samedi 21 août 2021

Global Trio of Orbiters Shows Small Dust Storms Help Dry Out Mars


NASA - Goddard Space Flight Center logo.

August 21, 2021

By combining observations from three international spacecraft at Mars, scientists were able to show that regional dust storms play a huge role in drying out the Red Planet.

Dust storms heat up higher altitudes of the cold Martian atmosphere, preventing water vapor from freezing as usual and allowing it to reach farther up. In the higher reaches of Mars, where the atmosphere is sparse, water molecules are left vulnerable to ultraviolet radiation, which breaks them up into their lighter components of hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen, which is the lightest element, is easily lost to space, with oxygen either escaping or settling back to the surface.

Image above: This illustration shows NASA's MAVEN spacecraft and the limb of Mars. Image Credits: NASA/Goddard.

“All you have to do to lose water permanently is to lose one hydrogen atom because then the hydrogen and oxygen can’t recombine into water,” said Michael S. Chaffin, a researcher at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “So when you’ve lost a hydrogen atom, you’ve definitely lost a water molecule.”

Scientists have long suspected that Mars, once warm and wet like Earth, has lost most of its water largely through this process, but they didn’t realize the significant impact of regional dust storms, which happen nearly every summer in the planet’s southern hemisphere. Globe-enveloping dust storms that strike typically every three to four Martian years were thought to be the main culprits, along with the hot summer months in the southern hemisphere when Mars is closer to the Sun.

But the Martian atmosphere also gets heated during smaller, regional dust storms, according to a new paper published August 16 in the journal Nature Astronomy. The researchers, an international team led by Chaffin, found that Mars loses double the amount of water during a regional storm as it does during a southern summer season without regional storms.

“This paper helps us virtually go back in time and say, ‘OK, now we have another way to lose water that will help us relate this little water we have on Mars today with the humongous amount of water we had in the past,” said Geronimo Villanueva, a Martian water expert at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and co-author on Chaffin’s paper.

Image above: The yellow-white cloud in the bottom-center of this image is a Mars "dust tower" — a concentrated cloud of dust that can be lofted dozens of miles above the surface. The blue-white plumes are water vapor clouds. Olympus Mons, the tallest volcano in the solar system, is visible in the upper left corner, while Valles Marineris can be seen in the lower right. Taken on Nov. 30, 2010, the image was produced by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's Mars Color Imager. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Since water is one of the key ingredients for life as we know it, scientists are trying to understand how long it flowed on Mars and how it was lost.

Billions of years ago, Mars had vastly more water than it does today. What’s left is frozen at the poles or locked in the crust. Melted, this leftover water could fill a global ocean up to 100 feet, or 30 meters, deep, some scientists predict.

Although scientists like Chaffin had many ideas about what was happening to the water on Mars, they lacked the measurements needed to tie the whole picture together. Then, a rare convergence of spacecraft orbits during a regional dust storm in January through February 2019 allowed scientists to collect unprecedented observations.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter measured the temperature, dust and water-ice concentrations from the surface to about 62 miles, or 100 kilometers, above it. Looking within the same altitude range, ESA's (European Space Agency) Trace Gas Orbiter measured the concentration of water vapor and ice. And NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, or MAVEN, spacecraft capped off the measurements by reporting the amount of hydrogen, which would have broken off H2O molecules, in the highest reaches of Mars, upwards of 620 miles, or 1,000 kilometers, above the surface.

It was the first time so many missions focused in on a single event, Chaffin said: “We’ve really caught the whole system in action.”

The data collected from four instruments on the three spacecraft paint a clear picture of a regional dust storm’s role in Martian water escape, scientists report. “The instruments should all tell the same story, and they do,” said Villanueva, a member of the Trace Gas Orbiter’s science team.

Image above: This graphic summarizes the data gathered from three orbiters during a regional Martian dust storm in January through February 2019. From the bottom up: The bottom panel shows dust accumulating in the atmosphere above one region of Mars; darker brown indicates higher density. The middle panel shows a corresponding increase in temperature in the atmosphere, stretching about 50 kilometers above the surface; the brighter the color, the higher the temperature. The top panel shows that as the dust density increases, warming the atmosphere, ice, indicated by white, disappears from the region because water vapor can no longer freeze. The next panel shows three observations of the Tharsis volcano region before (left), during (middle), and after (right) the dust storm. You can see white ice clouds capping the Tharsis volcanoes before and after the dust storm, but not during it. The second to last panel from the top shows the density of water increase in the higher altitudes during the dust storm, and above that, in the top panel, you see a corresponding brightening (light blue) of hydrogen at altitudes as high as 620 miles, or 1,000 kilometers, above the surface. Image Credit: Michael S. Chaffin.

