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NASA astronaut, Russian cosmonauts launch to the space station

The launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in southern Kazakhstan occurred at 1:45 am ET on Wednesday.

The trio’s Soyuz capsule is expected to dock with the space station at 4:52 a.m. ET, and the hatch between the space station and the capsule will open at 6:45 a.m. ET, allowing them to enter the station.

This is the second spaceflight for Rubins and Ryzhikov and the first for Kud-Sverchkov, and they will spend six months on the space station.

Along for the ride is Yuri, a little cosmonaut knitted by Kud-Sverchkov’s wife Olga. He serves as the crew’s zero gravity indicator. Essentially, once he begins to float, the crew will know they’ve reached space. Each crew gets to pick their own indicator, according to NASA.

Although NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken successfully launched to the station in May from the United States aboard the SpaceX Endeavour, launches to the space station on the Russian space vehicle Soyuz will still continue in the part of Kazakhstan leased to Russia.

Rubins, Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov will briefly overlap with NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner. Cassidy, Ivanishin and Vagner will depart the station using the docked Soyuz capsule and return to Earth on October 21.

The 2nd time around

Rubins begins her second mission by launching on her birthday.

She will vote in the US presidential election from the space station, according to NASA. In fact, it’s her second time voting from space. Rubins voted in the 2016 election during her first six-month stay on the space station between July and October 2016.

But training and launching during a pandemic is a new experience for Rubins — although she’s comfortable with personal protective equipment because of her “old life,” she told CNN in September. Prior to becoming an astronaut, she was a scientist who studied viral diseases, cancer biology, microbiology and immunology.

“I started preparing for this before the pandemic during normal crew training,” she said. “When NASA shut down, I learned how to train remotely using video and software. I never thought I would train for spaceflight during a pandemic or do spacewalk training from my living room.”

Here's how astronauts vote from space

Rubins was eventually able to return to training in person in Texas and Russia along with her Russian crewmates, all while maintaining distance from each other and wearing masks.

Returning to the space station will allow Rubins to check some items off her bucket list.

Hope, Courage and Unity: The story behind the young cancer patients who painted space suits

She was the first person to sequence DNA in space in 2016, and she’s looking forward to continuing her sequencing research in new ways by studying the microbiome, or microbial environment, of the space station.

“The space station has been separate from Earth for 20 years,” Rubins said. “How is it different? The space station is its own biome with its own resources, with humans coming and going. We want to see what these closed environments do when they’ve been separate for a long time.”

Sequencing DNA can reveal huge amounts of

Blue Origin launches, lands NASA moon landing sensor experiment

Oct. 13 (UPI) — Blue Origin successfully launched a NASA moon landing experiment aboard the company’s reusable New Shepard rocket Tuesday morning in Texas.

Liftoff took place from the company’s launch facilities about 150 miles east of El Paso.

The capsule separated from the rocket minutes into the flight and spent about three minutes at the height of an arc just over the Kármán line, the altitude at which space begins.

The rocket booster, with NASA sensors mounted on the exterior, landed smoothly about 7 minutes, 30 seconds after launch. The capsule landed with the aid of parachutes a few minutes later, kicking up a cloud of dust and sand.

The NASA experiment is part of the agency’s Tipping Point program, which seeks to demonstrate technology that can be adopted by private industry.

The project includes a collection of sensors designed to help locate a safe site on the moon for upcoming landings, according to NASA and Blue Origin’s mission description. Some of the sensors use LIDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging technology, which uses laser light to map out the surface.

“A NASA-developed sensor suite could allow robotic and crewed missions to land precisely on the lunar surface within half the distance of a football field,” NASA said of the project. “The rocket’s flight path is relevant to lunar landings, providing a unique opportunity to mature sensors and algorithms for potential use on Artemis [moon] missions.”

Those sensors require clear skies to function properly, which is why the mission had been delayed once in September due to cloudy weather at the launch site. But Tuesday’s weather was ideal, Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said.

“It’s a great day for us to actually try that new type of experimentation on the outside of the vehicle,” Smith said during a prelaunch broadcast.

Lunar landings are important to Blue Origin because it leads the so-called National Team in developing a human lander for future moon missions. The team includes Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper.

The sensors are the first payload to fly mounted on the exterior of a New Shepard booster rather than inside its capsule, which the company said could open up opportunities for other exterior technology, including “a wide range of future high-altitude sensing, sampling and exposure payloads.”

