space exploration

The entire team here at Endeavorist would like to extend our utmost support and respect to astronaut Scott Kelly; who, today, will embark on a mission of profound implications for humanity’s spacefaring future

Accompanied by Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, the pair will journey to the International Space Station for a yearlong stay. Although their orbital accommodations will provide a literal out-of-this-world vantage point, Kelly and Komienko have 365 days of work ahead of them. Just 255 miles above our terrestrial sanctuary, science performed on the ISS will help researchers understand how humans adapt and respond to extended periods of time spent in space.

Further significance of this mission will be provided by the NASA study between Scott’s brother - retired astronaut Mark Kelly - who happens to also be Scott’s identical twin. Analyzation of genetic, molecular, and physiological data from both brothers (one in orbit, the other on Earth) will coincide with tests being performed on Scott and Mark simultaneously. 

Twins, and the space that separates them. Commander of Expedition 45/46 Astronaut Scott Kelly (right) and his brother, former astronaut Mark Kelly. Photo by Robert Markowitz/NASA.

One of the questions which seeks to be explored: why do more than half of U.S. astronauts experience vision changes during long-duration spaceflight? It’s suspected that microgravity conditions in space cause body fluids to shift from to the head from the lower body, which can cause puffiness of the face and sinus congestion. Jennifer Fogerty, a Clinical Translational Scientist at NASA explains this phenomena further here

In another unprecedented study regarding extended off-planet habitation, Scott Kelly will draw blood samples prior to a spacecraft returning to Earth from the ISS, sending them home to an epigenetics lab to study how our DNA expresses itself whilst in different environments. These unfrozen samples provided by Scott will present exquisite data while comparatively analyzing blood samples provided by Mark here on Earth. With NASA gearing up to send human astronauts to the far reaches of space beyond the Moon, research like this is invaluable. 

Andrew Feinberg, MD and Director for the Center for Epigenetics whose lab will be leading the twin studies experiment, illustrates the significance of the study:

NASA is working on this science project that’s the greatest in the history of civilization. They’re turning humankind from an Earth-dwelling species into a space-exploring species. One day, humankind will be a species that can settle on other planets. It might be a hundred years before we have humans living on Mars, but this is a whole new kind of science. It’s a multi-generational effort.

To follow the Kelly mission, tune into Time Magazine’s new editorial series “A Year in Space” for the trailer, latest news, and episodes as they’re released.

Ambitious research such as this embodies the curiosity that drives us in pursuit of the unknown, which is something we value deeply and strive to make possible for all through Endeavorist.org. To all the scientists, researchers, astronauts, and explorers — we salute you. 

Godspeed, Kelly brothers.

Do you have a project or research you’d like to launch? Are you a student, researcher, organization or professor? Join the Endeavorist network and we’ll help you get started. Together, we can #freescience.

The Year In Space Mission Begins

Three crew members representing the United States and Russia are on their way to the International Space Station after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:42 p.m. EDT Friday (1:42 a.m., March 28 in Baikonur).

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will spend about a year living and working aboard the space station to help scientists better understand how the human body reacts and adapts to the harsh environment of space.

“Scott Kelly’s mission is critical to advancing the administration’s plan to send humans on a journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “We’ll gain new, detailed insights on the ways long-duration spaceflight affects the human body.”

Launching with Kelly and Kornienko was cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, who will spend a standard six-month rotation on the station. The trio is scheduled to dock with the station at 9:36 p.m., about six hours after launch. 

Keep reading

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If you like #SpaceColonization or #TheExpanse you may like the incredible short film "Wanderers" by Erik Wernquist

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"Exploration is in our nature. We began as wanderers, and we are wanderers still. We have lingered long enough on the shores of the cosmic ocean. We are ready at last to set sail for the stars." - Carl Sagan

Wanderers is a vision of humanity’s expansion into the Solar System, based on scientific ideas and concepts of what our future in space might look like, if it ever happens. The locations depicted in the film are digital recreations of actual places in the Solar System, built from real photos and map data where available. Watch the breathtaking short film on Vimeo.