Spectrometers on the European orbiter detected water vapor in the lower atmosphere before the dust storm began. Typically, the temperature of the Martian atmosphere gets colder with height for much of the Martian year, which means water vapor rising in the atmosphere freezes at relatively low altitudes. But as the dust storm took off, heating the atmosphere higher up, the instruments saw water vapor reaching higher altitudes. These instruments found 10 times more water in the middle atmosphere after the dust storm started, which coincides precisely with data from the infrared radiometer on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The radiometer measured rising temperatures in the atmosphere as dust was raised high above Mars. It also saw water-ice clouds disappear, as expected, since ice could no longer form in the warmer lower atmosphere. Images from MAVEN’s ultraviolet spectrograph confirm this; they show that before the 2019 storm, ice clouds could be seen hovering above the soaring volcanoes in the Tharsis region of Mars. “But they disappeared completely when the dust storm was in full swing,” Chaffin said, and reappeared after the dust storm ended.

At higher altitudes, water vapor is expected to break down into hydrogen and oxygen by the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation. Indeed, observations from MAVEN showed this, as it captured the upper atmosphere aglow with hydrogen that increased by 50% during the storm. This measurement corresponded perfectly with a swelling of water 60 miles below, which scientists say was the source of the hydrogen.

This research was funded in part by the MAVEN mission. MAVEN's principal investigator is based at the University of Colorado Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, and NASA Goddard manages the MAVEN project. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which also funded some of this research, is managed by Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, for NASA.

Related links:

Nature Astronomy:

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO):

ESA's Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO):

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Svetlana Shekhtman/GSFC/By Lonnie Shekhtman.


Starliner Returns to Factory, Preparations Underway to Resolve Valve Issue


Boeing & NASA - Starliner OFT-2 Mission patch.

August 21, 2021

Teams from Boeing and United Launch Alliance (ULA) safely returned the CST-100 Starliner to its production facility in Florida on Aug. 19 for continued work on the spacecraft’s service module propulsion system.

The Starliner Orbital Flight Test-2 spacecraft was removed from its Atlas V rocket inside the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida and returned to the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

Image above: Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft returned Aug. 19, 2021, from the United Launch Alliance Vertical Integration Facility to the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where teams will work to diagnose and resolve a valve issue detected during the Aug. 3 launch attempt of NASA Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test-2. Photo credit: Boeing.

The team now will perform propulsion system checkouts inside the factory’s hazardous processing area and determine the appropriate vehicle configuration for accessing and analyzing the system further. NASA and Boeing will recommend forward work as part of a formal process designed to aid in determining root cause and remediation steps.

In the weeks ahead, engineering teams from NASA and Boeing will work to diagnose and ultimately resolve a valve issue detected during the Aug. 3 countdown for NASA’s Boeing Orbital Flight Test-2, and resulted in the decision to postpone the launch destined for the International Space Station.

NASA, Boeing, and ULA will establish a new launch date once the issue is resolved.

Related articles:

NASA, Boeing to Move Starliner to Production Facility for Propulsion System Evaluation

NASA, Boeing Continue to Work Toward Understanding Starliner Service Module Valve Performance Issue

Related links:

Commercial Crew:

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner:

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Linda Herridge.

Best regards,

ISS orbit altitude correction done


ROSCOSMOS - Russian Vehicles patch.

August 21, 2021

In order to form ballistic conditions, before the launch of the Soyuz MS-19 manned transport vehicle and the landing of the Soyuz MS-18 descent vehicle, another correction of the orbital altitude of the International Space Station was carried out. According to preliminary data, after the maneuver, the average height is now 420.91 km above the Earth's surface.

ISS reboost by Progress MS cargo spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA

Today, August 21, 2021, at 07:04 Moscow time, a command was issued and the engines of the Zvezda service module of the ISS Russian segment were turned on. Two correcting motors worked in normal mode for 50 seconds, and the impulse value was 0.71 m / s. According to the updated information of specialists of the ballistic and navigation support service of the Flight Control Center of TsNIIMash (part of the State Corporation Roscosmos), the orbit parameters of the International Space Station were:

- Orbital period - 92.93 minutes;
- Orbital inclination - 51.66 degrees;
- Minimum orbital altitude - 420.56 km;
- The maximum orbital altitude is 437.09 km.

The maneuver was carried out by the engines of the Zvezda service module rather than the Progress MS-17 transport cargo vehicle in order to more efficiently use the fuel, since the space truck is currently docked to the Poisk Small Research Module of the ISS Russian Segment.

The launch of the Soyuz-2.1a carrier rocket with the Soyuz MS-19 manned transport vehicle is scheduled for October 5, 2021 from the Baikonur cosmodrome. The main crew included Roscosmos cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, as well as space flight participants - actress Yulia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko. It is expected that on October 17 Peresild and Shipenko will return to Earth on the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft together with Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky.

ISS reboost

Currently, the 65th expedition consisting of Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Peter Dubrov (Roscosmos), NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Shane Kimbrough and Megan MacArthur, astronaut of the Japan Aerospace Research Agency (JAXA) Akihiko Hoshide (station commander) and astronaut of the European Space Agency (ESA) Thomas Pesquet.

