spaceflight

In Case You Missed It...

NASA astronaut Jessica Meir sat down and answered your questions during a Tumblr AnswerTime session! 

But don’t worry, we’ve got a recap for you! In addition to the highlights below, you can check out the full AnswerTime here

Astronaut Jessica Meir was selected as part of our 2013 astronaut class (which was 50% women!) and is currently training to go to space. She could be one of the first astronauts to ride in the Orion spacecraft, which will carry humans deeper into space than ever before. 

Let’s check out some of her responses…




Follow astronaut Jessica Meir for more: @Astro_Jessica on Twitter and Instagram and follow the Orion space capsule as it prepares to fly to deep space on Twitter and Facebook.

Follow NASA on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

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     Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, offers the unique sight of a complete Mercury spacecraft. Many of these spacecraft are available for viewing all over the United States, but this one is special because it did not fly.

     During the course of a Mercury flight, several parts of the spacecraft are jettisoned and not recovered, including the retro package. This piece of equipment is visible here in my photos as the striped metal object strapped to the bottom of the heat shield. This small cluster of solid rocket motors was responsible for the safe return of the astronaut from space, making just enough thrust to change the shape of the orbit so that it would meet the atmosphere and use aerobraking for a ballistic reentry.

     If this package had not fired properly, the astronaut would be faced with the dire situation of being stuck in orbit. Fortunately, this never happened in real life, but it was captured in the fanciful novel “Marooned” by Martin Cardin, in which a NASA astronaut was stranded on orbit after his retro rockets failed. When the book was released in 1964, it was so influential that it actually changed procedures for Mercury’s follow on program Project Gemini, adding more redundancy to the spacecraft’s reentry flight profile.

     Alan Shepard, the first American in space and later Apollo 14 moonwalker, didn’t fail to notice that there was a leftover spacecraft at the end of the Mercury program. He lobbied for a second Mercury flight in this ship, speaking personally to both NASA Administrator James Webb and President John Kennedy about this flight. He told them his idea of an “open ended” mission in which they would keep him in orbit indefinitely until there was a malfunction or consumables began to run out. Webb stated (and Kennedy agreed) that it was more important to shelve the Mercury spacecraft in order to jump start the more capable Gemini Program. Thus, we now have this whole Mercury on display for future generations to appreciate.

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The First Woman In Space Turns 80, And You Probably Never Heard Of Her

“Her flight into space, at age 26, is still the record for youngest female astronaut/cosmonaut. Aboard Vostok 6, her rendezvous with Vostok 5 cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky made them the first cosmonauts aboard different vessels to communicate in space. In cosmonaut history, only Yuri Gagarin and Alexey Leonov are more revered.”

Sally Ride was the first American woman in space, launched aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1983 amidst controversy. At 32, she was the youngest astronaut in history, surrounded by questions such as “will it ruin her reproductive organs,” “what if she’s menstruating” and “will she weep if something goes wrong on the job?” But 20 years prior, cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova proved that women had every bit as much mettle and ability as the men. Tereshkova’s 1963 flight – which she piloted, orbited Earth 48 times in, and even had the first spacecraft-to-spacecraft communication in – demonstrated that women could withstand and function in space just as well as men. She was only 26 at the time, still a global record for women in space. Her incredible life in the military, in politics and as an ambassador for space exploration continues to this day, on which she celebrates her 80th birthday.

Come get the whole story – as much as fits in 200 words – on Valentina Tereshkova as part of today’s Mostly Mute Monday.

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Blue Origin recently revealed the interior of their New Shepard crew capsule which the company hopes to fly next year. New Shepard will carry up to six people on an 11-minute suborbital flight high above Texas.

A computer tablet mounted on the corner of each massive four-foot wide window will provide external and internal camera views, map views, and mission data to each flyer. Each flight will experience around four minutes of weightlessness. The capsule’s interior is sparse, maximising the available space for microgravity acrobatics. 

The entire flight will be monitored by Launch Control on the ground, and there will not be any bulky control equipment. A black table-like structure in the capsule’s center is actually the Launch Escape Motor required in the event of a launch abort.

P/C: Blue Origin

One Year Later

On March 1, 2016, veteran astronaut Scott Kelly returned from his Year in Space mission. In many ways, the adventure was just beginning.

The spaceflight part of the One Year Misson to the International Space Station ended a year ago today, but the science behind it is still moving. Astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko continue to provide samples for the data collection from their ground-breaking mission. Results are expected to to start coming later in 2017, which will help launch humanity on deep space missions.

Kelly not only commanded the International Space Station’s Expedition 46, he participated in spacewalks like this one on Dec. 21, 2015, in which Kelly and astronaut Tim Kopra successfully moved the Space Station’s mobile transporter rail car ahead of the docking of a Russian cargo supply spacecraft.

On the station in 2015, Kelly showed off his home away from home. Scott tweeted this image out with the comment: “My #bedroom aboard #ISS. All the comforts of #home. Well, most of them. #YearInSpace." 

Why was the Year In Space important? As we work to extend our reach beyond low-Earth orbit, how the human body reacts to microgravity for extended periods is of paramount importance. Not only were Kelly and his Russian counterpart monitored throughout the mission, they both continue to submit to tests and monitoring one year later to see if there are any lasting effects from their voyage aboard the station. 

Scott Kelly also a human control here on Earth, his identical twin brother and fellow astronaut Mark Kelly. Both brothers have served aboard the International Space Station, but Scott’s stay was almost twice as long as typical U.S. missions. The continuing investigations are yielding beneficial knowledge on the medical, psychological and biomedical challenges faced by astronauts during long-duration spaceflight.

