Tuesday, November 3, 2015

15 Photos Celebrating 15 Years of Human Presence on Space Station

Fifteen years ago today on November 2 2000, the first Expedition crew arrived at the International Space Station.

Expedition 1 Commander Bill Shepard alongside cosmonaut flight engineers Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko lived aboard the station for 136 days. Fifteen years on and forty-five expeditions later the International Space Station has grown from the size of a school bus to the size of a football field.

The International Space Station program is a collaborative effort between 15 nations from all around the world. 15 certainly seems to be the magic number, so let's celebrate this milestone in human space exploration by showcasing fifteen photographs taken aboard the station to celebrate fifteen years of a continuous human presence in space.

Expedition 1 Flight Engineer Sergei Krikalev poses for a photo inside the Zvezda Service Module, with space shuttle Atlantis approaching the complex from below. credit: NASA

STS-112 crew members Piers Sellers(bottom) and Fyodor Yurchikhin(top) in the Quest Airlock of the International Space Station prior to the mission's second spacewalk. credit: NASA

Expedition 17 flight engineer Greg Chamitoff floats through the Destiny Module of the International Space Station
credit: NASA
Expedition 30 crew members Dan Burbank(left) and Anton Shkaplerov(right) are pictured near a growing collection of insignias representing crews who have worked on the International Space Station. credit: NASA
Expedition 35 Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn casts an eye upon the Earth during an emergency EVA to replace a faulty ammonia pump on the exterior of the space station in 2013. credit: NASA

Expedition 36 Commander Pavel Vinogradov waits in the Rassvet Module of the International Space Station to welcome three new crew members aboard the orbiting complex. credit: NASA
Expedition 28 crew member Ron Garan is photographed observing the Earth from the Cupola module of the ISS. The cupola is the astronaut's window on the world and provides a 360 degree panorama of the Earth below. credit: NASA
Expedition 15 crew members Clay Anderson(left) and Oleg Kotov(right) don their hard hats while working with the station's robotic arm, Canadarm2. credit: NASA
Expedition 24 Flight Engineer Tracy Caldwell Dyson viewing the Earth from inside the Cupola. credit: NASA
Expedition 37 Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy waves for the camera during a spacewalk in 2013. credit: NASA
The Expedition 32 crew take a time out of their day to pose for an intelligent looking photo inside the Japanese Experiment Module credit: NASA
Expedition 24/25 crew member Doug Wheelock, donned in his Russian Sokol launch and entry suit smiles for the camera inside the Soyuz TMA-19 spacecraft. credit: NASA
Cosmonaut Gennady Padalka poses next to a Russian Orlan space suit in the station's Pirs Airlock. Padalka is a four-time commander of the space station and holds the record for the longest time in space by a human- accumulating 879 days in low-Earth orbit. credit: NASA
Expedition 40/41 crew members Alexander Gerst(left) and Reid Wiseman(right) conduct the SPHERES-RINGS experiment in the JEM. SPHERES-RINGS seeks to demonstrate wireless power transfer between satellites at a distance for enhanced operations. credit: NASA
The crew of Expedition 45 pose inside the Destiny Lab of the International Space Station. The crew consist of(Back Row L-R) Sergei Volkov, Oleg Kononenko and Mikhail Kornienko & (Front Row L-R) Kimiya Yui(holding the Expedition 1 mission patch), Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren(holding the Expedition 45 patch). Both Kornienko and Kelly are currently over 200 days into a year long mission to the International Space Station, the first time a year-long mission has been conducted aboard the station. credit: NASA

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Monday, September 28, 2015

NASA Has Found Liquid Water on Mars

NASA has announced today that it has gathered concrete evidence that liquid water exists on Mars.

Based on images taken over several years from the NASA's Mars Reconaissance Orbiter(MRO), currently orbiting the red planet, there is enough evidence to suggest that liquid water does in fact exist on the surface of Mars today. MRO has been orbiting Mars since 2006.

Using the orbiter's imaging spectrometer, scientists have observed that dark streaks on the Martian surface appear to ebb and flow over time. These darks streaks are known as recurring slope lineae(RSL) and appear to flow down steep slopes during warmer months, then fade away during colder months.
Recurring Slope Lineae at Hale Crater, Mars
credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

These lineae have been spotted in several locations across the planet, in regions where temperatures average higher than 23 Degrees Celsius.The RSLs are only a few meters in width and average around a hundred meters in length. The space agency now hopes to obtain higher resolution imagery of these surface features using the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on MRO.