Related articles:

ISS orbit altitude correction postponed due to unavailability of the American segment

ISS orbit altitude correction is scheduled for August 19

Related links:

ROSCOSMOS Press Release:


International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Video (ESA), Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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vendredi 20 août 2021

Successful second spacewalk on the China Space Station


CMS - China Manned Space logo.

August 20, 2021

Second spacewalk on the China Space Station begins

Second Extravehicular Activity on the China Space Station: On 20 August 2021, at 00:38 UTC (08:38 China Standard Time), astronaut Nie Haisheng successfully opened the hatch of the Tianhe core module, starting the second spacewalk on the China Space Station.

Second spacewalk on the China Space Station begins

Astronauts Nie Haisheng and Liu Boming exited the module 02:12 UTC (10:12 China Standard Time) to continue the installation work on the outside of the Tianhe core module (天和核心舱), the first and main component of the China Space Station (中国空间站), informally known as Tiangong (天宫, Heavenly Palace). Astronaut Tang Hongbo assists them from inside the Tianhe core module, including with robotic arm operations.

Second spacewalk on the China Space Station

On 20 August 2021, at 06:33 UTC (14:33 China Standard Time), the Shenzhou-12 crew successfully completed the second extravehicular activity (EVA, spacewalk) on the China Space Station. Having completed all the scheduled tasks, astronauts Nie Haisheng and Liu Boming returned inside the Tianhe core module about an hour earlier than originally planned.

Successful second spacewalk on the China Space Station

During the spacewalk, the astronauts installed a pump, oriented the external panoramic camera and tested the new EVA spacesuits. The Shenzhou-12 crew, astronauts Nie Haisheng (commander), Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo, is scheduled to return to Earth in mid-September.

Related articles (archives):

China Space Station - Shenzhou-12 crew prepares for second spacewalk

China Space Station - Shenzhou-12 astronauts test their health

CMS - Shenzhou-12 - one month on board the China Space Station

First spacewalk on the China Space Station

China Space Station - The Tianhe core module has Hall-effect thrusters - CSS astronauts unpack EVA spacesuit

China Space Station - Shenzhou-12 crew begins three-month mission

China sends its first crew to its Space Station

Long March-7 Y3 launches Tianzhou-2 & Tianzhou-2 docking to the Tianhe Core Module

Tianhe completes in-orbit checks & Long March-7 Y3 ready to launch Tianzhou-2

China Space Station

CASC - Long March-5B Y2 launches the Tianhe Core Module

Related link:

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

Images, Videos, Text, Credits: China National Space Administration (CNSA)/China Central Television (CCTV)/China Media Group(CMG)/SciNews/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


Weekend Starts with Spacewalk Preps and Space Science


ISS - Expedition 65 Mission patch.

August 20, 2021

The Expedition 65 crew is going into the weekend preparing for a spacewalk on Tuesday while juggling a variety of microgravity research.

Astronauts Mark Vande Hei of NASA and Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) are less than a week away from exiting the U.S. Quest airlock to prepare the International Space Station for its third Roll-Out Solar Array. The two spacewalkers have been gearing up all week checking their spacesuits, configuring their tools, and reviewing their procedures for the planned six-hour and 50-minute excursion.

Image above: Astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Akihiko Hoshide check their U.S. spacesuits to get ready for a spacewalk prepare the station for its third Roll-Out Solar Array. Image Credit: NASA.

They will set their U.S. spacesuits to battery power on Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. EDT signifying the start of their spacewalk with NASA TV, NASA app, and agency website coverage beginning at 7 a.m.  NASA TV will also broadcast a briefing on Monday at 2 p.m. discussing Tuesday’s spacewalk activities.

The spacewalkers will be assisted by Flight Engineers Megan McArthur of NASA and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency). The pair joined Vande Hei and Hoshide today for more spacewalk reviews and a conference with experts on the ground.

Spacewalk. Animation Credit: NASA

Vande Hei, despite preparations for his fifth career spacewalk, also had time today for biology research taking microscopic photographs of engineered tissue samples for the Cardinal Muscle investigation. Observations may help doctors learn how to treat space-caused muscle loss and Earth-bound muscle conditions.

NASA Flight Engineer Shane Kimbrough spent his day on human research, physics and botany duties aboard the orbiting lab. First, he collected his urine samples and stowed them in a science freezer for later analysis as part of the Repository human research study. Following that, Kimbrough opened up the Combustion Integrated Rack and swapped fuel bottles to support research into flames and fuels in microgravity. Finally, the three-time space visitor cleaned up debris around the Plant Habitat Facility that is growing Hatch chiles for the Plant Habitat-04 experiment.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov spent Friday unpacking hardware and testing cable connections between the Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module and the Zvezda service module. The Russian Flight Engineers will also exit the Poisk module’s airlock twice in early September for more configuration work on the outside of Nauka.