The launch would be the 13th New Shepard mission and the seventh consecutive flight for the rocket, which is 60 feet high and emits 110,000 pounds of thrust.

The company, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, one day wants to fly space tourists in a capsule designed for six people as it also develops its larger New Glenn rocket.

At least two plant experiments are in the rocket’s capsule for the so-called NS-13 mission, one of which was designed by researchers at the University of Florida’s Ferl/Paul Space Plants Lab.

Other payloads on board the so-called NS-13 mission include experiments from Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California and Colorado-based Space Lab Technologies.

Watch NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and two cosmonauts launch into space tonight

Four years after her first flight to the International Space Station, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins will return to space today (Oct. 14). 

Today at 1:45 am EDT (0545 GMT), Expedition 64 astronaut Rubins will fly to the space station aboard Russia’s Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft, launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan along with cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov. Soon after her arrival at the station, Rubins will welcome a SpaceX crew aboard and celebrate space station history.

You can watch Rubins and her crewmates launch live here and on the Space.com homepage, courtesy of NASA TV. Launch coverage will begin at 12:45 a.m. EDT (0445 GMT).

Related: NASA astronaut Kate Rubins will vote from space

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins (left) and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov (center) and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov (right) of Roscosmos pose for a photo while in quarantine on Oct. 13, 2020 ahead of their Oct. 14, 2020 flight to the International Space Station.   (Image credit: NASA/GCTC/Andrey Shelepin)

“I’m starting to get excited,” Rubins told Space.com ahead of the upcoming flight. “We just finished our final exams before spaceflight, and it’s a little bit hard to think about anything except for the exams when you’re getting ready for them.”

But, she added, “now that we’re through those, I’m really looking forward to launch and to getting back up into space.”

Rubins’ launch could mark the last time that a NASA astronaut flies to space aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket, as crewed commercial launch capabilities from the United States are growing rapidly. This past May, for example, SpaceX launched its crewed Demo-2 mission, which sent two NASA astronauts to the space station aboard the company’s Crew Dragon vehicle. SpaceX’s first fully operational crewed mission, Crew-1, will launch four astronauts this fall, and Rubins will be on the space station to welcome those spaceflyers aboard. 

“I think I think it’s incredibly exciting,” Rubins said. “I’m really looking forward to welcoming the first operational commercial crew vehicle to station, not just because it represents such a milestone in commercial crew, but I have some really good friends in that vehicle. So I can’t wait to see them come across the hatch.” 

“I think we’re gonna always have this incredible partnership; we have international partners all over the world,” she added. “The [NASA] Commercial Crew Program just allows us to have more presence on the space station, but it doesn’t mean an end to the partnership. So we’re constantly going to be working with our partners all around the world. That’s one of the strengths of the space station.”

In addition to possibly being the last NASA astronaut to ride a Soyuz to space, Rubins will also be a part of space station history as, during her stay, the orbiting lab will celebrate its 20th anniversary of having a continuous human presence. Rubins will also vote from space, as could the NASA astronauts launching with Crew-1. (Crew-1 will lift off no sooner than “early to mid-November,” according to NASA officials.) 

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NASA and eight nations sign Artemis Accords for moon exploration

Artemis Accords NASA

Among other things, the accords provide a legal framework for exploring the moon, Mars, comets and asteroids.


NASA

NASA has signed a space exploration cooperation agreement with eight nations. The Artemis Accords, signed Tuesday by space agencies in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg and the United Arab Emirates, is aimed at creating “a safe, peaceful and prosperous future in space for all of humanity.”

The Artemis program should see NASA send the first woman and the next man to the moon in 2024.

“Artemis will be the broadest and most diverse international human space exploration program in history, and the Artemis Accords are the vehicle that will establish this singular global coalition,” said Jim Bridenstine, NASA administrator.

The Artemis Accords, announced in May, provide a legal framework for exploring the moon, Mars, comets and asteroids, as well as releasing scientific data, registering space objects and “preserving outer space heritage.” The space agencies have also committed to peaceful exploration, transparency, providing emergency assistance to those in distress and “preventing harmful interference.”

More nations are set to join the Artemis Accords in future, NASA said.

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Rappelling NASA rover could split in two to explore Mars’ deep craters

NASA JPL took the DuAxel out for a test run in the Mojave Desert.


