.

“This planet is extremely interesting because Proxima is a star very close to the sun,” says Raffaele Gratton of the Astronomical Observatory of Padova in Italy, who is the study’s lead author. “The idea was that since this planet is [far] from the star, it is possible that it can be observed in direct imaging. We found a reasonable candidate that looks like we have really detected the planet.”

Image above: Artist concept of a lightsail craft approaching the potentially habitable exoplanet Proxima b. Image Credits: PHL @ UPR Arecibo.

Last year Gratton and his team were first alerted to the possibility of imaging the planet by Mario Damasso of the Astrophysical Observatory of Turin in Italy, who was the lead author of the original paper on Proxima c’s possible discovery. Damasso and his colleagues had presented evidence for Proxima c’s existence based on its star’s telltale wobbling, which they inferred was caused by the pull of an unseen orbiting planet. Confirming a world’s existence in this way requires seeing the same wobble occur again—and again—in a process that often takes many months or even years. Damasso wondered if there might be another way. Thus, he asked Gratton and his team to look through data from the SPHERE (Spectro-Polarimetric High-Contrast Exoplanet Research) instrument on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile to see if they could actually see the planet. “As soon as our paper on Proxima c was considered for publication, I contacted [Gratton] to discuss the possibility of pushing SPHERE to its limits,” Damasso says. “The [planetary] system is potentially so cool that it is worthy to try other techniques.”

If you squint a bit while staring at the SPHERE data, a picture of the mysterious planet seems to swim into view. By focusing on Proxima c’s predicted position and separation from its star within multiple, stacked infrared images from SPHERE, Gratton and his colleagues were able to pick out 19 potential appearances of the planet across several years of routine observations. Of these candidate detections, one stood out as being particularly enticing: it appeared in the images about six times brighter than their “noise”—that is, unwanted light from artifacts or background stars. “It’s a possible candidate that has a low probability of being a false alarm,” says Emily Rickman of the Geneva Observatory, who is a co-author of the paper.

If that detection is genuine, it poses intriguing questions. The object believed to be the planet would be at least seven times the mass of Earth—large enough to place it firmly beyond the super Earth category. “This would definitely be some kind of mini Neptune,” says Sara Seager, a professor of planetary science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who was not involved in the new paper. The object also appears to be 10 to 100 times brighter than a planet of its mass should be. This luminosity, the study authors reason, could arise from a large amount of dust surrounding the planet, perhaps in a vast ring system that is three to four times larger than that of Saturn. To some, that situation seems too strange to be true.

Image above: The exoplanet HIP 65426b – the first to be seen by the SPHERE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope. Image Credit: ESO.

“It would be a huge ring system around a relatively old star,” says astrophysicist Bruce Macintosh of Stanford University, who also was not part of the work. “It’s certainly possible for things like this to exist. But for your first detection of something like this to have that massive ring system, you’d have to postulate a universe in which most Neptune-sized planets have massive ring systems enormously bigger than Saturn’s. And that seems like an unlikely universe to live in.”

If genuine, this detection—this image—would have profound implications for our understanding of our nearest neighboring planetary system. It would give us definitive proof of the existence of Proxima c and also provide the angle at which the planet orbits its star, relative to our own—something that watching a star’s wobbles alone cannot provide. The detection would also all but ensure that we could soon study the planet’s atmosphere with a new generation of powerful observatories, such as the upcoming European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) and NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST).

Image above: Three images of the fast-moving wave-like features in the dusty disc around the nearby star AU Microscopii. Image Credits: ESO/NASA/ESA.

Perhaps more importantly, pinning down Proxima c would also likely reveal the orbital angle of Proxima b, because planets would be expected to orbit in the same plane like those in our solar system do. This information, coupled with the wobbles Proxima b raises on its star, would tell us that world must be somewhere between 1.5 and 1.8 times the mass of Earth, which would let us refine theories about its characteristics. Such a mass would “strongly point to the fact [that Proxima b] is rocky,” says Elizabeth Tasker, an exoplanet scientist at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, who was not involved in the study. In addition to our knowledge that Proxima b orbits in its star’s habitable zone, where liquid water and thus life as we know it can exist, proof that the world is rocky would catapult it to the top of any astrobiologist’s list of promising exoplanets.

Such spectacular possibilities, however, call for steely-eyed skepticism. Indeed, the new paper’s authors acknowledge there is a decent chance their image is not actually a planet at all but rather just random noise in the data. They also note that the apparent motion of their putative planet conflicts with earlier estimates of Proxima c’s position, based on observations of its star made by the European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft. Thus, other astronomers are treating the potential finding with a considerable amount of caution. “It’s tough for me to conclude that [this] is a decisive detection,” says Thayne Currie, an exoplanet scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, who was also not part of the work.

Image above: Labeled version of four of the twenty disks that comprise ALMA’s highest resolution survey of nearby protoplanetary disks. Image Credits: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO) S. Andrews et al.; NRAO/AUI/NSF, S. Dagnello.

Unfortunately, the ongoing global shutdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic means that the result cannot be checked for the time being, because most of the world’s observatories—including the VLT—are not operational. “It could be [confirmed or refuted] tomorrow, but the observatories are closed,” says astronomer Guillem Anglada-Escudé, who led the discovery of Proxima b in 2016 and was not involved in the new study. Time is running out for an immediate follow-up: in July Proxima Centauri will pass out of view behind our sun until February 2021.

