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From hurricanes to earthquakes, space station experiment overcomes challenges

From hurricanes to earthquakes, space station experiment overcomes challenges
Camila Morales-Navas conducts final preparations on the Electrochemical Ammonia Removal system prior to parabolic flight testing. Credit: University of Puerto Rico

Space is hard, the saying goes, and conducting science in space presents challenges of its own. Few researchers have had to overcome hurricanes and earthquakes, though, just two of the hurdles a team of chemists in Puerto Rico faced getting their investigation to the International Space Station.


The investigation, Elucidating the Ammonia Electrochemical Oxidation Mechanism via Electrochemical Techniques at the ISS (Ammonia Electrooxidation) examines ammonia oxidation in microgravity.

Ammonia is a small molecule made up of nitrogen and hydrogen. Oxidation is a reaction involving oxygen that breaks up these molecules, producing nitrogen gas, water, and electrical energy. A compound in human urine, urea, can be converted to ammonia, making it an easily available resource. The oxidation process then can be used to produce water and energy, both critical needs on future long-term space missions, as are ways to remove ammonia from a spacecraft or habitat.

The team previously developed the Electrochemical Ammonia Removal system, or EAR, a setup similar to a battery that oxidizes ammonia electrochemically or with an electric current. They put EAR to the test on multiple parabolic flights, which provide scientists access to short-term microgravity by putting a plane into freefall. Results showed that microgravity decreased fuel cell performance 20 to 65 percent. The researchers suspected that the absence of buoyancy in microgravity caused the decrease, but needed to conduct more research to confirm that hypothesis.

“You only have about 25 seconds on parabolic flights,” says principal investigator Carlos Cabrera, chemistry professor at University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras in San Juan. “So we wanted to use the space station to look at the process for a longer period of time.”

The Ammonia Electrooxidation investigation proposal received approval from NASA in 2016 under the sponsorship of the ISS National Lab. The team first had to redesign their original flight equipment, shrinking the EAR from the size of a small refrigerator to something closer to a shoebox.

That task fell to Camila Morales-Navas, a chemistry Ph.D. student at the university who had worked on the parabolic flight tests.

Then Hurricane Maria swept across Dominica, St Croix, and Puerto Rico in September 2017. Losses totaled more than $91 billion, mostly in Puerto Rico, where nearly 3,000 people died. The category 5 storm also left the island’s entire population without electricity. Five months later, a quarter of residents still lacked power.

“We had no power on campus until January 2018,” says Morales-Navas. “We can figure things out on paper, but needed power to test configurations for the smaller equipment. Fortunately, we had a power generator in our lab at the Molecular Sciences Research Center, so we kept going.”

More obstacles were yet to come. In late 2019 and early 2020, Puerto Rico experienced a series of earthquakes that once again took out the power, and the university closed until building inspections were completed. In March of this year,

Festivals of the future ‘won’t be limited by time and space’: CEO

Post-pandemic music and theater performances are likely to use a hybrid model, according to the chief executive of one of Singapore’s largest arts centers.

Yvonne Tham, CEO of Esplanade, told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” that a mixture of in-person and streamed performances are set to be common in the future.

“Many artists are really open now to what’s known as hybrid, which (means they) may be performing in a particular space in a particular time, but how does that performance have an afterlife? And that’s a question we’ve been asking ourselves even as we’ve been producing lots of digital programs,” Tham said on Monday.

“We’re going to see festivals in future that are not just limited by time and space, therefore what goes on to complement that live experience in the digital space becomes quite important,” she added.

Pre-pandemic, around 3,000 performances took place annually at the Esplanade and it had to close its doors on March 26 due to coronavirus restrictions placed on venues. Since then it created its Esplanade Offstage website so people could continue to watch concerts and other performances and is now gradually reopening some of its venues — its Pip’s Playbox children’s space reopened on October 9, while its Jendela visual arts venue is set to reopen on October 16.

While some performances have continued outdoors, Tham said others work better inside. “We are looking at all ways of reaching audiences, be that in the open air, out in the garden, we are looking at our concert hall venues. Some (performances) they work far better in the concert hall and some in the theater space,” she said.

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Esplanade ran a small-scale in-person ballet show as a trial last month, and Tham said such initiatives had quickly sold out. “That really shows how well (there is) both confidence within the population of Singapore to be out but also the desire for people just to sit in a concert hall,” she said. 

“The work of the arts center is about bringing people together and trying to bring communities together … I think these things are fundamental to being human and they’re not going to go away,” Tham added.