NASA/JPL-Caltech/J.D. Gammell

NASA’s car-size Mars rovers are awesome, versatile machines capable of traversing rugged terrain. But they’re not made to descend down the sides of craters. For that, NASA would need something like its DuAxel prototype rover, a wild concept that is two rovers in one.

When all together, DuAxel is a four-wheeled rover. The rear can anchor itself to the ground while the front goes free on two wheels. A tether holds the pieces together while the front section rappels down a steep slope. This could work well for exploring currently inaccessible crater walls on Mars.

NASA put a DuAxel prototype through its paces in the Mojave Desert in California. “DuAxel performed extremely well in the field, successfully demonstrating its ability to approach a challenging terrain, anchor, and then undock its tethered Axel rover,” robotics technologist Issa Nesnas said in a statement from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Tuesday.

A video shows the clever rover in action and how it can use onboard instruments to get a close look at what’s under its wheels.

One of the motivations for developing DuAxel is to one day get a closer look at enigmatic dark streaks called recurring slope lineae that appear on the side of some martian craters. Scientists are trying to figure out if these have a watery origin.

The craters are too steep for a rover like Curiosity or Perseverance (which is currently on its way to Mars), but a transforming rappelling machine like DuAxel could handle the challenge.

It’s not just Mars science that could benefit from the plucky little rover design. “DuAxel opens up access to more extreme terrain on planetary bodies such as the Moon, Mars, Mercury, and possibly some icy worlds, like Jupiter’s moon Europa,” said Nesnas.   

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NASA astronaut set to launch on Russian rocket as US transitions to private spacecraft

A new crew of three astronauts are launching to the International Space Station late tonight, blasting off on a Russian Soyuz rocket out of Kazakhstan. The trio are heading to the station about a month ahead of SpaceX’s next crewed Dragon launch, which will bring another set of four astronauts aboard the ISS in mid-November.

Heading up on this Soyuz flight are two Russian cosmonauts — Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov — and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, on her second trip to space. The trio will join three crew members who have been living on the ISS since April: Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy. However, their living arrangement won’t last long. Cassidy and his cosmonaut crew mates are slated to head back to Earth on October 21st, riding inside the Soyuz capsule that brought them to the space station.

Just a few weeks later, in early- to mid-November, Rubins and her team are set to welcome the four-member crew of SpaceX’s first operational Crew Dragon mission, called Crew-1. That flight will carry three NASA astronauts — Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker — and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi to the ISS for a six-month stay. Their arrival on SpaceX’s new passenger vehicle will bring the total population of the ISS to seven — a larger cohort than usual for the ISS, which has typically held six-person crews since the end of the Space Shuttle program.

Rubins’ flight on the Soyuz comes amid a time of transition in NASA’s human spaceflight program. Since the last flight of the Space Shuttle in 2011, the only way NASA astronauts could get to the station was on Russia’s Soyuz rocket. But through NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, two private companies — SpaceX and Boeing — have been developing their own space capsules to take NASA astronauts to and from the space station. In May, SpaceX demonstrated that its Crew Dragon spacecraft could safely ferry astronauts to and from the station when it delivered two NASA crew members to the ISS. Boeing’s first crewed test flight is currently scheduled for next year.

The Soyuz rocket rolling out to the pad.
Image: NASA

SpaceX and Boeing’s vehicles were supposed to be ready as early as 2017, but their development programs suffered from years of delays. In the meantime, NASA continued to purchase seats on Russia’s Soyuz for US astronauts — at roughly $80 million per person — though the agency tried to limit the amount, hoping that the Commercial Crew vehicles would come online soon. NASA had hoped they’d be ready last year, but when more delays seemed imminent, the space agency purchased one last Soyuz seat — the one that Rubins will ride in early tomorrow morning.

Moving forward, NASA hopes that it can work out seat trades with Roscosmos, where Russian cosmonauts will ride on SpaceX and Boeing’s vehicles in exchange for NASA astronauts flying on

NASA animation tracks the end of Tropical Storm Delta

NASA animation tracks the end of Tropical Storm Delta  
NASA’s Terra satellite provided a visible image to forecasters of Tropical Storm Delta moving through the southeastern U.S. on Oct. 11 at 1:30 p.m. EDT. At the time of the image, the storm was centered over northern Alabama. Credit: NASA Worldview, Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS).

NASA’s Terra satellite obtained visible imagery as Tropical Storm Delta made landfall in Louisiana and moved northeastward soaking the U.S. southeast and Mid-Atlantic states.