Another intriguing find was the discovery of hydrated salts on the slopes which could point to what that relationship may be to these dark features. The hydrated salts would lower the freezing point of a liquid brine, just as salt on roads here on Earth causes ice and snow to melt more rapidly. Scientists say it’s likely a shallow subsurface flow, with enough water wicking to the surface to explain the darkening.

John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This is a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water - albeit briny - is flowing today on the surface of Mars.”

The spectrometer observations show signatures of hydrated salts at multiple RSL locations, but only when the dark features were relatively wide. When the researchers looked at the same locations and RSL weren't as extensive, they detected no hydrated salt.

However Alfred McEwan, Principle Investigator of HiRISE was quick to reassure people at a news conference at NASA Headquarters in Washington that we do not have a situation where there are no streams or rivers of fast flowing water, but rather "Thin layers of wet soil."

In conclusion, it must be said that today will go down in history as the day when humans stopped thinking of the existence of water on Mars as unfathomable, perhaps even laughable, and instead turned it into an opportunity for humans to explore.

In the words of Grunsfeld, "Stay tuned to science because science never sleeps and we've got lots of discoveries(left to make)."

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

How to See the September 28 Supermoon Lunar Eclipse

There is no denying that a lunar eclipse is one of the most beautiful astronomical phenomenon we witness on planet Earth. There's a lunar eclipse happening on September 28(depending on your location) and here's how you can see it.

What is a lunar eclipse?
A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes through the shadow of the Earth(called the umbra) and for a short time changes in colour from the bright white full Moon that everyone's used to seeing into a beautiful reddish orange, before emerging from the shadow once more.

The Moon will appear to be tinted red because of sunlight passing through particles in the Earth's atmosphere hitting the lunar surface. It's the exact same reason why the sky appears red, orange and pink during sunset.
A visual explanation of the eclipse(Note: All times are in EDT)
credit: NASA

How to see it
You don't need any fancy equipment to view a lunar eclipse- no fancy telescopes or binoculars- just a clear sky and a view of the Moon.

Start observing the Moon at around 2 a.m. Irish Standard Time on the morning of September 28. The eclipse officially begins at 02:07 a.m. when our nearest neighbour makes first contact with Earth's umbra. At this stage the Moon will slowly begin growing reddish-orange in colour.

Mid-eclipse occurs at 03:47 a.m. The Moon will then exit the umbra at 05:27 a.m.

The eclipse will be fully visible in Europe, South/East Asia, Africa, much of North America, much of Central America, all of South America and much of Antarctica.

If you're clouded over or live in a part of the world in which the eclipse is not visible- don't worry- NASA will be live-streaming the whole thing which you can check out here.
We will also be live-tweeting pictures and videos of the eclipse from around the world so be sure to follow Irish Space Blog on Twitter.

What makes this eclipse of the Moon special is that it coincides with a Supermoon. A Supermoon occurs when a full Moon takes place while it is at its closest point to Earth in its orbit, called its perigee. As a result, the Moon may appear up to 30 percent brighter than average.
Astronomy Ireland said that the eclipse on the 28th of September would be "The best we'll see until 2029!"

So get the flasks, wooly hats and cameras at the ready for what promises to be one of the most beautiful astronomical events of the year!

Clear skies!

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Japanese Cargo Vessel Arrives at International Space Station

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's H-II Transfer Vehicle(HTV), or "Kounotori" has arrived at the International Space Station on its fifth mission to resupply the orbiting complex.

Carrying 5.5 tonnes of cargo for the crew aboard the orbiting laboratory, HTV-5 lifted off from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan under clear skies aboard a H-IIB rocket at 11:50 a.m. UTC on Wednesday, August 19 bound for a five day trip to the station.
HTV-5 was captured by Canadarm2 at 10:28 a.m. UTC
Credit: NASA

On Monday August 24 the HTV performed a rendezvous with the International Space Station before being grappled by the station's 57 foot long robotic arm, Canadarm2. Assisted by Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui was at the controls of Canadarm2 from the robotics workstation in the Cupola. He was given the "Go for grapple" command by fellow Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata who was serving as CAPCOM(The voice link between astronauts on the ISS and Mission Control on Earth) during the on-orbit operations in Mission Control in Houston.

