expedition 16

Five Times Astronaut Peggy Whitson Made History

On April 24, 2017, NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson established the new record for the most time spent in space by an American astronaut. She’s spent more than 76 weeks of her life floating in microgravity!  It’s not the first time in her career at NASA that Whitson has established new milestones: here are just a few.

First NASA Science Officer

Peggy Whitson was the named the first NASA Science Officer aboard the space station in 2002. The position was created to work with the United States research community to understand and meet the requirements and objectives of each space station experiment.

First Female to Command the Space Station… Twice

Whitson became the first female to command the space station during Expedition 16 in 2008. Then Whitson became the first female to command the station twice during her current mission on April 9, 2017.

First Female Chief of the Astronaut Office

In 2009, Whitson became the first female and first non-pilot to achieve the most senior position for active astronauts, Chief of the Astronaut Office.

Most Spacewalks for a Female

On March 30, 2017, Peggy Whitson broke the record for most spacewalks and most time spent spacewalking for female astronauts. Suni Williams had previously held the record at 7 spacewalks.

Most Time In Space By A NASA Astronaut

At 1:27 a.m. ET on April 24, Peggy Whitson set the new record for cumulative time spent in space by an American astronaut. Jeff Williams previously set the record in 2016.

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A near-standard 2.2-litre diesel Hyundai Santa Fe has become the first passenger car to be driven across Antarctica from Union Camp to McMurdo Sound and back again. It was driven by Patrick Bergel, the Great Grandson of legendary polar explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton, The journey which took place in December 2016 was timed to commemorate the centenary of Shackleton’s heroic Trans-Antarctic expedition of 1914-16.  A special edition of 500 Santa Fe Endurance models has been announced to celebrate the achievement 

The NASA Village

Today in the NASA Village… When it’s Time to Capture a Dragon.

Meet the Systems Engineering Simulator. Upon entering the darkened dome one can forget for a moment the actual world isn’t floating overhead. This space can contain a physical Space Station mock-up cupola (like the picture below) an Orion crew station mock-up, or a multi-mission space exploration vehicle mock-up. It is a hybrid of virtual reality and physical structure. Perfect for practicing the rendezvous (approach) and capture. It is in this dome where we are trained to capture the capsules launched from Earth to station that come bearing gifts like food, clothing, and fuel.

So what’s the deal with these visiting cargo vehicles? Where in the world are they coming from and why do they all have different names?

The simple answer is that these cargo-carrying vehicles are a form of currency in the spaceflight world. Building a vehicle and loading it with materials to supply the crew is a part of the international agreement of participation. For the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) and the European Space Agency (ESA), their vehicles are the HTV (H-II Transfer Vehicle) and ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle), respectively. ESA’s ATVs have delivered cargo to the station and docked to the Russian segment using their docking system. During Expedition 16, Yuri and I monitored the first approach and docking of the ATV to ISS.  Reminds me a bit of an X wing fighter from Star wars.

Progress is a capsule provided by the Russian Space Agency (RSA).  It is launched on a Soyuz rocket, similar to the Soyuz rockets that launch the astronauts to station. A progress will commonly remain for a few months until the next Progress is about to launch. During this time docked to the station, after unloading all the valuable cargo, the capsule is filled with trash that will burn upon re-entry.

In addition, after Shuttle retirement, the US has purchased additional cargo carriers from Space X and Orbital.  The capsule called Dragon comes from Space X. It is the only capsule that returns to ground, bearing scientific return samples or critical hardware from station.  Cygnus is a capsule launched by Orbital.  

Multiple of these capsules can be mated to the station at the same time.  In the Dome, we practice for the arrival and capture, using the Canadian robotic arm, of HTV, Cygnus and Dragon.

These capsules are essential because they are the lifeline between the astronauts and the Earth. When something happens to a capsule, the crew onboard shares their supplies. However, important items like a lost spacesuit are irreplaceable.

Jeff Tuxhorn, widely known as Tux, was a Shuttle rendezvous trainer and has since become the rendezvous instructor for HTV, Cygnus and Dragon. We have the visual out the window view to illustrate the approaching vehicle (it looks big when it is coming at you!), as well as multiple camera views to monitor during the capture.

During Expedition 5 and 16, I helped install large truss elements that now hold the solar arrays.  We also maneuvered a whole module to “rearrange” our living volume (we had to wait for Shuttle departure to put it in its proper place). At that time we didn’t have any visiting cargo vehicles like these currently resupplying station. And more importantly, there was no cupola when I was last on station, but now I get to enjoy the view from here!

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On this day, 5th January 1922, Ernest Shackleton, died.

Sir Ernest Shackleton was an Antarctic explorer, best known for leading the Endurance’ expedition of 1914-16.

Ernest Henry Shackleton was born on 15 February 1874 in Ireland but his family moved to London where Shackleton was educated. He joined the merchant navy when he was 16 and qualified as a master mariner in 1898. 