NASA satellite view: Delta’s organization

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer or MODIS instrument that flies aboard NASA’s Terra satellite captured a visible image of Tropical Storm Delta on Oct. 11 at 1:30 p.m. EDT. The storm still appeared circular in imagery. At the time, it was centered over northern Alabama. At the time Terra passed overhead, Delta had weakened to a tropical depression with maximum sustained winds near 25 mph (35 kph).

Visible imagery from NASA’s Terra satellite captured from Oct. 9 to Oct. 12 were compiled into an animation. The animation showed the landfall and movement of Tropical Storm Delta. Delta dissipated over the southeastern U.S. and its remnants moved into the Atlantic states. The animation was created using NASA’s Worldview product at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Delta’s landfall on Oct. 9

National Weather Service Doppler radar imagery, Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft data, and surface observations indicated on Oct. 9 that Delta made landfall near Creole, Louisiana, around 7 p.m. EDT with estimated maximum sustained winds of 100 mph (155 kph). Delta was a category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

NASA animation tracks the end of Tropical Storm Delta
This animation of visible imagery from NASA Terra satellite shows the landfall and movement of Tropical Storm Delta from Oct. 9 to Oct. 12. Delta dissipated over the southeastern U.S. and its remnants moved into the Atlantic states. Credit: NASA Worldview, Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS).

Delta’s final advisory

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) issued the final advisory on Delta at 11 p.m. EDT on Oct. 11 (Oct. 12 at 0300 UTC). At that time, the center of Post-Tropical Cyclone Delta was located near latitude 34.5 degrees north and longitude 84.1 degrees west. It was just 60 miles (95 km) north-northeast of Atlanta, Georgia. The post-tropical cyclone was moving toward the east near 15 mph. Maximum sustained winds were near 15 mph (30 kph) with higher gusts.

NHC said, “Some further weakening is possible tonight as a new surface low develops in the Carolinas, and Delta’s surface low is expected to be absorbed by this new low pressure area on Monday, Oct. 12.”

About NASA’s worldview and Terra satellite

NASA’s Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) Worldview application provides the capability to interactively browse over 700 global, full-resolution satellite imagery layers and then download the underlying data. Many of the available imagery layers are updated within three hours of observation, essentially showing the entire Earth as it looks “right now.”

NASA’s Terra satellite is one in a fleet of NASA satellites that

NASA announces eight-nation space coalition under ‘Artemis Accords’

NASA announced on Tuesday that eight countries have signed an international agreement called the Artemis Accords that outlines the principles of future exploration of the Moon and beyond.

The treaty paves the way for its founding members — Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, United Arab Emirates, Britain and the United States — to participate in NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to return humans to Earth’s nearest neighbor by 2024.

“Artemis will be the broadest and most diverse international human space exploration program in history, and the Artemis Accords are the vehicle that will establish this singular global coalition,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

“With today’s signing, we are uniting with our partners to explore the Moon and are establishing vital principles that will create a safe, peaceful, and prosperous future in space for all of humanity to enjoy.”

While NASA is leading the Artemis program, it has emphasized the need for international partnerships in building up a sustainable presence on the Moon, something the agency views as key ahead of an eventual human mission to Mars.

The agency hopes, for example, to excavate ice from the Moon’s south pole to supply both drinking water and to split the molecules apart to make rocket fuel for the onward journey.

It also plans to establish an orbital space station called Gateway.

NASA said the Artemis Accords reinforce and implement the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, and are split broadly into 10 principles.

The signatories commit, for example, to adhering to peaceful exploration in a transparent manner, to create hardware systems that are operable by every member nation, and to registering their space objects.

Other principles include affirming that they will render assistance to each other in case of emergency, make their scientific data public, preserve the heritage of outer space and plan for the safe disposal of space debris.

The announcement came a day after Dmitry Rogozin, the head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, said Moscow was unlikely to participate in the Gateway space station, marking the probable end of the type of close cooperation seen for two decades on the International Space Station (ISS).

The Artemis Accords also exclude China, a rising space rival to the United States.

China has an active lunar program with its own international collaborations. 

Last month, a Chinese-German team published daily radiation measurements on the lunar surface recorded by the Chang’E 4 lander in 2019.

They concluded that the level of radiation limited astronauts to two or three months on the Moon — vital information that the US Apollo missions of the 1960s and 1970s had not gathered.