These bacteria were sent into space for five days in 1987, kick-starting European Space Agency’s project MELiSSA (Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative). The algae survived their trip around the world and, 25 years of research later, the teams are close to testing a nearly closed ecosystem that will support life forms with almost no external resources or waste. Sounds like something from sci-fi, right?

MELiSSA is investigating ways of producing food, water and oxygen on long manned space missions for with limited supplies. It covers a large community of industrial companies, universities, research centres, scientists and students from all over Europe, and has produced more than 200 scientific papers.
Although MELiSSA aims to keep astronauts alive and well on deep missions into our Solar System, the research is bringing results and benefiting people on Earth right now. find out more here

Huygens’s Descent to Titan’s Surface

On 15 October 1997, NASA’s Cassini orbiter embarked on an epic, seven-year voyage to the Saturnian system. Hitching a ride was ESA’s Huygens probe, destined for Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. The final chapter of the interplanetary trek for Huygens began on 25 December 2004 when it deployed from the orbiter for a 21-day solo cruise toward the haze-shrouded moon. Plunging into Titan’s atmosphere, on 14 January 2005, the probe survived the hazardous 2 hour 27 minute descent to touch down safely on Titan’s frozen surface.

Credit: ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/SSI

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We need to hit our goal of $80,000 by February 1, or we won’t be able to:

Upgrade our stock footage to HD for a theater-quality production

Professionally compose sound production for an original soundtrack

Finish the film in the next few months

Show the film at space industry conferences in 2015

Begin premiering the film in theaters nationwide

Release all stock/archival NASA footage by the end of 2015

Send copies of the film to Congress

Reward our backers

This project needs your help. If we don’t successfully reach out funding goal, the campaign is reset back to zero and we have to start all over again.

Please share and support our Kickstarter campaign any way you can, and urge larger or more widespread donations from everyone you know. A little goes a long way, and there’s strength in numbers.

Use your voice so we can let the world (and Congress) hear it. Join in the #FightforSpace.

After spending nearly six months on the International Space Station, an astronaut and two cosmonauts have landed safely back on Earth. While in orbit, they traveled almost 71 million miles, NASA says.

Commander Barry Wilmore of NASA and flight engineers Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) touched down in Kazakhstan Thursday morning, local time.

In this beautiful image the Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft is seen as it descends toward Earth.

Space Station Astronauts Make Safe Landing In Kazakhstan

Photo Credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA

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NASA considering cloud cities and air ships for manned mission to Venus

Cloud cities. On Venus. No, this is not the pitch for a potentially awesome science fiction story — this is a real-life proposal currently being considered by NASA. 

Though Venus’s surface is far too volatile for us to visit anytime soon, scientists believe there’s a “sweet spot” in the Venusian atmosphere that would be the perfect place to fly some exploratory air ships and eventually establish a legit cloud city. Even better? They think it could be a whole lot easier than going to Mars. Well, kinda.

At approximately 31 miles above the planet’s surface, you’ll find one atmosphere of pressure and gravity just a tad lower than that of Earth. The average temperature, though admittedly hot, is just 17 degrees (Celsius) above the average Earth temperature. Hot, sure, but not unmanageable. Compare that to the wasteland of Mars, and it doesn’t sound too bad. Plus, since Venus is closer to the sun than Earth, that height is the perfect spot to tap into solar power — which could keep the ships (and cities?) running forever.

The Space Mission Analysis Branch of NASA’s Systems Analysis and Concepts Directorate at Langley Research Center is working on a proposal to send a robotic probe followed by manned air ships to the planet, leading to a permanent settlement. The five phases would include robotic exploration, a crewed mission to orbit on a 30-day mission, a crewed mission to the atmosphere on a 30-day mission, a crewed mission to the atmosphere for one year and finally a permanent human presence.