In 1901, Shackleton was chosen to go on the Antarctic expedition led by British naval officer Robert Falcon Scott on the ship ‘Discovery’.  The team trekked towards the South Pole in extremely difficult conditions, getting closer to the Pole than anyone had come before. Shackleton became seriously ill and had to return home.

In 1908, he returned to the Antarctic as the leader of his own expedition, on the ship 'Nimrod’. During the expedition, his team climbed Mount Erebus, made many important scientific discoveries and set a record by coming even closer to the South Pole than before. Shackleton was knighted on his return to Britain.

In 1911, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole, followed by Scott who died on the return journey. In 1914, Shackleton made his third trip to the Antarctic with the ship 'Endurance’, planning to cross Antarctica via the South Pole. Early in 1915, Endurance’ became trapped in the ice, and ten months later sank. Shackleton’s crew had already abandoned the ship to live on the floating ice. In April 1916, they set off in three small boats, eventually reaching Elephant Island. Taking five crew members, Shackleton went to find help. In a small boat, the six men spent 16 days crossing 1,300 km of ocean to reach South Georgia and then trekked across the island to a whaling station. The remaining men from the 'Endurance’ were rescued in August 1916. Not one member of the expedition died. Shackleton’s account of the 'Enduranceexpedition, South was published in 1919. The State Library of New South Wales holds a number of editions of this book, including first editions.

Shackleton’s fourth expedition aimed to circumnavigate the Antarctic continent but on 5 January 1922, Shackleton died of a heart attack off South Georgia and he was buried on the island.

The State Library of New South Wales holds collections of photographs depicting Shackleton’s expeditions, including these taken by photographer Frank HurleyPhotographs of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s trans-Antarctic expedition in the 'Endurance’, ca. 1914-1917  

Scientists scale Balls Pyramid to find the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect – video [1/16"]

An expedition by the Australian Museum to Balls Pyramid, near Lord Howe Island, has succeeded in its search for the rare and elusive Lord Howe Island stick insect (Dryococelus australis).

Balls Pyramid looks like something someone dreamed up. 

It looks inhospitable but that’s not why there were just 24 of the animals remaining. They were once common, but in the early 20th Century, they were exploited as fishing bait, and predated upon by the rats that arrived with fishermen. Until rediscovered in 2001, it was suspected that they were extinct.

A species breeding programme has been successful, resulting in the population growing to around 10,000 individuals.

They are quite large animals, up to 15 cm long and 25 grams. They are nocturnal, and males and females form bonds, which is highly unusual for insect species.

It’s really worth watching the brief video on The Guardian.

Against a black sky, the Space Shuttle Endeavour and its seven-member STS-123 crew head toward Earth-orbit and a scheduled link-up with the International Space Station (ISS). Liftoff was on time at 2:28 a.m. (EDT). Onboard are NASA astronauts Dominic Gorie, commander; Gregory H. Johnson, pilot; Robert L. Behnken, Mike Foreman, Rick Linnehan, Garrett Reisman and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Takao Doi, all mission specialists. The crew will make a record-breaking 16-day mission to the International Space Station and deliver the first section of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Kibo laboratory and the Canadian Space Agency’s two-armed robotic system, Dextre. Reisman will join Expedition 16 in progress to serve as a flight engineer aboard the ISS.

Peggy Whitson (b. 1960) is a NASA astronaut and researcher in biochemistry. She has had two long-duration stays aboard the International Space Station, making her the most experienced female astronaut at NASA; on one of these occasions, during Expedition 16 in 2007, she became the first female commander of the ISS.

During her first mission in 2002, she was named the first NASA Science Officer, and conducted multiple life and microgravity science experiments. During Expedition 16 she surpassed the female record for spacewalks.

First Woman to Command the International Space Station

March is the annual celebration of National Women’s History Month.

In this image from Jan. 30, 2008, Expedition 16 commander Peggy Whitson, the first female commander of the International Space Station, participates in a seven hour, ten minute spacewalk. During the spacewalk, Whitson and astronaut Daniel Tani, flight engineer, replaced a motor at the base of one of the station’s solar wings.

Image Credit: NASA


The moment on top of an Afghan mountain peak was one of bittersweet triumph for 20-year-old Shopirai Otmonkhel and her friend Zahra Karimi Nooristani, 18. The budding mountaineers from Kabul beamed with pride as they held up the Afghan flag after climbing to heights no Afghan woman had ever reached.

Nooristani — a shy athlete who earlier this year would blush and mumble when asked a question — spoke eloquently about how she’d discovered women can learn to do or be anything, whether it’s mountain climbing or becoming a physician or teacher.

The sheer joy they felt during the difficult climb was a first, Otmonkhel said. She realized during the expedition that Afghan women have limitless potential — but too few opportunities.

The pair were part of a 16-day expedition in August with 11 other young Afghan women, trained by a nonprofit called Ascend, based in Norfolk, Va.

