Launch

LIFTOFF!

On July 7, three crew members launched from Earth; headed to their new home on the International Space Station

Crewmembers Kate Rubins of NASA, Anatoly Ivanishin of Roscosmos and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will spend approximately four months on the orbital complex, returning to Earth in October. 

Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

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Five Things to Know About NASA Astronaut Kate Rubins

Among the newest crew on the International Space Station is U.S. astronaut Kate Rubins, who will assume the role of Flight Engineer for Expeditions 48 and 49. Here are five things you should know about her:

1. She was chosen from a pool of over 3,500 applicants to receive a spot on our 2009 astronaut training class.

After being selected, Rubins spent years training at Johnson Space Center to become an astronaut. She learned how to use the complex station systems, perform spacewalks, exercise in space and more. Some training even utilized virtual reality.

2. She has a degree in cancer biology.

After earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Molecular Biology from the University of California, San Diego in 1999, Rubins went on to receive a doctorate in Cancer Biology from Stanford University Medical School Biochemistry Department and Microbiology and Immunology Department in 2005. In other words, she’s extremely smart.

3. Her research has benefited humanity.

Rubins helped to create therapies for Ebola and Lassa viruses by conducting research collaboratively with the U.S. Army. She also aided development of the first smallpox infection model with the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. NBD. It will be exciting to see the research come out of a mission with a world-class scientist using a world-class, out-of-this-world laboratory!

4. She is scheduled to be the first person to sequence DNA in space.

During her time at the space station, Rubins will participate in several science experiments. Along with physical science, Earth and space science and technology development work, she will conduct biological and human research investigations. Research into sequencing the first genome in microgravity and how the human body’s bone mass and cardiovascular systems are changed by living in space are just two examples of the many experiments in which Rubins may take part.

5. In her spare time, she enjoys scuba diving and triathlons…among other things.

Rubins was on the Stanford Triathlon team, and also races sprint and Olympic distance. She is involved with health care/medical supply delivery to Africa and started a non-profit organization to bring supplies to Congo. Her recent pursuits involve flying airplanes and jumping out of them – not simultaneously. 

Rubins is scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station at 12:12 a.m. Saturday, July 9. After her launch on Wednesday, July 6, the three crew members traveled 2 days before docking to the space station’s Rassvet module. 

Watch live coverage of docking and their welcoming starting at 11:30 p.m. EDT Friday, July 8 on NASA Television.

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Getting to Mars: A New Rocket for the Journey

Do you know what the structural backbone is of our new rocket, the Space Launch System? If you answered the core stage, give yourself a double thumbs up! Or better yet, have astronaut Scott Kelly do it!

We’re on a journey to Mars. For bolder missions to deep space, we need a big, powerful rocket like SLS to take astronauts in the Orion spacecraft to places we’ve never gone before. The core stage is a major part of that story, as it will house the fuel and avionics systems that will power and guide the rocket to those new destinations beyond Earth’s orbit. Here’s how:

It’s Big, and It’s Fast.

The core stage will be the largest rocket stage ever built and is under construction right now at our Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. It will stand at 212 feet tall and weigh more than 2.3 million pounds with propellant. That propellant is cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that will feed the vehicle’s RS-25 engines. In just 8.5 minutes, the core stage will reach Mach 23, which is faster than 17,000 mph!

It’s Smart.

Similar to a car, the rocket needs all the equipment necessary for the “drive” to deep space. The core stage will house the vehicle’s avionics, including flight computers, instrumentation, batteries, power handling, sensors and other electronics. That’s a lot of brain power behind those orange-clad aluminum walls. *Fun fact: Orange is the color of the rocket’s insulation.

It’s a Five-Parter.

The core stage is made up of five parts. Starting from the bottom is the engine section, which will deliver the propellants to the four RS-25 engines. It also will house avionics to steer the engines, and be an attachment point for the two, five-segment solid rocket boosters. The engine section for the first SLS flight has completed welding and is in the final phases of manufacturing at Michoud.