The Esplanade is part-funded by Singapore’s government and also generates income via its restaurants and cafes, and is looking at how it monetizes digital performances. Tham said the organization is in “very close touch” with sponsors as well. “A system of patronage in the arts is very natural in the arts around the world and at a time like that, the question is what (do) the arts do to help societies recover (from the pandemic)? We all know that mental health is a real issue … therefore can we find partners who are

Earth’s space junk problem is getting worse. And there’s an explosive component.

Before humans first started sending objects into Earth orbit, the pocket of space around our planet was clear and clean. But the launch of Sputnik 1 in October of 1957 changed everything. Since then, the space debris has been accumulating, with the amount of useless, defunct satellites vastly outnumbering the operational objects in our orbit.

A new annual report from the European Space Agency (ESA) has found that while we have become aware of the problem and taken steps in recent years to mitigate it, those steps are currently not keeping up with the sheer scale of space junk.

All spacefaring nations have contributed to the problem, which is significant: as more and more defunct objects populate near-Earth space, the risk of collision rises – which, as objects crash and shatter, produces even more space debris.

The hazards have been prominent in the last year. We have not only watched as two large dead satellites very nearly collided, but the International Space Station has had to undertake emergency manoeuvres three times to avoid colliding with space debris.

But collisions are not even close to being the biggest problem, according to the ESA’s report. In the last 10 years, collisions were responsible for just 0.83 percent of all fragmentation events.

“The biggest contributor to the current space debris problem is explosions in orbit, caused by left-over energy – fuel and batteries – onboard spacecraft and rockets,” said Holger Krag, head of the ESA’s Space Safety Programme.

“Despite measures being in place for years to prevent this, we see no decline in the number of such events. Trends towards end-of-mission disposal are improving, but at a slow pace.”

The causes of fragmentation events over the past decade.

The causes of fragmentation events over the past decade. (Image credit: ESA)

The space junk problem was first raised in the 1960s, but it took a long time for mitigation measures to be identified and implemented. Now, spacefaring nations are much better at planning for what happens to satellites and rockets at the end of their missions.

Reusable rockets are a big one, although the technology is still in its infancy. For decades, rocket boosters were just left to drift away once they’d delivered their payloads into low-Earth orbit. Some of those discarded boosters have been out there for decades.

Other mitigation measures include designing and building spacecraft that can better withstand the harsh environment of space without disintegrating; releasing stored energy and fuel to make defunct spacecraft less likely to explode; and, once a spacecraft’s mission is over, moving it to a safer orbit.

This would mean either a “graveyard orbit” high above the low-Earth space used for operational spacecraft, or bringing it down into Earth’s atmosphere to burn up on reentry as a neat disposal system.

But even with these measures in place, 12 fragmentation events have taken place every year for the past two decades. That number is rising, with each fragmentation event potentially introducing thousands of pieces of small debris in Earth orbit. At orbital velocities, even the tiniest pieces

Soyuz rocket departs for the international space station in historic final U.S.-Russian flight

BAIKONUR COSMODROME, Kazakhstan — Since the launch of Sputnik and Yury Gagarin from the desert steppe of Kazakhstan over 60 years ago, the history of spaceflight has been measured in milestones.

The first satellite, the first human in space, the first to the Moon. But the launch of Soyuz MS-17 on Wednesday was a different kind of milestone: the end of an era.

At 8.45 a.m. local time, a Soyuz rocket blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Russia’s sprawling and remote space launch facility in Kazakhstan, to the International Space Station.

It was the last time NASA paid for an American astronaut to fly with the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, on such a flight. Next year, for the first time since the start of the ISS program 20 years ago, Russia will fly all-Russian crews on Soyuz.

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov board the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft Wednesday.Andrey Shelepin / AFP – Getty Images

Wednesday’s launch will carry cosmonauts Sergei Ryzhikov and Sergei Kud-Sverchkov, along with NASA astronaut Kathleen Rubins, the 250 miles to the station in just three hours and seven minutes.

But in just a few weeks’ time, NASA will begin flying its astronauts to ISS aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. The agency hopes to eventually allow Russian cosmonauts aboard the Dragon, but it is unclear when that will happen.

A Roscosmos spokesperson told NBC News there were no definite plans for any Russian to join the U.S. venture, adding that this question was inexorably linked to future U.S. rides on Soyuz.

Stephen Koerner, NASA’s director of flight operations at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, said it will be at least a year before any kind of seat swaps are made.

“It really will depend on having the U.S. crew vehicles launching at some cadance,” he said.

