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Yesterday — May 8th 2021Your RSS feeds

NASA Weekly ISS Space to Ground Report for 7 May, 2021

May 8th 2021 at 11:57

NASA's Space to Ground is your weekly update on what's happening aboard the International Space Station.

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 5 May, 2021 - Life Science Research

May 6th 2021 at 16:17

Life science was the main science topic aboard the International Space Station on Wednesday.

NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 4 May, 2021 - Welcome Back to Houston

May 5th 2021 at 16:21

The SpaceX Crew-1 astronauts are back in Houston after splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico early Sunday completing a 168-day mission.

NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 3 May, 2021 - Drug Development

May 4th 2021 at 16:25

The seven-member Expedition 65 crew aboard the International Space Station will be orbiting Earth until October after watching the SpaceX Crew-1 astronauts depart over the weekend.

NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 6 May, 2021 - How Space Affects Immune System, Exercise

May 7th 2021 at 15:04

Human Research and space physics topped the science schedule aboard the International Space Station today.

Crew-1 Astronauts Safely Splash Down After Space Station Mission

May 2nd 2021 at 23:48

Four astronauts splashed down safely in the Gulf of Mexico Sunday, completing NASA's first commercial crew, long-duration mission aboard the International Space Station.

SpaceX returns astronauts to Earth in rare night-time splashdown – video

May 2nd 2021 at 06:38

SpaceX safely returned four astronauts from the International Space Station on Sunday, making the first US crew splashdown in darkness since the Apollo 8 moonshot in 1968. The Dragon capsule parachuted into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Florida, just before 3am, ending the second astronaut flight for Elon Musk’s company


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SpaceX Crew-1 Dragon returns to Earth after 168 days in space

May 2nd 2021 at 04:30
Crew-1 Dragon splashes down in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Florida. Credit: NASA/SpaceX

Crew-1 Dragon splashes down in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Florida. Credit: NASA/SpaceX

Four astronauts returned to Earth in their SpaceX Crew-1 Dragon spacecraft after six months aboard the International Space Station, splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida in the dark of night.

The Crew-1 Dragon astronauts — NASA’s Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Soichi Noguchi — splashed down at 2:56 a.m. EDT (06:56 UTC) May 2, 2021, off the coast of Panama City, Florida, after some 168 days in space.

Recovery personnel work to secure the Dragon capsule and begin the processes of hoisting it onto the recovery vessel "Go Navigator." Credit: NASA/SpaceX

Recovery personnel work to secure the Dragon capsule and begin the processes of hoisting it onto the recovery vessel “Go Navigator.” Credit: NASA/SpaceX

This was only the second nighttime splashdown in U.S. human spaceflight history, the first being Apollo 8 in 1968. Crew-1 was also the longest spaceflight by a U.S. crew vehicle, beating the 84-day record set by the final crew to visit Skylab in 1974.

“Dragon, on behalf of NASA and the SpaceX team, we welcome you back to planet Earth and thanks for flying SpaceX,” radioed the SpaceX Crew Operations and Resources Engineer, also known as CORE. “For those of you enrolled in our frequent flyer program, you’ve earned 68 million miles on this voyage.”

Hopkins, the spacecraft commander radioed that it was good to be back on Earth.

“And we’ll take those miles,” Hopkins joked. “Are they transferable?”

CORE replied: “Dragon, we’ll have to refer you to our marketing department for that policy.”

Before leaving the outpost, the Crew-1 astronauts said goodbye to the seven-person Expedition 65 crew that remained aboard the ISS. Four launched aboard Crew-2 Dragon about a week ago: NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide (the current ISS commander) and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet. Three launched aboard Soyuz MS-18 in early April: Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei.

The 11 people aboard the International Space Station between the arrival of Crew-2 Dragon and the departure of Crew-1 Dragon. The Crew-1 astronauts are in the front row. Credit: NASA

The 11 people aboard the International Space Station between the arrival of Crew-2 Dragon and the departure of Crew-1 Dragon. The Crew-1 astronauts are in the front row. Credit: NASA

At 6:26 p.m. EDT (22:26 UTC) May 1, the hatches between Crew-1 Dragon and the ISS were closed. Over the next several hours, the space between the hatches was depressurized and the spacecraft prepared for departure.