Next up is the liquid hydrogen tank. It will hold 537,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen cooled to -423 degrees Fahrenheit. Right now, engineers are building the tank for the first SLS mission. It will look very similar to the qualification test article that just finished welding at Michoud. That’s an impressive piece of rocket hardware!

The next part of the core stage is the intertank, which will join the propellant tanks. It has to be super strong because it is the attachment point for the boosters and absorbs most of the force when they fire 3.6 million pounds of thrust each. It’s also a “think tank” of sorts, as it holds the SLS avionics and electronics. The intertank is even getting its own test structure at our Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

And then there’s the liquid oxygen tank. It will store 196,000 gallons of liquid oxygen cooled to -297 degrees. If you haven’t done the math, that’s 733,000 gallons of propellant for both tanks, which is enough to fill 63 large tanker trucks. Toot, toot. Beep, beep! A confidence version of the tank has finished welding at Michoud, and it’s impressive. Just ask this guy.

The topper of the core stage is the forward skirt. Funny name, but serious hardware. It’s home to the flight computers, cameras and avionics. The avionics system is being tested right now in a half-ring structure at the Marshall Center.

You can click here for more SLS core stage facts. We’ll continue building, and see you at the launch pad for the first flight of SLS with Orion in 2018!

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What’s On Board the Next SpaceX Cargo Launch?

Cargo and supplies are scheduled to launch to the International Space Station on Monday, July 18 at 12:45 a.m. EDT. The SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft will liftoff from our Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Among the arriving cargo is the first of two international docking adapters, which will allow commercial spacecraft to dock to the station when transporting astronauts in the near future as part of our Commercial Crew Program.

This metallic ring, big enough for astronauts and cargo to fit through represents the first on-orbit element built to the docking measurements that are standardized for all the spacecraft builders across the world.

Its first users are expected to be the Boeing Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, which are both now in development.

What About the Science?!

Experiments launching to the station range from research into the effects of microgravity on the human body, to regulating temperature on spacecraft. Take a look at a few:

A Space-based DNA Sequencer

DNA testing aboard the space station typically requires collecting samples and sending them back to Earth to be analyzed. Our Biomolecule Sequencer Investigation will test a new device that will allow DNA sequencing in space for the first time! The samples in this first test will be DNA from a virus, a bacteria and a mouse.

How big is it? Picture your smartphone…then cut it in half. This miniature device has the potential to identify microbes, diagnose diseases and evaluate crew member health, and even help detect DNA-based life elsewhere in the solar system.

OsteoOmics

OsteoOmics is an experiment that will investigate the molecular mechanisms that dictate bone loss in microgravity. It does this by examining osteoblasts, which form bone; and osteoclasts, which dissolves bone. New ground-based studies are using magnetic levitation equipment to simulate gravity-related changes. This experiment hopes to validate whether this method accurately simulates the free-fall conditions of microgravity.

Results from this study could lead to better preventative care or therapeutic treatments for people suffering bone loss, both on Earth and in space!

Heart Cells Experiment

The goals of the Effects of Microgravity on Stem Cell-Derived Heart Cells (Heart Cells) investigation include increasing the understanding of the effects of microgravity on heart function, the improvement of heart disease modeling capabilities and the development of appropriate methods for cell therapy for people with heart disease on Earth.

Phase Change Material Heat Exchanger (PCM HX)

The goal of the Phase Change Material Heat Exchanger (PCM HX) project is to regulate internal spacecraft temperatures. Inside this device, we’re testing the freezing and thawing of material in an attempt to regulate temperature on a spacecraft. This phase-changing material (PCM) can be melted and solidified at certain high heat temperatures to store and release large amounts of energy.

Watch Launch!

Live coverage of the SpaceX launch will be available starting at 11:30 p.m. EDT on Sunday, July 17 via NASA Television

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