The cooperation between NASA and Roscosmos aboard the International Space Station has been a success. Both sides regularly praise each other and speak highly of their relationship, but this partnership was the product of a different era in U.S.-Russia relations.

“The cooperation between the United States and [Russia] occurred because changes in that part of the world made it possible,” said Susan Eisenhower, author of Partners in Space: US-Russian Cooperation after the Cold War.

“However, the ensuing partnership in space occurred because it served the interest of both countries.

After years of preparation and construction, ISS was ready for service as a far-flung embodiment of post-Cold War reconciliation and cooperation between old rivals.

When NASA retired the U.S. space shuttle program in 2011, it was left entirely dependent on purchasing rides from Russia – a transaction that has subsidized Russia’s launch efforts for a decade. This dependence became a hot-button political issue for NASA domestically after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

There were efforts made by government officials on both sides at this time to politicize the relationship and use it to somehow punish the other. On the Russian side, the

Soyuz rocket departs for space station in historic final U.S.-Russian flight

BAIKONUR COSMODROME, Kazakhstan — Since the launch of Sputnik and Yury Gagarin from the desert steppe of Kazakhstan over 60 years ago, the history of spaceflight has been measured in milestones.

The first satellite, the first human in space, the first to the Moon. But the launch of Soyuz MS-17 on Wednesday was a different kind of milestone: the end of an era.

At 8.45 a.m. local time, a Soyuz rocket blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Russia’s sprawling and remote space launch facility in Kazakhstan, to the International Space Station.

It was the last time NASA paid for an American astronaut to fly with the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, on such a flight. Next year, for the first time since the start of the ISS program 20 years ago, Russia will fly all-Russian crews on Soyuz.

Image: NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, members of the International Space Station (ISS) expedition 64, wave as they board the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft prior to the launch from the Russian-leased Ba (Andrey Shelepin / AFP - Getty Images)
Image: NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, members of the International Space Station (ISS) expedition 64, wave as they board the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft prior to the launch from the Russian-leased Ba (Andrey Shelepin / AFP – Getty Images)

Wednesday’s launch will carry cosmonauts Sergei Ryzhikov and Sergei Kud-Sverchkov, along with NASA astronaut Kathleen Rubins, the 250 miles to the station in just three hours and seven minutes.

But in just a few weeks’ time, NASA will begin flying its astronauts to ISS aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. The agency hopes to eventually allow Russian cosmonauts aboard the Dragon, but it is unclear when that will happen.

A Roscosmos spokesperson told NBC News there were no definite plans for any Russian to join the U.S. venture, adding that this question was inexorably linked to future U.S. rides on Soyuz.

Stephen Koerner, NASA’s director of flight operations at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, said it will be at least a year before any kind of seat swaps are made.

“It really will depend on having the U.S. crew vehicles launching at some cadance,” he said.

The cooperation between NASA and Roscosmos aboard the International Space Station has been a success. Both sides regularly praise each other and speak highly of their relationship, but this partnership was the product of a different era in U.S.-Russia relations.

“The cooperation between the United States and [Russia] occurred because changes in that part of the world made it possible,” said Susan Eisenhower, author of Partners in Space: US-Russian Cooperation after the Cold War.

“However, the ensuing partnership in space occurred because it served the interest of both countries.

After years of preparation and construction, ISS was ready for service as a far-flung embodiment of post-Cold War reconciliation and cooperation between old rivals.

When NASA retired the U.S. space shuttle program in 2011, it was left entirely dependent on purchasing rides from Russia – a transaction that has subsidized Russia’s launch efforts for a decade. This dependence became a hot-button political issue for NASA domestically after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

There were efforts made by government officials on

One American, Two Russians Blast off to International Space Station | Top News

By Joey Roulette and Olzhas Auyezov

WASHINGTON/ALMATY (Reuters) – A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying a U.S. astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday and successfully reached orbit, live footage broadcast by Russia’s space agency Roscosmos showed.

The crew members travelling to the International Space Station (ISS) are Kate Rubins, a NASA microbiologist who in 2016 became the first person to sequence DNA in space, and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov.

The mission is the last scheduled Russian flight carrying a U.S. crew member.

Since the space shuttle program ended in 2011, NASA has relied on Russia to ferry its astronauts to the space station, an orbiting laboratory 250 miles above Earth that has housed international crews of astronauts continuously for nearly 20 years.

The U.S. space agency in 2014 contracted Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Boeing Co

to build competing space capsules in an effort to reclaim NASA’s launch independence.

The $8 billion program enabled SpaceX’s first manned trip to the space station in May, marking the first from home soil in nearly a decade.