Nooristani and Otmonkhel scaled two peaks, including a 16,500-ft. mountain — taller than any in the continental United States. They were among seven Afghan team members who made it to the top of that peak.

For Young Afghan Women, Scaling Mountain Peaks Brings Highs And Lows

Photos: (top and center) Courtesy of Emilie Drinkwater/Ascend, (bottom) Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson/NPR


Expedition 46 launches, arrives at ISS.

Three new crewmembers of Expedition 46 launched and docked to the International Space Station today.

Tim Kopra, Tim Peake and Yuri Malenchenko lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 6:03 am EST on the standard, quick-intercept trajectory the Soyuz spacecraft takes. Six hours later, Soyuz TMA-19M was on final approach to station. Docking to the Rassavet module occurred at 12:33 pm.

Docking was delayed by nine minutes due to a last-minute shutdown of the automated KURS rendezvous and docking system. The Soyuz was around 18 meters away when it abruptly fired its thrusters to back away from the station. After parking the spacecraft at a distance of 140 meters, Soyuz then switched over to the manually-controlled TORU rendezvous and docking system.

Soyuz commander Yuri Malenchenko then manually brought the spacecraft into port on the station’s Earth-facing Rassavet module.

The three crewmembers comprise the second segment of Expedition 46, which officially began last Friday when Soyuz TMA-17M returned Expedition 45 to Earth.

Tim Peake, of ESA, is the United Kingdom’s first official astronaut, and is taking part in the European Space Agency’s Principa mission. Tim Kopra, of NASA, is making his second trip to the International Space Station, having previously been a Flight Engineer on Expedition 20.

Yuri Malenchenko, of Roscosmos, is making his fifth spaceflight. He was part of Expeditions 7, 16, and 32/33, as well as space shuttle mission STS-106 and Soyuz TM-19.

The crew of Soyuz TMA-19M and Expedition 46/47. From left to right, ESA’s Tim Peake, Roscosmos’ Yuri Malenchenko, and NASA’s Tim Kopra.

The NASA Village

Today in the NASA Village… The Lady in Charge.

Ginger Kerrick is currently the Flight Operations Directorate Assistant Director for the International Space Station. She was a Flight Director in Mission Control, before that the first non-astronaut CAPCOM, and before that a trainer for astronauts.  I feel lucky to have worked with her/seen her in action in each of these roles.  With a resume like that it is easy to see why her story might be one of the most inspiring in the NASA Village.

Ginger has an incredible story of overcoming obstacles, making not only the most of what she is handed, but oh, so much more.  In spite of great personal and professional losses, her sheer talent, determination, and dedication have made her an exceptional star in the NASA Village.  I am personally inspired by her strength and leadership.

As a leader in various roles, Ginger recommends that aspiring leaders keep some of the following points in mind…..

1.         Failure actually is an option, and frankly, inevitable - It’s how a leader responds to failure that determines whether people will continue to follow

2.         Set Your Goals and Map Out a Plan - Be Open to Changing the Plan

3.         Be Resilient in the Face of Adversity

4.         Stand Up for Yourself

5.         Trust Your Instincts

6.         Challenge the Perceived Standards

7.         Strive for Excellence

8.         Give Back and Make a Difference

9.         Most importantly, smile and have fun - no one wants to follow a leader that doesn’t enjoy leading

I have also had the honor of serving as a leader. I was the first female Commander of the International Space Station during Expedition 16, and the first female/non-military Chief of the Astronaut Office. I have had numerous other leadership roles including Co-Chair of Mission Science Working Group for Shuttle Mir Program and I chaired the Astronaut Selection board once.  I think one of the most valuable assets of a leader is to individually empower the team members and strengthen the direction of the team goals.  In the end, it is critical for the team, as a whole, to succeed.  People talk teamwork all the time, but believing in it and actively participating in making it happen around you (whether you are leader or follower) is key.

Below you can see me “leading” my Expedition 16 crew.

Did you know that in the Directorate where Ginger and I work, there are ~2000 people that are part of the Flight Operations team, but only ~45 of those are currently active astronauts?  It really is about the team…all those people who contribute directly to making space flight and exploration possible…and they are not the only ones, there are so many more!

Ginger reminds us, “Life is filled with ups and downs. Learn from the downs but keep your focus on the ups and that’s the direction you will continue to go.”

Next time on the NASA Village… Camping in Space.

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Today, I got to visit Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft in the cleanroom of the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility.

Cygnus, which is named the S.S. Deke Slayton II, will launch on the OA-4 mission 20 days from now, December 3.

Orbital ATK’s Senior Director for Mission/Cargo Operations, Daniel Tani, briefed us about the Enhanced Cygnus spacecraft, and acted as our guide today in the cleanroom. Tani made two trips into space, one on STS-108 and the other on Expedition 16 on the International Space Station.

Full write up to be posted tomorrow, so keep an eye out!