Undocking occurred at 8:35 p.m. EDT (00:35 UTC) with springs between Dragon and the docking adapter on the space-facing port of the Harmony module pushing Crew-1 away. Seconds later, the spacecraft’s Draco thrusters increased the rate of the vehicle’s departure.

Departure burn 1 occurred five minutes later, pushing Crew-1 out of the 650-foot (200-meter) radius ISS “keep-out sphere” and eventually the approach ellipsoid. This was followed by departure burn 2 some 53 minutes after undocking.

The final departure burn occurred at 10:14 p.m. EDT (02:14 UTC), which circularized Crew-1 Dragon’s orbit about 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) beneath the space station.

It would be several more hours before the next major milestone occurred, which was the detachment of Dragon’s trunk section and the deorbit burn.

Lasting just over 16 minutes, the deorbit burn started at 2:03 a.m. EDT (06:03 UTC), setting the stage for Crew-1 Dragon’s splashdown just off the coast of Panama City, Florida.

Crew-1 Dragon began its reentry into Earth’s atmosphere at about 2:05 a.m. EDT (06:05 UTC). Protected by its heat shield, the spacecraft was slowed down to about 350 miles (560 kilometers) per hour.

According to the crew, they experienced about four times the force of Earth’s gravity due to the deceleration.

Crew Dragon Resilience docked at the space-facing port of the Harmony module. Credit: NASA

Crew Dragon Resilience docked at the space-facing port of the Harmony module. Credit: NASA

A few minutes later a series of parachutes deployed culminating in four main parachutes to slow the vehicle’s descent to about 16 miles (25 kilometers) per hour.

The sea state upon splashdown was calm with swells of only one or two feet. The weather was relatively clear with winds around 3 miles (5 kilometers) per hour and ample moonlight.

Once in the water, SpaceX recovery crews began the process of securing the capsule, which landed upright in the “stable-1” configuration, and bringing it to the recovery ship, Go Navigator.

Within 30 minutes, the capsule was brought onto the deck of Go Navigator and placed on a device called the “Dragon Nest.”

“On behalf of Crew-1 and our families, we just want to say thank you,” said Hopkins, just before the side hatch was opened. “It’s amazing what can be accomplished when people come together. You all are changing the world.”

The side hatch was opened some 10 minutes after being placed on Go Navigator and over the next 20 minutes or so, recovery teams helped the four astronauts out of the vehicle and onto a stretcher (to ensure they don’t over-exert themselves after six months without gravity) to take them into a room for medical checks.

After initial health checks, the Crew-1 astronauts boarded a helicopter, located on the top of Go Navigator, before being flown to Pensacola, Florida. Once on shore, the four are expected to board a NASA jet to fly back to Houston later today.

This was Hopkins’ second spaceflight. He first spent six months aboard the ISS between September 2013 and March 2014. With the Crew-1 mission, his career time in space now stands at 335 days.

The Crew Dragon Resilience crew participate in a video conference in February 2021 with former NASA astronaut Edward Gibson, who was one of the three Skylab-4 astronauts. From left to right: Mike Hopkins, Soichi Noguchi, Shannon Walker and Victor Glover. Credit: NASA

The Crew Dragon Resilience crew participate in a video conference in February 2021 with former NASA astronaut Edward Gibson, who was one of the three Skylab-4 astronauts. From left to right: Mike Hopkins, Soichi Noguchi, Shannon Walker and Victor Glover. Credit: NASA

Walker was also on her second spaceflight. Her first spaceflight was a roughly 5.5-month stay aboard the ISS in 2010. Her career time in space is now 331 days.

For Hopkins, the Crew-1 mission was his first spaceflight. He was also the first African American long-duration ISS expedition crewmember.

Noguchi completed his third spaceflight. He first flew into space aboard space shuttle Discovery’s STS-114 mission in 2005. His second spaceflight was a six-month stay aboard the ISS between December 2009 and June 2010. His career time in space is 345 days

Crew-1 Dragon, named Resilience, launched to the ISS in November 2020. It was the first operational flight of a Crew Dragon spacecraft. A day later, the spacecraft mated with the docking adapter located on the forward port of the Harmony module where it remained for most of the duration of its stay aboard the orbiting laboratory.

Over the course of their mission, the Crew-1 astronauts participated in five spacewalks to upgrade the space station and prepare for the arrival of new solar arrays later this year.