Related links:

Expedition 65:

U.S. Quest airlock:


Cardinal Muscle:


Combustion Integrated Rack:

Plant Habitat Facility:

Plant Habitat-04:

Zvezda service module:

Poisk module:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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Hubble Views a Galaxy in a ‘Furnace’


NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Aug 20, 2021

This jewel-bright image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows NGC 1385, a spiral galaxy 68 million light-years from Earth, which lies in the constellation Fornax. The image was taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, which is often referred to as Hubble’s workhorse camera thanks to its reliability and versatility. It was installed in 2009 when astronauts last visited Hubble, and 12 years later it remains remarkably productive.

NGC 1385’s home – the Fornax constellation – is not named after an animal or an ancient god, as are many of the other constellations. Fornax is simply the Latin word for a furnace. The constellation was named Fornax by Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille, a French astronomer born in 1713. Lacaille named 14 of the 88 constellations we still recognize today. He seems to have had a penchant for naming constellations after scientific instruments, including Atlia (the air pump), Norma (the ruler, or set square), and Telescopium (the telescope).

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Text Credits: European Space Agency (ESA)/NASA/Lynn Jenner/Image, Animation Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, J. Lee and the PHANGS-HST Team.


Space Station Science Highlights: Week of August 16, 2021


ISS - Expedition 65 Mission patch.

Aug 20, 2021

Crew members aboard the International Space Station conducted scientific investigations during the week of Aug. 16 that included studying formation and flow of amyloids, analyzing the role of stress fibers in cell gravity detection, and coordinating multiple robotic helpers.

The space station has been continuously inhabited by humans for 20 years, supporting many scientific breakthroughs. The orbiting lab provides a platform for long-duration research in microgravity and for learning to live and work in space, experience that supports Artemis, NASA’s program to go forward to the Moon and on to Mars.

Image above: The space station’s cupola is pictured from a window on Russia's newest addition to the orbiting lab, the Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module. Image Credit: NASA.

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

Analyzing shear flow in amyloid formation

The Ring Sheared Drop investigation uses a device that pins a drop of liquid between two rings and rotates one while keeping the other stationary to create shear flow, or a difference in velocity between adjacent liquid layers. Previous research shows that shear flow plays an important role in the early stages of formation of protein aggregations called amyloid fibrils in the brain. Amyloids may be involved in development of Alzheimer’s disease, and results could contribute to a better understanding of this disease. New hardware for the investigation recently arrived at the space station aboard Northrop Grumman’s 16th commercial resupply mission. Crew members set up the hardware and installed several rounds of syringes and test cells for the experiment during the week.

The mystery of gravity detection

Animation above: Setup of hardware for Cell Gravisensing, a JAXA investigation analyzing the role of changes in cell stress fiber tension during spaceflight as a possible mechanism for cell detection of gravity. Animation Credit: NASA.

Research shows that individual cells in animals can detect gravity, but how they do so is largely unknown. Cell Gravisensing, an investigation from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), analyzes the role of changes in tension in cell stress fibers that occur during spaceflight. Results could promote development of drugs to treat muscle atrophy and osteoporosis on Earth and to help prevent or treat muscle atrophy and bone loss experienced by astronauts during spaceflight. Cell Gravisensing uses a new method to image cell responses to microgravity that could make a significant contribution to basic biological research. During the week, crew members removed and stowed samples from the Confocal Microscope and placed new samples into the microscope for observation.

Robots working together

ReSWARM uses the station’s free-flying Astrobees to demonstrate autonomous robotic servicing such as moving cargo and coordinating multiple robots, robots and cargo, and robots and the environment in which they operate. Future space missions could involve a variety of robotic operations, including autonomous docking and repairs. Robots also could refuel and repair failing satellites, construct observatories and outposts in space, and assist astronauts during extravehicular activities. These tasks involve interaction with other spacecraft and cargo of potentially unknown properties, and ReSWARM addresses a range of challenges presented by such operations. During the week, the crew set up Honey, one of three Astrobees currently on station, for ReSWARM operations.

Other investigations on which the crew performed work:

- Lumina is an ESA (European Space Agency) demonstration of using a dosimeter for real-time monitoring of radiation dose received by crew members using optical fibers that darken when exposed to radiation.

Image above: NASA astronaut Megan McArthur works on the Cardinal Muscle investigation, which tests whether engineered tissues cultured in space can provide a model for studying muscle loss and assessing possible therapeutics prior to clinical trials. Image Credit: NASA.

- Cardinal Muscle tests whether engineered tissues cultured in space could take advantage of this accelerated loss and support development of a model for quickly assessing possible drugs prior to human clinical trials. Prevention and treatment of muscle loss become more important as the length of space missions increases, and drugs that diminish muscle loss also could help people on Earth.

- ASIM, an ESA investigation, observes high-altitude electrical discharges of severe thunderstorms from an external platform to study their role in the Earth’s atmosphere and climate.