So, why might this be easier (in some ways) than a mission to Mars? The distance involved. A round-trip jaunt to Venus (440 days) would take almost half the travel time as a mission to Mars (650-900 days). But that doesn’t mean every aspect is easier. As IEEE Spectrum’s Evan Ackerman noted in a report that quotes NASA scientist Dale Arney, putting all the pieces together in motion above an alien planet wouldn’t be for the faint of heart:

The crewed mission would involve a Venus orbit rendezvous, where the airship itself (folded up inside a spacecraft) would be sent to Venus ahead of time. Humans would follow in a transit vehicle (based on NASA’s Deep Space Habitat), linking up with the airship in Venus orbit.

Since there’s no surface to land on, the “landing” would be extreme, to say the least. “Traditionally, say if you’re going to Mars, you talk about ‘entry, descent, and landing,’ or EDL,” explains Arney. “Obviously, in our case, ‘landing’ would represent a significant failure of the mission, so instead we have ‘entry, descent, and inflation,’ or EDI.” The airship would enter the Venusian atmosphere inside an aeroshell at 7,200 meters per second. Over the next seven minutes, the aeroshell would decelerate to 450 m/s, and it would deploy a parachute to slow itself down further. At this point, things get crazy. The aeroshell would drop away, and the airship would begin to unfurl and inflate itself, while still dropping through the atmosphere at 100 m/s. As the airship got larger, its lift and drag would both increase to the point where the parachute became redundant. The parachute would be jettisoned, the airship would fully inflate, and (if everything had gone as it’s supposed to), it would gently float to a stop at 50 km above Venus’s surface.

Considering the whole world is focused on Mars these days, even the team behind the proposal notes it’s unlikely for the focus to shift anytime soon. But the project is still a fascinating pitch. Seriously, can you even imagine a real-life Cloud City? Lando would be proud. 

(Via io9IEEE Spectrum)

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As the CEO of the Planetary Society, I can tell you, there is one preventable natural disaster, and that’s an asteroid. If we got hit by a 50 meter object, 1 kilometer object — that’s it, okay? That’s CTRL+ALT+DELETE for civilization. I mean, that’s over. And we are the first generations of humans that have the ability to do something about it.

— Bill Nye (excerpted from the film 'Fight for Space', speaking on the consequences of an underfunded space program, and why we must care about our “place in space”)

A very timely message for humanity (especially politicians occupying positions in Congress) during a period in history where we’ve become gravely aware of the cosmic shooting gallery we exist amidst.

The above image (provided by the B612 Foundation) is a computer simulation of all known asteroids and their trajectories (watch here). Currently, there is no comprehensive map of our inner solar system which show absolute positions and trajectories of asteroids that might threaten Earth. As a collective species, we are essentially orbiting blind around the solar system. 

In terms of “not having enough money" to simultaneously improve the quality of life for everyone, perpetuate a thriving economy, transition into a society fueled by hydrogen/electricity/overall renewable energy, and explore space, these topics are not mutually exclusive. We can, and have, worked on all of these at the same time by performing science pertinent to every single aspect of our lives. And when politicians assert that we don’t have the money, I’ll paraphrase a quote from Neil deGrasse Tyson

It’s not that you don’t have the money. It’s that the distribution of money that you’re spending is warped in some way, that you’re removing the very thing that gives people something to dream about tomorrow. So, I’m worried the decisions Congress makes doesn’t factor in the consequences of those decisions on tomorrow. Tomorrow (metaphoric, tomorrow) is gone. They’re playing for the quarterly report, they’re playing for the next election cycle, and that is mortgaging the actual future of this nation.

Indeed, the future being mortgaged is not simply of one nation, but the global collective of life on this planet.

Our lives are dependent upon modern technologies developed throughout the “space age” whereby we realized very quickly how necessary activity in space would become in our lives moving forward. And now, those same technologies have become expanded upon into various other fields of science and discovery. One of those areas of curiosity happens to be the identification of Near-Earth Objects and Potentially Harmful Asteroids. 

What type of object qualifies as potentially dangerous?

(1) If it crosses the Earth’s orbit at a distance less than 0.05 AU (astronomical units, which, for reference, 1 AU = the distance from the Earth to the sun); (2) If such an object exceeds 100-150 meters in diameter. An object that meets these criteria are large enough to cause a tsunami if striking the ocean, and cause unprecedented destruction upon hitting land. 