In preparation for the arrival of the Crew-2 Dragon, on April 5 the Crew-1 Dragon and its crew undocked from its initial docking port and relocated to the space-facing port of the Harmony module. This was done to allow Crew-2 to dock with the forward port.

Now that Crew Dragon Resilience is back on Earth, it will be refurbished and prepared for its next flight, the Inspiration4 mission, currently scheduled for September.

Video courtesy of SciNews

The post SpaceX Crew-1 Dragon returns to Earth after 168 days in space appeared first on SpaceFlight Insider.

Crew Dragon brings four astronauts back to nighttime splashdown

May 2nd 2021 at 04:18

STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS & USED WITH PERMISSION

(Left to right) Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, and Soichi Noguchi, prior to disembarking the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience capsule after splashdown. Photo: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

Four astronauts strapped into their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, undocked from the International Space Station and plunged to a fiery pre-dawn splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico Sunday, closing out the first operational flight of SpaceX’s futuristic touch-screen ferry ship.

Crew-1 commander Michael Hopkins, along with NASA astronauts Victor Glover and Shannon Walker and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, disconnected from the space-facing port of the station’s forward Harmony module at 8:35 p.m. EDT Saturday.

That set up only the second piloted water landing for NASA’s post-shuttle commercial crew program and just the third night splashdown in space history — the first in nearly 45 years.

But the Crew Dragon executed a textbook return to Earth, dropping out of orbit, deploying four big parachutes and settling to a gentle splashdown south of Panama City, Florida, at 2:56 a.m.

Crew Dragon Resilience descends in darkness under its four main parachutes to a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: NASA TV.

“Dragon, on behalf of NASA and the SpaceX teams, we welcome you back to planet Earth, and thanks for flying SpaceX,” the company’s capsule communicator radioed. “For those of you enrolled in our frequent flyer program, you’ve earned 68 million miles on this voyage.”

“It is good to be back on planet Earth,” Hopkins replied. “And we’ll take those miles. Are they transferrable?”

“And Dragon, we’ll have to refer you to our marketing department for that policy.”

Despite the dead-of-night landing, NASA’s WB-57 tracking aircraft captured spectacular infrared views of the capsule as it descended through the dense lower atmosphere while cameras aboard SpaceX’s recovery ship showed the moment of splashdown.

SpaceX crews rushed to the Crew Dragon to secure the spacecraft and haul it on board a company recovery ship. The astronauts remained inside, waiting for the capsule to be hauled aboard where personnel were standing by to help them get out, on stretchers, as they begin re-adjusting to gravity after five-and-a-half months in space.

The Crew Dragon capsule is hoisted aboard the recovery ship. Photo: NASA TV.

Following medical checks and phone calls home to friends and family, all four crew members were to be flown to shore by helicopter and handed off to NASA personnel for a flight back to the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

While mission managers prefer daylight landings, rough weather ruled out re-entry plans Wednesday and Saturday but with mild winds expected early Sunday, NASA and SpaceX agreed to target a pre-dawn return for the Crew-1 astronauts.

“Night landing? At Sea? Good thing there is a Naval Aviator on board! You got this “@AstroVicGlover!!!” tweeted astronaut Nick Hague, noting Glover’s experience as a Navy F/A-18 carrier pilot. “Soft landings to the Crew of Resilience.”

Night landing? At Sea? Good thing there is a Naval Aviator on board! You got this @AstroVicGlover!!! 🎱 Soft landings to the Crew of Resilience. @SpaceX #Crew1 #splashdown https://t.co/q8MRfwXdxM

— Nick Hague (@AstroHague) May 2, 2021

Unlike the first piloted Crew Dragon splashdown last August, when boaters enjoying a sunny Sunday afternoon in the Gulf quickly surrounded the spacecraft, the Coast Guard planned to enforce a 10-mile-wide safety zone this time around to keep any early morning onlookers well away.

The Crew Dragon’s return will complete a record-pace crew rotation requiring two launches and two landings with four different spacecraft over just three weeks to replace the International Space Station’s entire seven-member crew.

On April 9, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft carried Oleg Novitskiy, Pyotr Dubrov and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei to the station after a launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. They replaced another Soyuz crew — Sergei Ryzhikov, Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and Kate Rubins — who returned to Earth on April 17.

Then, on April 24, a Crew Dragon brought Crew-2 commander Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Japanese flier Akihiko Hoshide to the station. The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket that launched them the day before also helped launch Hopkins and company, the crew they are replacing aboard the station.