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Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin sets launch record as it tests NASA moon gear

Blue Origin set a new mark for recycling rockets Tuesday morning by sending the same New Shepard spacecraft to the edge of space for the seventh time.

The spaceflight company founded and funded by Amazon head Jeff Bezos completed its 13th New Shepard mission from its private launch facility in west Texas while also testing some key equipment for future NASA missions to the moon. 

The mission was originally set for late September from the Texas site, but was delayed multiple times due to weather and technical issues. It finally left Earth at 6:37 a.m. PT (8:37 a.m. Texas time) Tuesday and returned to land at the same facility in two pieces just about 10 minutes later. 



a plane flying over a body of water: The sixth landing of the same New Shepard booster.


© Blue Origin

The sixth landing of the same New Shepard booster.


A few minutes after blasting off, the crew capsule carrying most of the experiments separated from the rocket booster. The booster returned to the Earth for a precision landing, while the capsule drifted back to the surface with the help of parachutes a few minutes later.

In the future, Blue Origin is planning to sell trips to space for intrepid tourists who will take a ride in the crew capsule. 

During its short time in microgravity, Mission NS-13 and its dozen payloads aim to gather scads of data for a number of tests and experiments, including a demonstration of a lunar landing sensor that will test technologies for future moon missions as part of NASA’s Artemis program.

The sensor is the first payload to ride mounted to the exterior of New Shepard rather than inside its capsule. 

A few of the other payloads on board this flight of New Shepard include a test of a new system to autonomously grow aquatic plants that could supplement a crew’s diet and of a new cooling system developed by NASA for spacecraft electronics.  

SpaceX, another commercial space outfit headed by a famous billionaire, in the form of Elon Musk, has so far used a single Falcon 9 booster up to six times. It’s worth noting, though, that the Falcon 9 is a different class of rocket that is used for more technically complicated orbital missions.

You can watch a recording of the launch live feed below.

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Sorry, SpaceX. Watch This Week As NASA Pays $90 Million To Launch U.S. Astronaut On A Russian Rocket

U.S. astronauts now fly to the International Space Station (ISS) from American soil, right?

So why is a NASA astronaut about to blast-off to the ISS from Russia at a cost of over $90 million?

Despite the success of “Launch America” back on May 30, 2020 when NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley journeyed to and from the ISS in SpaceX hardware during the historic SpaceX Crew Demo-2 mission, NASA astronaut Kate Rubin will this week leave Earth from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

As I reported back in June, it’s the final part of an existing contract between NASA and the Russian space agency to send a US astronaut to the ISS aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

When is the next rocket launch to the ISS?

Rubin is due to lift-off on Wednesday, October 14, at 1:45 a.m. EDT (10:45 a.m. Kazakhstan time) together with cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of Roscosmos. Their two-orbit, three-hour journey will begin their six-month mission on the ISS.

Where to watch the rocket launch to the ISS

You can tune-in to the launch online by visiting NASA TV on the space agency’s website or NASA TV on YouTube:

Why is NASA paying Russia $90 million to launch an astronaut when it now has SpaceX?

NASA has been signing contracts with Russia to buy seats on Soyuz spacecraft since 2011 when the Shuttle was grounded. This is its last currently contracted seat, NASA confirmed to me last week. In fact, a contract modification in May 2020 procured one seat at a cost of $90,252,905.69. The cost covers training and preparation for launch, flight operations, landing and crew rescue services.

So does this mean NASA had a Plan B while SpaceX was testing its Crew Dragon spacecraft last summer? “NASA continues to have high confidence in our U.S. commercial crew partners for regular crew rotation,” said NASA in an emailed statement to me.

However, there’s a refreshing lack of nationalism in what is, after all, an entirely global endeavor. “As the U.S. commercial crew capability becomes operational, astronauts and cosmonauts should resume flying together on our respective spacecraft, consistent with past practice,” reads the statement from NASA.

Will Russian cosmonauts fly on NASA SpaceX missions?

Almost certainly—because it’s safer. “A problem with a spacecraft in orbit may require the full crew of that spacecraft to return to Earth,” reads the NASA statement. “Flying mixed crews is mutually beneficial as it would increase the probability that both astronauts and cosmonauts will be on the space station to perform critical operations.”

NASA and Roscosmos are now discussing plans to ensure at least one U.S. and Russian crew member are aboard the ISS at any one time.

So while the days of paying $90 million-per-seat are over for NASA, we can expect to see Russian cosmonauts on SpaceX missions