- Anti-Atrophy, an investigation from JAXA, tests the ability of biomaterials such as muscle atrophy inhibitors or muscle synthesis accelerators to inhibit muscle atrophy in microgravity. Results could advance development of pharmaceuticals to prevent muscle atrophy for astronauts in space and for people who experience the condition on Earth.

- Cool Flames Investigation with Gases, part of the ACME series of studies, observes chemical reactions of cool flames, which burn at lower temperatures. Nearly impossible to create in Earth’s gravity, cool flames are easily created in microgravity and studying them may improve understanding of combustion and fires on Earth.

- Behavioral Core Measures collects a suite of measurements to assess behavioral health on missions, rather than relying on anecdotal information and self-reporting. The data could help quantify crew health and a crew member’s ability to conduct operations after landing on the Moon or Mars.

Image above: Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) sets up the camera for The ISS Experience in anticipation of filming crew activities for the virtual reality series. Image Credit: NASA.

- The ISS Experience is a virtual reality film series documenting life and research aboard the space station. Filmed over multiple months, it includes crew activities ranging from conducting science experiments to preparing for a spacewalk.

Space to Ground: Investigating Muscle Loss: 08/20/2021

Related links:

Expedition 65:

Ring Sheared Drop:

Cell Gravisensing:

Confocal Microscope:



ISS National Lab:

Spot the Station:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Ana Guzman/John Love, ISS Research Planning Integration Scientist Expedition 65.


NASA Researchers Develop a Technique to Predict Radiation Risk on International Space Station Missions


ISS - International Space Station logo.

Aug 20, 2021

Astronauts traveling to the Moon, Mars, and other future deep space destinations will likely make new and amazing discoveries. Undertaking these exploration missions will not be possible without increased risk to crew members from exposure to the space environment. To reduce risks of the hazards of spaceflight and protect astronauts from space radiation, NASA is using the International Space Station to develop capabilities to predict space radiation exposure for future exploration missions.

Published in the journal Nature-Scientific Reports, results from an ISS Medical Monitoring study of International Space Station astronauts demonstrate how the sensitivity of an individual astronaut’s DNA to radiation exposure on Earth can predict their DNA’s response during spaceflight as measured by changes to their chromosomes.

Animation above: Space radiation is made up of protons and all the elements on the periodic table. It enters the human body at energies approaching the speed of light and can damage DNA. Animation Credit: NASA.

“We wanted to know if it is possible to detect and measure radiation exposure damage in the bodies of astronauts, and if there were differences based on age, sex, and other factors that could be measured before they go into space,” said senior scientist Honglu Wu from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “We hope to use these measurements to help develop and compare methods of protecting astronauts from radiation.”

Space radiation originates from three primary sources: particles trapped in the Earth’s magnetic field, particles shot into space during solar flares, and galactic cosmic rays, which originate outside our solar system. Exposure to radiation can increase the risk of developing cancer, alterations to the central nervous system, cardiovascular disease, and other adverse health effects. Life on Earth is protected from most space radiation by the planet’s atmosphere and magnetic field.

Image above: Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide poses for a photo after undergoing a generic blood draw in the European Laboratory/Columbus Orbital Facility (COF). Image Credit: NASA.

On missions in low-Earth orbit, astronauts are also protected from some of the space radiation exposure by a combination of Earth’s magnetic field, spacecraft shielding, and limiting the astronaut’s time in space. NASA’s Human Research Program seeks to conduct research in the field of medical countermeasures such as pharmaceuticals and early disease detection technology to help mitigate the consequences of space radiation exposure. During exploration missions beyond Earth’s orbit, it may not be possible to provide the same level of protection from shielding or limit mission exposure time.

As we prepare for these longer missions and a permanent human presence in space, NASA’s Human Research Program seeks to conduct research in the field of medical countermeasures such as pharmaceuticals and early disease detection technology to help mitigate the consequences of space radiation exposure. A key part of that is figuring out ways to estimate the sensitivity of astronauts to radiation prior to flight and continually assess long-term health for the remainder of their lifetimes.

As people age and live their lives, their chromosomes accumulate alterations. These changes can result from normal bodily processes or due to exposure to environmental factors. Chromosomes contain the DNA building blocks of our bodies and altering them can increase the risk of developing cancer and other diseases. During the ISS Medical Monitoring experiment, researchers studied blood samples from 43 space station crew members to measure their levels of chromosome alterations from radiation and other factors before and after a mission. These alterations to chromosomes are observed in a very small percentage of individual cells within a person’s blood.

Image above: Blood samples taken by former NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy before aboard the International Space Station. Samples like these were taken before and after astronaut’s missions to space to measure radiation damage of astronauts in space. Image Credit: NASA.

The study involved three key measurements. Before astronauts flew to the station, researchers examined their blood cells to assess their baseline chromosomal status against which any future alterations could be measured. Next, these blood samples were intentionally exposed to gamma-ray radiation on Earth to measure how easily their cells accumulated chromosomal changes. This measurement established each astronaut’s inherent sensitivity to radiation. Finally, after the astronauts returned from their missions, the study team again took blood samples from the individuals to assess their level of chromosomal alterations.