After helping the Crew-2 astronauts settle in aboard the lab complex, Hopkins, Glover, Walker and Noguchi, who arrived at the station last November 16, bid their seven ISS crewmates farewell Saturday evening and floated into their own Crew Dragon for undocking.

After moving a safe distance away, the ship’s flight computer was programmed to fire the ship’s braking thrusters for about 16-and-a-half minutes starting at 2:03 a.m. Sunday.

Moving through space at more than 17,100 mph — more than 83 football fields per second — the rocket firing was designed to slow the Crew Dragon by just 258 mph or so, just enough to drop the far side of the orbit into the dense lower atmosphere on a path targeting the Gulf of Mexico landing zone.

Protected by a high-tech heat shield, the Crew Dragon was expected to slam into the discernible atmosphere around 2:45 a.m., rapidly decelerating in a blaze of atmospheric friction.

Once out of the plasma heating zone, the spacecraft’s parachutes were to unfurl, allowing the ship to settle to a relatively gentle impact in the Gulf.

The most recent previous nighttime water landing came in October 1976 when two cosmonauts in a Soviet-era Soyuz spacecraft, making an unplanned descent in blizzard-like conditions after a failed docking, were blown off course into a large lake in Kazakhstan. It took recovery crews nine hours to move the spacecraft to shore and rescue the cosmonauts.

The only other night splashdown came in December 1968 when the crew of Apollo 8, coming home from a Christmas trip around the moon, carried out a planned, uneventful pre-dawn landing in the Pacific Ocean.

Dragon Resilience returns to Earth, completing first operational Commercial Crew mission

May 1st 2021 at 20:50

NASA and SpaceX teams have returned NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, and Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi to Earth, completing the historic Crew-1 mission. Crew Dragon Resilience splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Panama City, Florida, at 2:57 AM EDT (06:57 UTC) on Sunday May 2, marking the end of the first of six contracted, long duration, operational missions for SpaceX as a part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Resilience undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) at 8:30 PM on Saturday May 1 (00:30 UTC on May 2) to begin the journey home. Its return marks the end of Expedition 64 and the start of Expedition 65, with JAXA Astronaut Akihito Hoshide becoming the commander of the ISS. He’s the second Japanese astronaut to command the station, the first being Koichi Wakata during Expedition 39.

Previously scheduled for Wednesday, April 28, and Friday, April 30, the Crew-1 undocking and splashdown was postponed due to unfavorable weather in the splashdown zones off the coast of Florida. The new schedule for Sunday morning is the first night time splashdown of a crewed American spacecraft since Apollo 8 in 1968.

The last time NASA and SpaceX returned astronauts from the ISS was for the historic Demo-2 mission. Since this is the first return and recovery of a fully operational crewed mission, there have been several lessons learned from the Demo-2 test flight which were implemented for Crew-1.

After post-flight inspections of Crew Dragon Endeavour, teams noticed greater than expected erosion of Dragon’s heat shield at four points where the capsule bolts to the trunk of the vehicle using tension ties. SpaceX stated that the erosion was likely caused by airflow phenomena that were not expected to occur.

The heat shield design was changed to include more erosion-resistant materials at the ties. The heat shield was reinforced, and tested both on the ground and in-flight during the Cargo Dragon CRS-21 flight.

In addition, the drogue parachutes on board the Endeavour spacecraft deployed lower than expected, although it was still within the allowable range. A new instrument — which measures barometric pressure — was added to determine the altitude for parachute deployment and resolve this issue.

“We made changes to the design and part of the heat shield and drogue chute deploy algorithm,” said Nicole Jordan, NASA Mission Manager for Crew-1 in an interview with NASASpaceflight.

Crew Dragon Endeavour splashes down at the conclusion of Demo-2 – via NASA

“Fortunately, those changes were made on CRS-21 Cargo Dragon first, so we’ve actually not only tested it on the ground but also validated those changes in CRS-21. They’ve both worked as intended, but that is something we’ll see for the first time with the crew onboard on Crew-1 landing.”

NASA and SpaceX teams have designated seven splashdown zones for Crew Dragon. This includes four sites at the Gulf of Mexico, namely Pensacola, Panama City, Tallahassee, and Tampa, and three sites in the Atlantic Ocean: Jacksonville, Daytona, and Cape North.