So for now, the prospect of Proxima c having been seen for the first time remains an enticing but elusive possibility. Even if it proves to be a mirage—an astronomical false alarm—this potential detection is unlikely to dampen enthusiasm for further studies. Other teams will try again with upcoming instruments, more advanced than SPHERE, operating on supersized telescopes such as the E-ELT. But if the detection is real, which Gratton says he is “two thirds” confident about, it would be a historic initial glimpse of a planet orbiting the closest start to our own. “If this is true, it’s very exciting,” says Anglada-Escudé.

Related links:

Spectro-Polarimetric High-Contrast Exoplanet Research (SPHERE):

European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT):

Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: ESO/NASA/Scientific American/Jonathan O'Callaghan.

Best regards,

SpaceX - Starlink 6 launched into orbit

SpaceX - Falcon 9 / STARLINK Mission patch.

April 22, 2020

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched another 60 Starlink satellites (Starlink-6) from Launch Complex (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on 22 April 2020, at 19:30 UTC (15:30 EDT). Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage (Block B1051) landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship, stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

SpaceX Starlink 6 launch & Falcon 9 first stage landing, 22 April 2020

Falcon 9’s first stage for this mission previously supported Crew Dragon’s first flight to the International Space Station, launch of the RADARSAT Constellation Mission, and the fourth Starlink mission. Falcon 9’s fairing previously supported the AMOS-17 mission.

Starlink Satellites Constellation

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches the sixt batch of approximately 60 satellites for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband network, a mission designated Starlink 6. Delayed from April 16. Moved forward from April 23.

Related articles:

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SpaceX Starlink 4 launched

SpaceX - Starlink 3 launch success

SpaceX - SpaceX Starlink 2 launch Success

Panic wind among astronomers

SpaceX Starlink launched

For more information about SpaceX, visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Credits: SpaceX/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


Iranian Space Agency - Qased rocket launches Noor satellite

Iranian Space Agency logo.

22 Apr. 2020

Qased rocket launches Noor satellite

A Qased launch vehicle launched the Noor satellite from Iran, on 22 April 2020. According to official sources, Qased (قاصد) is a “three-stage, solid-propellant launcher” and the Noor ( نور) satellite was placed in a 425-km orbit.

Qased launches Noor satellite

Today’s launch comes just a couple of months after Iran’s failed attempt to launch an Earth-imaging satellite in February. The rocket for that mission took off as planned but was unable to put the satellite into orbit. Iran’s space program also suffered a major setback in August of last year, when a rocket exploded on an Iranian launchpad ahead of a planned mission to space. Following the explosion, President Trump tweeted an incredibly detailed image of the scorched launchpad taken from above, likely taken from a classified spy satellite from the National Reconnaissance Office.

Iranian Space Agency (Wikipedia):

Image, Video, Text, Credits: Ministry of Defence, Islamic Republic of Iran/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


Station Ramps Up for SpaceX Crew and Global Cargo Missions

ISS - Expedition 63 Mission patch / ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicles for ISS patch.

April 22, 2020

A Russian space freighter has rolled out to its launch pad ready to resupply the International Space Station this weekend. Meanwhile, the Expedition 63 crew is ramping up its preparations for the first Commercial Crew mission and more cargo activities planned for May.

Commander Chris Cassidy of NASA is looking forward to welcoming a pair of fellow NASA astronauts aboard the station at the end of May. Commercial Crew astronauts Robert Behnken and Doug Hurley are preparing for their launch aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spaceship scheduled for May 27 at 4:23 p.m. The first crew to launch from U.S. soil since 2011 will dock one day later to the station and join Expedition 63 for a months-long mission.

Image above: The Progress 75 cargo craft stands at its launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Image Credit: Roscosmos.

The crew aboard the orbiting lab is also due to receive its first space delivery on Saturday at 1:12 a.m. EDT. Russia’s Progress 75 (75P) cargo craft will carry several tons of crew supplies and station hardware and automatically dock to the aft port of the Zvezda service module. The 75P will lift off on Friday at 9:51 p.m. from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for the short three-and-a-half hour flight to the station.

Cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner are training for Saturday morning’s automated arrival of the 75P. The duo practiced remotely-controlled emergency rendezvous and docking techniques in the unlikely event the 75P wouldn’t be able to approach and dock to the station on its own.

Progress MS-14 ready for launch

Meanwhile, the U.S. Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo craft is being readied to end its stay attached to the station’s Unity module on May 11. Cassidy and Ivanishin packed trash and discarded gear inside Cygnus today for a fiery disposal in the atmosphere above the Pacific Ocean.

Finally, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) is targeting May 20 for the launch of its ninth cargo mission to the station. JAXA’s HTV (H-II Transfer Vehicle) cargo craft, nicknamed Kounotori, would take a five-day trip before being captured and installed to the station with the Canadarm2 robotic arm.

Related article:

NASA Television to Air Space Station Cargo Ship Launch, Docking

Related links:

Expedition 63:

Zvezda service module:

U.S. Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo craft:

HTV (H-II Transfer Vehicle) cargo craft:


Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,