Wu and retired NASA statistician Alan Feiveson then compared each astronaut’s levels of post-flight alterations to their corresponding background levels established before launching into space. In addition, the investigators checked to see if any of this increase could also be explained by age, sex, or individual sensitivity.

“It was an intriguing challenge to develop a statistical method for analyzing all of the blood samples to see if an astronaut’s pre-flight levels of radiosensitivity actually plays a role in predicting their spaceflight-induced chromosome alterations,” said Feiveson.

After analyzing all of the data, the researchers found that, similar to people on Earth:

- Older crew members had higher levels of baseline chromosomal irregularities, and
- The blood cells of older astronauts were more sensitive to developing chromosomal alterations compared to younger crew members.

These results indicated that:

- Crew members with higher inherent sensitivity, as determined by gamma radiation on the ground, were more likely to see higher levels of changes to their chromosomes in their post-flight blood samples compared to those with lower sensitivity.

- Individuals who showed higher baseline chromosomal alterations in their pre-flight blood samples tended to also be more sensitive to developing additional chromosomal changes compared to astronauts with low baseline levels.

“The findings suggest that if older astronauts indeed have higher sensitivities to radiation, they might be at higher risk of chromosome alterations,” said Wu. “While experiencing chromosome alterations does not automatically mean someone will develop cancer, it does raise the question of whether they are at increased risk for it.”

Space Radiation is Risky Business for the Human Body

Younger astronauts are thought to be more susceptible than older astronauts to the long-term health consequences resulting from space radiation exposure. This is partly because younger astronauts have more lifespan remaining and could live long enough to develop a cancer from the radiation exposure; it usually takes five to 20 years or more after the radiation exposure for cancer to occur.

“When thinking about going to Mars, we typically have thought it might be better to send older astronauts because of their experience and lower risk of developing cancer in their lifetime,” said Wu. “Now, based on this new research, we know that we should study the age effects of radiation exposure more.”

Related links:

Hazards of spaceflight:

Nature-Scientific Reports:

ISS Medical Monitoring:

Human Research Program’s space radiation information webpage:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Animation (mentioned), Images (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: NASA/Ana Guzman/JSC/International Space Station Program Research Office/Charlie Plain.

Best regards,

jeudi 19 août 2021

Robotics, Muscle Research During Ongoing Spacewalk Preps


ISS - Expedition 65 Mission patch.

August 19, 2021

The Astrobee robotic free-flyers were powered up aboard the International Space Station and cell samples were set up for human muscle research today. The Expedition 65 crew is also headlong into U.S. and Russian spacewalk preparations while working on a variety of other science experiments.

NASA Flight Engineer Megan McArthur started Thursday morning turning on the cube-shaped Astrobee robotic helpers located inside the Kibo laboratory module. The toaster-sized free-flyers were demonstrating autonomous and coordinated operations during the afternoon. The ReSWARM robotics study may inform future space assembly and satellite repair techniques.

Image above: Astronaut Megan McArthur works on a muscle study in the Kibo laboratory module as station Commander Akihiko Hoshide poses behind her. Image Credit: NASA.

Commander Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) was also working in Kibo servicing cell samples for the Anti-Atrophy muscle investigation. The samples are being incubated and observed in the Cell Biology Experiment Facility to learn how to prevent and treat space-caused muscle atrophy and Earth-bound muscle conditions.

Hoshide then joined NASA Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei and checked their U.S. spacesuit components and emergency jet packs during the afternoon. They will exit the U.S. Quest airlock on Aug. 24 to install a modification kit on the Port-4 (P4) truss structure to get ready for upcoming Roll-Out Solar Array installation work.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Two Russian spacewalks are also on the docket for cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov in early September. The duo will exit the Poisk module‘s airlock for both excursions to get the Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module ready for science operations. Today, they studied the paths toward their external worksites on a computer then checked their Orlan spacesuits and spacewalk tools in Poisk.

Several other space investigations were also underway today to support space biology research.  ESA (European Space Agency) Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet worked in the Columbus laboratory module measuring sound levels and setting up hardware for the Eklosion botany study. NASA Flight Engineer Shane Kimbrough took a robotics test for the Behavioral Core Measurements human research experiment then checked samples for the Ring Sheared Drop fluid physics study.

Related links:

Expedition 65:

Kibo laboratory module:



Anti-Atrophy muscle investigation:

Cell Biology Experiment Facility:

U.S. Quest airlock:

Port-4 (P4) truss structure:

Poisk module:

Columbus laboratory module:


Behavioral Core Measurements:

Ring Sheared Drop:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

Best regards,

CASC - Long March-4B launches TianHui-2 02


CASC - China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation logo.

August 19, 2021

Long March-4B carrying TianHui-2 02 liftoff

A Long March-4B launch vehicle launched the TianHui-2 02 satellites from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, Shanxi Province, northern China, on 18 August 2021, at 22:32 UTC (19 August, at 06:32 local time).