Two weeks prior to the return, teams select the primary and the alternate landing sites, pending weather conditions. For the Crew-1 mission, the selected primary splashdown site was Pensacola, with Panama city being the alternate location, both located in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Florida. The Panama City landing zone was selected for splashdown on Sunday morning.

Additionally, a backup unsupported landing site (outside of the seven sites mentioned earlier) with suitable weather conditions is also identified to mitigate the risk of weather changes and ensure a minimum of two landing sites are identified at all times. In the unlikely scenario this site is used, the rescue operations will be conducted by the U.S. Department of Defense.

It's happening!

Dragon recovery ship GO Navigator has departed from the Port of Pensacola and is making its way towards the primary Crew-1 splashdown site, near Panama City, in the Gulf of Mexico.

Splashdown is targeted for 2:56am ET on Sunday morning. pic.twitter.com/Hu2HvkV6Yu

— Gavin Cornwell (@SpaceXFleet) May 1, 2021

Weather monitoring plays a crucial role in determining where the Crew Dragon will return and when. Six hours before the undocking, NASA and SpaceX teams make the final decision on the primary splashdown target based on the latest weather updates. SpaceX continues to monitor the changes in conditions until 2.5 hours prior to the scheduled undocking. If the conditions are acceptable, a joint recommendation is be made by SpaceX and NASA whether to proceed with the undocking or not.

Before undocking, the mission teams perform a Go/No Go for undocking of Crew Dragon Resilience while the vestibule depressurizes. Once the teams are Go, the Crew Dragon Resilience will undock from the space station at 20:30 EDT and perform two short-duration undock burns, lasting for 1.5 seconds and 5 seconds respectively.

At 20:35 EDT, Resilience performs one of four departure burns, lasting for 16 seconds, followed by a 21-second long Depart Burn 1 at 20:40 EDT. At 21:28 EDT, a 44-second long Depart Burn 2 is initiated, followed by a 61 second-long Depart 3 burn at 22:14 EDT.

At 00:07 EDT, a 197 second-long burn, named the Ground Axial Burn, takes place, lowering the orbit of Crew Dragon .

Crew-1 Dragon Resilience undocking from the ISS. Draco's dancing to push the vehicle away from the Station.

Play by Play:https://t.co/3P5lmDl191

NASA TV:https://t.co/DPTxO69p4f pic.twitter.com/V0InquexwB

— Chris B – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) May 2, 2021

 

At this point, the teams undergo another weather briefing regarding the landing sites. If the conditions are No Go, the SpaceX and NASA teams will jointly make a decision to “wave off.” During this scenario, Crew Dragon will remain in orbit for the next landing attempt 24-48 hours later.

If the weather conditions are marginal and exceed the pre-set criteria, SpaceX and NASA teams will proceed with the deorbit sequence, starting with two important events, scheduled to take place back to back. At 01:56 EDT, the claw which connects thermal control, power, and avionics system components located on the trunk to the spacecraft, separates.

This is followed by separation of the trunk which contains the solar panels and radiators for thermal control. The trunk will remain in orbit for well over a year and decay naturally before destructively entering Earth’s atmosphere.

SpaceX continues to monitor the changes in weather conditions before making the decision to continue with the deorbit burn.

With the conditions acceptable, Crew Dragon Resilience began its final 987 second-long deorbit burn at 02:03 EDT, allowing the spacecraft to descend to Earth towards the Gulf of Mexico.

After the deorbit burn, Dragon’s protective nose cone — which covers the forward bulkhead thrusters, docking ring, and sensors crucial for autonomous approach and rendezvous — closed as the capsule prepares for its fiery atmospheric re-entry.

Dragon re-entered the atmosphere, and a loss of signal and communications from the craft and with the crew occured as temperatures build to 1,930° C (3,500° F) due to an envelope of ionized air around the spacecraft created by this extreme heat.

SpaceX’s Dragon recovery ships, Go Navigator and Go Searcher, in Port Canaveral – via Julia Bergeron for NSF

After reentry, drogue chutes deployed at 02:52 EDT to begin slowing the spacecraft. Four main parachutes deployed 47 seconds later. Splashdown occurred at 02:57 EDT.