Today — Monday, January 26, 2015 — marks the interaction of such an object. Asteroid 2004 BL86 will pass by us at 3x the distance from the Earth to the moon (1.2 million kilometers), measuring as large as 5 football fields. 

Although this particular asteroid doesn’t pose us any threat, the reality is, we’re blindsided regularly by objects we never saw coming due to our lack of proper visibility in space. On February 15, 2013, we were reminded of this when a 500 kiloton explosion rocked the Russian town of Chelyabinsk, injuring over 1,500 people.

So, how much do we know about Asteroid 2004 BL86? 

It was discovered in 2004 (hence the name) by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research program (LINEAR) which led in asteroid discoveries from 1998-2005 until it was overtaken by the Catalina Sky Survey (CSS), and Asteroid 2004 BL86 orbits the sun every 1.84 years. That’s it. 

To provide a sense of how blind we are when it comes to asteroids of this or any magnitude intersecting Earth’s orbit, radar astronomer Lance Benne said

When we get our radar data back from the flyby, we will have our first detailed images. At present, we know almost nothing about the asteroid, so there are bound to be surprises.

Of course, terrestrial observatories will be collecting data on the asteroid as it passes by, but what about the next? Or the ones out there which may have Earth in its sights that we still haven’t catalogued? What are we doing about this?

Right now, NASA has a mission proposal under development called the Near-Earth-Object Camera (NEOCam). The other main effort toward asteroid discovery, characterization, and tracking is the B612 Foundation (a privately funded organization led by astronauts Rusty Schweickart and Ed Lu), whose Sentinel Mission is slated to launch between 2017-2018.

Related: Watch Ed Lu explain the vital role B612 Foundation plays on our future in this video that plays at Arizona’s ‘Meteor Crater’.

However, there’s good news and bad news.

A portion of NASA’s budget is being appropriated to developing the technology for NEOCam, which will assess the present-day risk of NEO impact, study the origin/destinies of our solar system’s asteroids, and designate suitable NEO targets for human/robotic exploration. That’s good news.

NASA has many other things to do, such as analyzing the health of the entire biosphere and all the living inhabitants it supports, and NASA’s budget is not sufficient enough to do everything it needs to do AND protect the planet from asteroid threats.

That’s, obviously, the bad news.

As for the B612 Foundation, here’s the good news: Sentinel is on track to be the first privately-funded deep space mission ever launched, courtesy of Ball Aerospace aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Placed into a Venus-like orbit, Sentinel will have its back to the sun, Sentinel will use its infrared optics to discover 20,000+ asteroids within the first month of operation — more than the combined effort of telescopes in the last 30 years. Within 6.5 years, Sentinel will follow trajectories of more than 90% of asteroids larger than 140 meters.

The bad news: B612 Foundation is privately funded. Think on this. Here’s a mission which will change the course of history for generations to come, relying on private funding. Why?

NASA - if robustly funded - would be more than capable to orchestrate fleets of spacecraft and exploration missions all over deep space, inventing new technologies along the way, while demanding a dynamic work force of scientifically literate crew members to imagine, construct, implement, and maintain these space programs far into the future. This kind of demand calls for a strong STEM education which would usher in a society of dreamers and innovators emboldened with a passion to shape and secure the longevity of life from here to worlds beyond Earth.

Among other topics, the preservation of our species, and the biodiversity of life on Earth is a core element we communicate in the film. We urge your support by sharing, promoting, and backing our Kickstarter campaign to finalize post-production funds and finish this film for the world to see.

Passing bills for short term gain, pandering to corporations, and serving the needs of a few to appeal to a constituency are not in the best interests of us today, and certainly do not have future generations in mind. We must demand more from ourselves, our Congresspeople, and our space program. 

Support the #FightforSpace.

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This short film by Erik Wernquist offers an incredibly moving portrait of our possible future in space exploration.

via It’s Okay To Be Smart & Sploid