Yui then handed over control of the robot arm to teams back on Earth who issued a series of commands to Canadarm2 to slowly berth HTV-5 to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony Module of the ISS.

Included in the launch manifest is a space radiation observatory to search for dark matter, which will be installed on the exposed facility of the Japanese Experiment Module, pumps and filters for the station's Water Recovery System as well as food, water and other crew commodities for the astronauts and cosmonauts serving as part of Expedition 44.

HTV-5 is expected to remain docked to the station until late September before being loaded up with trash and other unwanted items and detached- destined for a fiery demise by burning up in the Earth's atmosphere.

Meanwhile back on Earth in Baikonur, Kazakhstan the crew of the Soyuz TMA-18M are undergoing final preparations and tests before launching to the station on September 2. Soyuz commander Sergei Volkov, making his third flight to the station will be flanked by rookie astronauts Andreas Mogensen of the European Space Agency and Kazakh cosmonaut Aidyn Aimbetov.

Volkov is scheduled to remain on board the station for the next several months as part of Expedition 45/46 while Mogensen and Aimbetov will be busy conducting scientific experiments during a short 10 day "Taxi mission" to the orbiting complex. This will allow crews to effectively swap out Soyuz vehicles, with Mogensen and Aimbetov returning to Earth on the Soyuz TMA-16M with veteran cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, who will come home after spending 170 days living and working in space.

ISS One Year Crew members Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko will return to Earth aboard the Soyuz TMA-18M with Volkov in March 2016.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Why Astronauts Growing Lettuce in Space is a VERY Big Deal

Every day aboard the International Space Station astronauts take a quick lunch break when they find a few minutes free between the running of several hundred scientific experiments, spacewalk preparations or physical exercise. On August 10, the dish of the day was lettuce. However, this was no ordinary lettuce. This was space-grown, red romaine lettuce, and it's a really, really big deal!

While two of their Russian colleagues were busy conducting a spacewalk outside the station, flight engineers Scott Kelly, Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yui were busy inside the orbiting complex harvesting the space grown produce for consumption as part of the NASA "Veggie" plant growth experiment. The trio then got the go ahead from Mission Control in Houston to eat the lettuce, marking the first time that astronauts were able to eat food that had been grown in the microgravity environment found in low-Earth orbit.
Astronaut Kjell Lindgren with the Veggie experiment
credit: NASA

Expedition 44 flight engineer and ISS One Year Crew member Scott Kelly of NASA wished his crew mates "Bon appetite" before all three took a bite out of the grown in space food. "It tastes good. It tastes kind of like arugula." 

Smiling from ear to ear, the three astroanuts spiced things up a bit by adding sides of olive oil and vinegar. The seeds were activated by Kelly on July 8 and harvested for 33 days. Half of all the lettuce leaves were consumed by the crew, while the other half will be returned to Earth for further analysis.

But why is growing food in space important?

Well, it's all because NASA is on a bold mission to send humans to Mars, on what the space agency calls its "Journey to Mars." On average Mars is 225 million kilometers from Earth, so a manned mission to the red planet can last anywhere between two to three years depending on how long those first Martian explorers are scheduled to remain on the surface.

This means that astronauts on missions to the fourth rock from the Sun would not be able to depend on a regular supply of cargo vehicles carrying food, water and equipment, just as they do aboard the space station. The only option for astronauts would for them to be completely self sufficient in growing their own food and recycling their own water.

Not only will NASA's Veggie experiment will allow astronauts to plant their own seeds, harvest them and eat them roughly a month later, but it is also hoped that recreational gardening in space will have positive psychological effects for the astonauts sent on these long duration space missions.

Alexandra Whitmire, a scientist at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston is working to find out the effect on the human psyche as a result of growing food in space. Whitmire is a Behavioral Health and Performance Research scientist for NASA's Human Research Program. Her team supports research related to reducing psychological risks on a Mars mission.
Artist's impression of a food growth habitation module
on the surface of Mars credit:  NASA

"The Veggie experiment is currently the only experiment we are supporting which involves evaluating the effects of plant life on humans in space," Whitmire said.

For this first batch of red romaine lettuce consumed on August 10, red, blue and green LEDs were used to provide a light and growth source for the seeds to germinate. NASA hopes to increase the number of plants grown on station in the near future and will also analyse the effect that different light waves have on the growth of plant seeds.