Long March-4B launches TianHui-2 02

TianHui-2 02 (天绘二号02) is the second group of two TianHui-2 Earth-observation satellites. According to official sources, the satellites have been successfully sent into the scheduled orbits and will be “mainly used for scientific experimental research, general survey of land and resources, geographic information mapping and other tasks.”

Tianhui 2-01 (TH 2-01, first group)

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Images, Video, Text, Credits: China Central Television (CCTV)/China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation(CASC)/SciNews/Gunter's Space Page/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


ISS orbit altitude correction postponed due to unavailability of the American segment


ISS - International Space Station logo.

August 19, 2021

The correction of the orbital altitude of the International Space Station, which was originally scheduled for the morning of August 19, 2021, has been postponed to the backup date - August 21 at the request of the American side.

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credits: NASA/STS-131

Such a request came in connection with the technical unavailability of the American segment of the ISS, which was reported by the Flight Director (shift director of the flight) of the partners to the Mission Control Center of TsNIIMash near Moscow (part of the State Corporation Roscosmos).

Currently, the 65th expedition consisting of Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Peter Dubrov (Roscosmos), NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Shane Kimbrough and Megan MacArthur, astronaut of the Japan Aerospace Research Agency (JAXA) Akihiko Hoshide (station commander) and astronaut of the European Space Agency (ESA) Thomas Pesquet.

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ISS orbit altitude correction is scheduled for August 19

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ROSCOSMOS Press Release:


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Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: ROSCOSMOS/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.


Comet Atlas May Have Been a Blast From the Past


NASA & ESA - Hubble Space Telescope (HST) patch.

Aug 19, 2021

It's suspected that about 5,000 years ago a comet swept within 23 million miles of the Sun, closer than the innermost planet Mercury. The comet might have been a spectacular sight to civilizations across Eurasia and North Africa at the end of the Stone Age.

Image above: This pair of Hubble Space Telescope images of comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS), taken on April 20 and April 23, 2020, reveal the breakup of the solid nucleus of the comet. Hubble photos identify as many as 30 separate fragments. The comet was approximately 91 million miles from Earth when the images were taken. The comet may be a broken off piece of a larger comet that swung by the Sun 5,000 years ago. The comet has been artificially colored in this view to enhance details for analysis. Image Credits: Science: NASA, ESA, Quanzhi Ye (UMD); Image Processing: Alyssa Pagan (STScI).

However, this nameless space visitor is not recorded in any known historical account. So how do astronomers know that there was such an interplanetary intruder?

Enter comet ATLAS (C/2019 Y4), which first appeared near the beginning of 2020.

Comet ATLAS, first detected by the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS), operated by the University of Hawaii, quickly met an untimely death in mid-2020 when it disintegrated into a cascade of small icy pieces.

In a new study using observations from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomer Quanzhi Ye of the University of Maryland in College Park, reports that ATLAS is a broken-off piece of that ancient visitor from 5,000 years ago. Why? Because ATLAS follows the same orbital "railroad track" as that of a comet seen in 1844. This means the two comets are probably siblings from a parent comet that broke apart many centuries earlier. The link between the two comets was first noted by amateur astronomer Maik Meyer.

Such comet families are common. The most dramatic visual example was in 1994 when the doomed comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 (SL9) was pulled into a string of pieces by Jupiter’s gravitational pull. This "comet train" was short-lived. It fell piece by piece into Jupiter in July 1994.

But comet ATLAS is just "weird," says Ye, who observed it with Hubble about the time of the breakup. Unlike its hypothesized parent comet, ATLAS disintegrated while it was farther from the Sun than Earth, at a distance of over 100 million miles. This was much farther than the distance where its parent passed the Sun. "This emphasizes its strangeness," said Ye.

Hubble Space Telescop (HST). Animation Credits: NASA/ESA

"If it broke up this far from the Sun, how did it survive the last passage around the Sun 5,000 years ago? This is the big question," said Ye. "It's very unusual because we wouldn't expect it. This is the first time a long-period comet family member was seen breaking up before passing closer to the Sun."

Observing the breakup of the fragments offers clues to how the parent comet was put together. The conventional wisdom is that comets are fragile agglomerations of dust and ice. And, they may be lumpy, like raisin pudding.

In a new paper in the Astronomical Journal, after one year of analysis Ye and co-investigators report that one fragment of ATLAS disintegrated in a matter of days, while another piece lasted for weeks. "This tells us that part of the nucleus was stronger than the other part," he said.

One possibility is that streamers of ejected material may have spun up the comet so fast that centrifugal forces tore it apart. An alternative explanation is that it has so-called super-volatile ices that just blew the piece apart like an exploding aerial firework. "It is complicated because we start to see these hierarchies and evolution of comet fragmentation. Comet ATLAS's behavior is interesting but hard to explain."

Comet ATLAS's surviving sibling won't return until the 50th century.