Recovery forces then approached Crew Dragon Resilience.  These operations are assisted by over 40 highly trained NASA and SpaceX personnel made up of spacecraft engineers, water recovery experts, medical professionals, recovery ship’s crew, NASA’s cargo experts, and others on board the company’s recovery ship, GO Navigator, already at the Panama City splashdown site.

The astronauts will be assessed in a medical area on the recovery ship first, before returning to the shore via helicopter and then being flown back to the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

This is the first time SpaceX is recovering four astronauts instead of two. The astronauts of Crew-1 will be fully de-conditioned since they have been part of a long-duration five-month mission in contrast to the two-month-long mission of Demo-2.

To accommodate the crew, SpaceX has made some changes to their recovery vessel. Jordan said, “SpaceX has made some mods [modifications] to their boat, added a little bit of space around the capsule. They’ve also carefully choreographed how the crew will come out and how they’ll go into the medical evaluation room.”

Jordan also added, “We’ve also changed the way we operate with the coast guard to clear the area more effectively of any private-privately owned boats.” This is in response to a large number of private boats surrounding the recovery area and hindering the recovery operations during the Demo-2 mission.

The U.S. Coast Guard, with the help of NASA, SpaceX and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), will establish a two-mile safety zone around the expected splashdown location to ensure safety for the public and for those involved in the recovery operations, as well as the crew aboard the returning spacecraft.

(Lead photo via NASA)

The post Dragon Resilience returns to Earth, completing first operational Commercial Crew mission appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.

NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status 2 May, 2021 - Crew-1 Safely Back on Earth

May 2nd 2021 at 09:33

Astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker of NASA, and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) splashed down safely in the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Florida, at 2:56 a.m. EDT after 168 days in space.

Live coverage: Four astronauts return home after 167 days in space

May 1st 2021 at 14:22

Live coverage of the undocking, re-entry and splashdown of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft with astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Soichi Noguchi, and Shannon Walker. Text updates will appear automatically below. Follow us on Twitter.

NASA TV

SFN LIVE

EDITOR’S NOTE: NASA TV’s live coverage of hatch closure, undocking, and splashdown begins at 6 p.m. EDT (2200 GMT).

Astronauts describe thrilling ride to orbit on Falcon 9 rocket

April 30th 2021 at 19:07

STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS & USED WITH PERMISSION

When the countdown hit zero last Friday and the engines powering a previously flown Falcon 9 first stage roared to life for takeoff, the four astronauts strapped into a SpaceX Crew Dragon some 21 stories up started laughing.

“So we’re sitting on the launch pad, obviously, and when the engines lit, we all started laughing because it just felt so awesome and powerful,” Shane Kimbrough, commander of the Crew-2 ferry flight to the International Space Station, said in an interview Thursday with CBS News. “Shortly after that, we started accelerating, heading uphill.

“It was a great ride, very smooth,” he said. “I don’t remember any surprises, except we were just all very happy. We were all pretty excited to be on orbit again and feel that incredible acceleration.”

Kimbrough, co-pilot Megan McArthur, European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Japanese flier Akihiko Hoshide blasted off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center last Friday morning and docked at the space station the next day.

Their arrival boosted the lab’s crew from seven to 11, but only until this weekend when the four astronauts they are replacing board their own Crew Dragon capsule and return to Earth to close out a 166-day mission.

“It’s great to be back on station, it’s great to be floating around again,” said Kimbrough, veteran of a space shuttle flight in 2008 and launch aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft for a 173-day stay aboard the station in 2016-17. “All of us are really enjoying that, relearning how to fly. So that’s been fun.

“Right now we have 11 on board, and it’s been really a lot of fun learning from the folks that have been on board for a while and learning all the new things. It hasn’t changed a whole lot since I was here last time. … It’s been really fun, though, we’re excited for Crew-1 to head back home here pretty soon whenever the weather allows.”

McArthur spent 13 days in space in 2009 to help repair the Hubble Space Telescope, “and this is my first time to the space station. First impression, of course, is that the living space is much, much bigger. You really have to be precise with your flying as so as not to crash into all the other people that are up here.”

“So I’m learning how to fly,” she said. “It feels really good. And it’s just an amazing, amazing place.”

Known for favoring lively footwear, McArthur did a zero-gravity flip toward the end of the interview, showing off her socks. Printed on the bottom of her right sock: “IF YOU CAN READ THIS” and on her left: “BRING ME SOME COOKIES.”