Even though a manned mission to Mars is at least another twenty years away, there's one thing for sure- mankind, in eating an out of this world salad that was grown aboard the International Space Station has just taken yet another small step to fulfilling the age old dream of expanding humanity's presence in the solar system by sending the first people to Mars.

"This payload, and having the ability to grow your own food, is a big step in that direction," said Kelly, who along with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, is nearly half way into a year-long expedition to the international outpost.

That's one small step for veggies, one giant leap for mankind!

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Soyuz Trio Arrive at International Space Station

The Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft carrying three astronauts and cosmonauts has arrived at the International Space Station, just under six hours after launching from Kazakhstan.

The Soyuz rocket carrying Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 10:02 p.m. Irish Standard Time.
Kononenko, Lindgren and Yui spoke to their families on Earth from the
Zvezda Service Module. credit: NASA TV

On reaching Earth orbit less than nine minutes after launch, the Soyuz spacecraft deployed only one of its two solar arrays before successfully deploying the second shortly before docking. After a four orbit rendezvous profile, the Soyuz successfully docked with the Rassvet Module of the International Space Station's Russian segment at 3:45 a.m.

The hatches between the Soyuz and the station were opened at 5:56 a.m. after leak checks were completed, as Kononenko, Lindgren and Yui were greeted by the Expedition 44 prime crew members already aboard the station, restoring the station's crew complement to six people.

The new station residents who are expected to remain on the ISS for the next five months, before returning to Earth in December. They will begin life aboard their new home by adjusting to microgravity and becoming familiar with their surroundings.

This is the third long duration mission mission to the ISS for Soyuz commander Kononenko, who previously flew to the orbital laboratory during Expedition 17 and Expedition 30/31.

Today's arrival at the space station marks the first flight into space for Lindgren and Yui. The pair were both selected as part of the NASA Astronaut Class of 2009.

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Monday, July 13, 2015

An Interview with Astronaut Rhea Seddon

On May 30 2015 former NASA astronaut Rhea Seddon was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame at a ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center. Seddon was inducted into the Astronaut HOF with fellow Class of 2015 inductees John Grunsfeld, Kent Rominger and Steven Lindsey. I recently had the opportunity to ask Rhea a couple of questions on her experiences in both medicine and in space flight.

What were your favourite subjects in school?
I like lots of things – history, English, languages- but by far the one I liked best was biology.
Astronaut Rhea Seddon
Credit: NASA

I heard you say recently that while a lot of astronauts were interested in space exploration and our place in the cosmos, you were also interested in studying the effects of space flight on the explorers themselves. What sparked this interest?
In my biology class I learned how remarkable the human body is.  I was fascinated by how it was built, how it functioned, how it evolved, what made it sick and how it healed.  The thought of doing research that would help us understand how gravity affected humans – and other living things – was such an incredible opportunity I knew I had to fly in space.

How do you think your background as a surgeon helped you during your career as a shuttle astronaut?
It helped when I did the rat dissections on my third mission – but mostly I think it just proved that I had worked hard, learned a lot of things and wasn’t afraid to be a woman in what had been a man’s world.  Because I had also done research in nutrition, had practiced emergency medicine on the weekends and had my private pilot’s license I think I proved that I was interested in many things besides just surgery.

 When you look back at the science that was conducted over the course of not only your own but all the Spacelab missions and then compare that to the science being conducted on the International Space Station, how far do you feel we have come in terms of conducting scientific research in space?
I really haven’t kept up with the research done on the ISS;  however the opportunity to fly for longer periods of time has given us considerably greater information about adaptation to space.  I wish we had equipped the Space Station with better animal holding facilities and a centrifuge so we could better understand partial gravity.    

What is your opinion on the One Year Mission to the ISS by Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko?
It is a remarkable opportunity to study two men- and of course, it will allow us to compare Scott’s changes to his twin’s.  It will give us an idea of what things we will need to focus study on as we plan for a mission to Mars.

What do you feel are the biggest obstacles we need to overcome in order to send astronauts to deep space destinations for a long period of time?
The two things that I don’t think we know enough about are bone loss and deep space radiation and its effects.

Seddon recently published her own book entitled "Go for Orbit" which is available to buy 
on her website. Signed editions of this book are also available.

Be sure to find out more about Rhea Seddon by visiting her blog by clicking here.

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