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Astronomical Journal:

Hubble Space Telescope (HST):

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Lynn Jenner/GSFC/Claire Andreoli/Space Telescope Science Institute/Ray Villard/University of Maryland/Quanzhi Ye.

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NASA Completes Actions from Review of International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory


ISS U.S. National Laboratory logo by LucasFilm.

Aug 19, 2021

In February 2020, an external team completed its review of and recommendations for the operations and management of the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory, which the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) manages. In April 2020, after a thorough assessment of the team’s findings and recommendations, NASA concurred that a significant change was needed to ensure American citizens obtain the most from their investment in the International Space Station.  To bring about the needed change, NASA identified six actions that the agency would take, in conjunction with CASIS, to bring the ISS National Lab into a new era.

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

NASA is pleased to report that the bulk of those actions have been completed successfully.  NASA and CASIS are now in alignment better than ever and are prepared to lead new advances in space R&D and cutting-edge science on the International Space Station. The following is a list of the actions and a summary of the progress NASA and CASIS have made over the last year on each one:

1. Work with CASIS on the best roles and composition of the CASIS board of directors and leadership. Progress: The CASIS board of directors has a majority of new members, along with a new board chair, Dr. Elizabeth Cantwell. The current board composition is well-suited to manage the unique challenges and complexities associated with CASIS.

2. Support CASIS’ establishment of a User Advisory Committee to provide input to the organization about how best to manage resources. Progress: The new CASIS User Advisory Committee, along with five subcommittees, has been established, members and chairs for each subcommittee have been selected, and the committee’s first meeting was held on Feb 26, 2021.

3. Create transparent project and program evaluation and prioritization processes.  Progress: Six new peer reviewed CASIS solicitations have been announced along with new project evaluation processes, based on NASA best practices. CASIS will continue to refine its payload prioritization process for better transparency.

4. Identify an ISS National Lab program executive at NASA Headquarters as the primary liaison to CASIS. Progress: Dr. Alex MacDonald, NASA chief economist and a member of the NASA Administrator’s Office, has been serving as the ISS National Lab program executive over this last year. This assignment demonstrated NASA’s commitment to implement the needed changes identified in the report.

5. Update strategic priorities for the ISS National Lab on an annual basis. Progress: NASA and CASIS jointly agreed to and documented new CASIS annual performance goals for 2021.

6. Work with CASIS to optimize the allocation of ISS National Lab resources to meet strategic priorities. Progress: New ISS National Lab programmatic goals and operating principles have been agreed to with the CASIS board and will be incorporated into an update to the CASIS Cooperative Agreement, which is in work.

“I am incredibly proud of the NASA and CASIS teams that worked hard over the last year to transform the ISS National Lab public service enterprise to ensure we deliver on the full research promise of the International Space Station for the nation. With new solicitations, new partnerships, and new experiments aboard our orbiting laboratory, we’re proving out the value of having a National Lab in space every day,” said Kathryn Lueders, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA Headquarters.

“CASIS and NASA work diligently together to optimize the utility of the ISS National Lab as it continues to evolve into a 21st century space asset that drives future value in low Earth orbit. The incredible commitment shown by CASIS, NASA, and stakeholders over the past year demonstrates a collective mission to maximize sustained utilization of this one-of-a-kind space-based research facility,” said Dr. Elizabeth Cantwell, CASIS board of directors chair.

From the moment the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Authorization Act of 2005 bill was signed into law, the entire U.S. segment of the space station has been a designated a National Laboratory. In the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, Congress directed NASA to enter into a cooperative agreement with a not-for-profit entity to manage access to 50% of the ISS research resources, and in 2011 NASA entered into a 10-year cooperative agreement with CASIS for this purpose. In July 2017, NASA extended this cooperative agreement with CASIS to September 2024.

“The CASIS board and staff have really stepped up and provided important leadership during a challenging year and have laid a new foundation for the success of the ISS National Lab as a vital public service research institution. The continued commitment of the CASIS and ISS research office teams pursuing that goal amidst all the complexity and challenge of conducting cutting-edge space station research represents a true service to the nation, and it’s been an honor to serve in this role with them,” said MacDonald.

With the bulk of the actions successfully completed, NASA is transitioning the ISS National Lab program executive position to Robyn Gatens, the International Space Station Director at NASA Headquarters. Gatens has extensive familiarity with CASIS, including providing leadership for the new strategic direction in the management of the ISS National Lab.

“I personally, and our entire CASIS board, want to thank Alex for his contributions as the initial ISS National Lab Program executive,” said Cantwell. “We very much look forward to working alongside Robyn, whose experience makes her an ideal program executive as we work together to advance the incredible mission of the ISS National Lab.”

NASA is committed to management of the International Space Station as a resource for the American people in the benefits it returns to Earth and in the opportunities for the future as the agency is working to enable a robust low-Earth orbit economy.

Related links:

ISS National Lab program executive:

ISS National Lab:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Carlyle Webb.