Kimbrough, McArthur, Pesquet and Hoshide are the third crew to launch aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon. Kimbrough, one of the few astronauts who has now launched aboard three different spacecraft, said the climb to space atop a Falcon 9 was thrilling.

“The first stage was, I would say, fairly smooth,” Kimbrough said. “There was a little bit of rumbling going on, but pretty smooth.”

About two-and-a-half minutes into the flight, the nine Merlin first stage engines shut down, the stage fell away and the single vacuum-rated Merlin powering the second stage ignited, giving the crew “a nice kick in the pants.”

“So we got to experience that M-vac engine lighting, and then kind of a little thrust back in our seats and then pure acceleration for the next six-and-a-half minutes or so,” Kimbrough said. “It was a bit rumbly, it kind of was like … being on a rocky road in a vehicle.”

The crew was pushed back in their seats with about four-and-a-half times the normal force of gravity compared to the 3 “Gs” Kimbrough and McArthur experienced during their shuttle launches.

“It just kind of felt like this rumble for about six-and-a-half minutes as we increased our speed and got up into space,” he said. “Pretty spectacular.”

The crew was in the process of winding down after a busy first day in space when flight controllers told them to get back in their spacesuits because of a predicted close encounter with a piece of space debris. It turned out to be a false alarm, but it highlighted a growing concern in the space community.

Wednesday night, SpaceX launched another batch of 60 Starlink internet satellites, pushing the total launched to date to 1,505. OneWeb also is launching a constellation of broadband satellites and other companies, including Amazon, have plans for their own “mega constellations.”

With more and more satellites populating low-Earth orbit, some analysts are concerned about an increased probability of collisions that would generate threatening space debris.

“It’s definitely something that we need to keep a careful eye on and keep aware of where all these things are, and the best ways to track them and how to get the information to the people that need it,” McArthur said. “It was quite an event for us.

“We were kind of winding down for the evening and getting ready to go to bed, rolled out our sleeping bags and gotten into our sleepwear when we got the notification that we needed to get in our (space)suits,” she said. “We got there just in time, just in time for them to call us out that it had been a false alarm.”

The crew responded per their training “and we felt like the team handled it really well,” she added. “But it’s definitely something that as a spacefaring nation … we’re going to need to keep each other apprised of what’s out there and how to avoid it as the space gets more and more crowded.”

SpaceX plans to follow the Crew-2 mission with launch of four civilian, non-astronaut fliers this fall, a flight purchased by billionaire entrepreneur and jet pilot Jared Isaacman to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

The “Inspiration4” crew will not visit the space station. Their Crew Dragon will simply orbit Earth for a few days, providing spectacular views from a higher altitude than the station. Asked if she had any reservations about commercial spaceflight and non-professional astronauts, McArthur said she welcomes their participation.

“Of course, part of our mission as astronauts is to try to inspire people, inspire the next generation of explorers,” she said. But “we’re engineers, so maybe we’re not always great with words.”

“These people are going to experience some of the same things that we’re experiencing, and they’re going to be able to share it in a different way, maybe, than we normally do. I think it’s gonna be really exciting.”

NASA Weekly ISS Space to Ground Report for 30 April, 2021

May 1st 2021 at 09:27

NASA's Space to Ground is your weekly update on what's happening aboard the International Space Station.

NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status April 28, 2021 - Putting Out the Trash

April 29th 2021 at 17:32

A trash-packed Russian cargo craft departed the International Space Station on Tuesday night. Four astronauts are also nearing the end of their mission amidst a variety of human research taking place on the orbiting lab today.

NASA Space Station On-Orbit Status April 27, 2021 - Command Change

April 28th 2021 at 16:36

The International Space Station has a new commander today as four astronauts prepare for their return to Earth this Saturday.

Crew Dragon return postponed again by poor weather

April 30th 2021 at 09:35

EDITOR’S NOTE: Updated at 4 p.m. EDT (2000 GMT) with new undocking and splashdown times.

NASA astronaut Shannon Walker, pilot Victor Glover, Crew-1 commander Mike Hopkins, and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi on the International Space Station. Credit: ESA/NASA/Thomas Pesquet

The departure and return to Earth of a four-person space station crew on a SpaceX Dragon capsule has been postponed again by high winds in the splashdown zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

NASA and SpaceX officials announced the Crew Dragon is now scheduled to undock from the International Space Station at 8:35 p.m. EDT Saturday (0035 GMT Sunday) and head for a predawn splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida at 2:57 a.m. EDT (0657 GMT).

The Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft’s early morning return to Earth will mark just the third time in the history of spaceflight that a crew capsule has splashed down at night.

NASA’s Apollo 8 mission splashed down in the Pacific Ocean before sunrise Dec. 27, 1968, to conclude the first human voyage to orbit the moon.

On Oct. 16, 1976, the Soviet Union’s Soyuz 23 mission ended prematurely after a docking system failure. The capsule and its two cosmonauts descended under parachute in blizzard-like conditions. The strong winds blew the craft toward a splashdown in the frozen waters of Lake Tengiz in Kazakhstan, where they awaited rescue the next day.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft with NASA Crew-1 commander Mike Hopkins, pilot Victor Glover, Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, and outgoing International Space Station commander Shannon Walker was originally supposed to come back to Earth on Wednesday.

NASA announced earlier this week that high winds in the Gulf of Mexico exceeded the Crew Dragon capsule’s limits for a safe splashdown, and rescheduled the ship’s undocking from the space station for 5:55 p.m. EDT (2155 GMT) Friday, setting up for a landing at sea Saturday around 11:36 a.m. EDT (1536 GMT).

The space agency said late Thursday that wind conditions in the Gulf of Mexico remained unfavorable for the return of the Crew-1 mission. NASA officials announce the new undocking and splashdown times Friday.

“Crew Dragon is in great health on the space station, and teams now forecast ideal conditions for both splashdown and recovery during the weekend,” NASA said Friday.

Earlier this week, Walker handed over command of the space station’s Expedition 65 crew to Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, who arrived at the orbiting outpost April 24 with crewmates Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet on a different Crew Dragon capsule.

Hoshide, Kimbrough, McArthur, and Pesquet — flying on the Crew-2 mission — plan to stay on the space station until late October.

The Crew-1 mission set to wrap up in the coming days is the first “operational” flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, following a two-month test flight with a two-man crew last year. It’s also the first Crew Dragon flight with a duration approaching the capsule’s certification limit of 210 days.

Hopkins and his crewmates launched Nov. 15 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on the Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft during a port relocation maneuver outside the International Space Station on April 5. Credit: NASA

The automated departure maneuvers will carry the Dragon spacecraft a safe distance away from the space station, setting the stage for a retrograde braking burn to allow the ship to drop out of orbit for a scorching re-entry back into the atmosphere Saturday.

After descending to the sea under four parachutes, the astronauts will be helped out of their spaceship by SpaceX recovery teams. They will undergo preliminary medical checks before returning to shore by helicopter, then the crew will travel by airplane to their home base at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The extended Crew-1 mission means the International Space Station has hosted an expanded crew of 11 astronauts and cosmonauts for a few extra days. The international crew represents four nations: the United States, Russia, Japan, and France.

Joel Montalbano, NASA’s space station manager, said earlier this month that the space station’s life support systems could support the 11 residents for up to 20 days, if necessary. The limitations include the station’s oxygen generator and carbon dioxide removal system, he said.

The record number of crew members on the space station is 13 astronauts, a staffing level last reached in 2011 during a space shuttle visit.

“We have to fly some additional consumables for the extra crew members,” Montalbano said. “Of course, you have to look at sleeping arrangements. We’ll have some temporary sleeping arrangements for the crew members because we’ll have so many people.”

Some of the astronauts planned to sleep inside their Crew Dragon capsules, which serve as lifeboats during long-term stays at the space station.

SpaceX and NASA have seven Crew Dragon splashdown zones available off the coast of Florida, with locations in the Gulf of Mexico near Pensacola, Panama City, Tallahassee, and Tampa. Three sites in the Atlantic Ocean northeast of Cape Canaveral, east of Daytona beach, and northeast of Jacksonville are also options.

The weather criteria for splashdown of a Crew Dragon spacecraft include wind speeds no greater than 12 mph, or about 10.5 knots. Managers also want the right mix of wave heights and wave periods, and a low probability of lightning.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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April 30th 2021 at 15:15

NASA and SpaceX have decided to move Crew-1's undocking and splashdown from Friday, April 30, and Saturday, May 1, respectively, following a review of the forecast weather conditions in the splashdown zones off the coast of Florida, which continue to predict wind speeds above the return criteria.

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