NASA has purchased additional crew seats from Russia as its public-private crew program faced delays, with Rubins’ mission being the most recent.

The U.S. is scheduled to begin operational missions on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule. 

“We have an incredible partnership,” Rubins said in an interview from Russia’s Star City before her flight. “We’ll continue to train crews over here and we’re going to have cosmonauts come to the Johnson Space Center and train.”

NASA and Roscosmos have committed to continue the flight-sharing partnership and are in talks to fly Russian astronauts on U.S. vehicles and to fly U.S. astronauts on Russian rockets when needed, a spokesperson for Roscosmos told Reuters. 

“Of course, mutual flights are of interest for ISS reliability and continuous operations,” the spokesperson said. “This approach (mixed crew flights) will ensure delivery of the crew to the station, should a problem with the partner spacecraft occur.”

(Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Moscow; Editing by Dan Whitcomb, Leslie Adler and Andrew Osborn)

Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.

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Russian-US crew launches on fast track to the space station

MOSCOW (AP) — A trio of space travelers has launched successfully to the International Space Station, for the first time using a fast-track maneuver to reach the orbiting outpost in just three hours.

NASA’s Kate Rubins along with Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of the Russian space agency Roscosmos lifted off as scheduled Wednesday morning from the Russia-leased Baikonur space launch facility in Kazakhstan for a six-month stint on the station.

For the first time, they are trying a two-orbit, three-hour approach to the orbiting space outpost. Previously it took twice as long for the crews to reach the station.


They will join the station’s NASA commander, Chris Cassidy, and Roscosmos cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, who have been aboard the complex since April and are scheduled to return to Earth in a week.

Speaking during Tuesday’s pre-launch news conference at Baikonur, Rubins emphasized that the crew spent weeks in quarantine at the Star City training facility outside Moscow and then on Baikonur to avoid any threat from the coronavirus.

“We spent two weeks at Star City and then 17 days at Baikonur in a very strict quarantine,” Rubins said. “During all communications with crew members, we were wearing masks. We made PCR tests twice and we also made three times antigen fast tests.”

She said she was looking forward to scientific experiments planned for the mission.

“We’re planning to try some really interesting things like bio-printing tissues and growing cells in space and, of course, continuing our work on sequencing DNA,” Rubins said.

Ryzhikov, who will be the station’s skipper, said the crew will try to pinpoint the exact location of a leak at a station’s Russian section that has slowly leaked oxygen. The small leak hasn’t posed any immediate danger to the crew.

“We will take with us additional equipment which will allow us to detect the place of this leak more precisely,” he told reporters. “We will also take with us additional improved hermetic material which will allow to fix the leak.”

In November, Rubins, Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov are set to greet NASA’s SpaceX first operational Crew Dragon mission, bringing NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi to the space station aboard the Crew Dragon vehicle. It follows a successful Demo-2 mission earlier this year.

The Crew Dragon mission was pushed back from Oct. 31 into November, and no new date has been set yet. The delay is intended to give SpaceX more time to conduct tests and review data from an aborted Falcon 9 launch earlier this month.

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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

‘Very High Risk’ Two Large Pieces Of Space Junk Will Collide This Week

A defunct Russian satellite and a spent Chinese rocket just floating around high over Earth could smash into each other within a few days, potentially creating a big mess in orbit with potentially dire long-term consequences.

LeoLabs, which tracks space debris, put out the alert on Tuesday warning that the two large hunks of junk will come within 25 meters of each other and have up to a twenty percent chance of colliding Thursday evening.

That’s considered way too close for comfort by space standards. The two objects have a combined mass of 2,800 kilograms and if they were to smash into each other, the “conjunction” could create thousands of new pieces of space junk that would put actual functioning satellites at risk.

Astronomer Jonathan McDowell, who keeps a close eye on objects in orbit, identified the old crafts as the Russian Parus navigation satellite that launched in 1989 and a Chinese ChangZheng-4c rocket stage that’s been adrift since 2009.

McDowell noted on Twitter that the altitude where the objects are located is also frequented by “lots of large objects” and that a collision would be “very bad.”

There has been a growing concern among astronomers and others in the space community lately about the accelerating proliferation of space debris. The more objects there are orbiting Earth, the higher the risk of collisions. More collisions also increases the risk of future collisions further in a feedback loop that could end in a scenario known as “Kessler Syndrome,” in which access to space becomes too dangerous.

This could be jumping the gun a bit, but with thousands of satellites headed to orbit as part of SpaceX’s Starlink and other planned mega-constellations, this week’s alert could be something that becomes routine in the not too distant future.

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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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