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The age of human spaceflight began 56 years ago when Yuri Gagarin launched into space aboard Vostok 1. The 27-year-old Gagarin’s flight lasted 108 minutes during which he completed one revolution of the Earth. Upon his return to Earth, Gagarin toured the world as a beloved Hero of the Soviet Union and praised the world over for his historic accomplishment.

Roughly every six weeks or so the ground track of the International Space Station matches up with that of Vostok 1′s at the same time of day that the historic mission flew. This allows astronauts on board the ISS to see the world almost exactly as Gagarin saw it. 

In 2011, ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli filmed the Earth during one of these orbits as part of a film called First Orbit, created by filmmaker Christopher Riley. Audio of Gagarin’s flight and his conversations with ground control are included in real time to simulate the cosmonaut’s historic journey.

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(via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpY9gGWRD0s)

Boeing’s proposals for NASA’s Deep Space Gateway and Deep Space Transport

April 12, 1981 - Nine years following the initial development of the Space Transportation System, OV-102 Columbia launches Astronauts John Young and Bob Crippen on STS-1, the maiden flight of a program that would last 30 years and launch hundreds of Astronauts into low-earth orbit, deploy scientific instruments that have allowed us to see further into the universe than we’ve ever seen before, and build a home in space that continues to provide us important information about how humans live and work in micro-gravity.

STS-1 would launch from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A, and last two days, 6 hours and 20 minutes. Young and Crippen would orbit the Earth 37 times before landing the shuttle at Edwards Air Force Base on April 14th. STS-1 was also the first time Solid Rocket Boosters were used on a NASA spaceflight system for primary thrust.

SpaceX announces two-person mission around the Moon in 2018.

Humans may once again travel from the Earth to the Moon according to the latest announcement by SpaceX. Elon Musk, in a teleconference arranged with less than 24-hours notice, stated Monday afternoon, February 27, that the company intends to send two private citizens on a circumlunar voyage sometime in late 2018.

The week-long mission would see the travelers in a Crew Dragon spacecraft on a free-return trajectory around the Moon, ultimately reaching a distance of 397,600 miles before returning to the Earth. Dragon would launch atop a Falcon Heavy rocket from LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center – the same launch pad where the original Lunar missions departed from in the 1960s and 1970s. 

Musk stated that the individuals, which have not been identified yet, will begin health and fitness training later this year. SpaceX was approached by the two individuals for the mission and placed a “significant deposit” on the flight.

He also did not disclose the exact amount the mission would cost but stated that the individual price of each lunar seat was “on par” with what NASA is currently paying Russia to transport their astronauts to the ISS on Soyuz vehicles. These seats are around $80 million dollars per person per flight.

“I think this should be a really exciting mission that gets the world really excited about sending people into deep space again,” Musk said. “I think it should be super inspirational.”

SpaceX’s goal of a Lunar Dragon flight is within the realm of technical possibility for the company, though there are still significant hurdles to overcome. Crew Dragon’s systems will not require many significant modifications as the capsule was designed for interplanetary travel from the beginning. The PICA-X heat shield is capable of withstanding the intense heat generated upon reentering the Earth’s atmosphere at lunar velocities of 32,000 miles per hour. Only the spacecraft’s communications systems will have to be significantly modified to allow for the greater distance between the spacecraft and receiving stations on the ground.

Falcon Heavy is scheduled to make its first demonstration mission in the summer of 2017, and the first Crew Dragon is slated for an uncrewed flight test later in 2017. Flights with astronauts on board are not planned until March 2018, when the first crewed missions to the International Space Station are scheduled to begin. SpaceX hopes that if this timetable holds, the data and experience gathered through these initial flights into Low Earth Orbit will be sufficient for the circumlunar mission in late 2018.

SpaceX’s announcement has come less than two weeks after NASA’s announcement that the agency is considering adding astronauts to the first flight of its Space launch System rocket in early 2019 on a flight known as Exploration Mission 1. EM-1 will see an Orion capsule make a circumlunar flight on a mission also lasting around a week.

Private citizens paying for flights aboard Crew Dragon has not been publicly considered by SpaceX before, though Musk stated that multiple others have approached the company in recent months for possible trips into space. Musk hinted that the company could take in around 12% of their budget if it sold some flights to public customers.

P/C: SpaceNews

July 11, 1962, Telstar 1 is launched aboard a Thor-Delta rocket at Cape Canaveral. The first live television broadcasts, faxes, and phone calls were delivered through this satellite, ushering in an era of instantaneous data transmissions from all over the world. 

Telstar 1 and it’s nearly identical twin, Telstar 2, were developed in a multinational partnership between NASA, Bell, AT&T, National PTT and GPO (of France and the UK respectively). Telstar weighed 170 pounds, with a diameter of 35 inches, and was covered in solar panels to provide electricity. The size and design of the satellite was limited by the capabilities of the Thor-Delta. The instrumentation carried were simple transponders, requiring massive earth-based receivers to transmit the signals relayed by the satellites.

Telstar 1 would successfully prove telecommunications through satellites before experiencing failure in February 1963, due to increased radiation exposure caused by Cold War nuclear tests at high-altitudes, causing damage to the delicate transistors aboard the craft. Telstar 2 would launch in May of 1963. Subsequent Telstars would be launched in the 1980s and 90s, with the latest, Telstar 19V, scheduled to launch in 2018 on a SpaceX Falcon 9. These newer Telstar satellites are similar to the twins Telstar 1 and 2 in name only.

While not as sexy as the Mercury 7, or as memorable as Sputnik, Telstar 1 and 2 are seminal to the history of modern telecommunications, proving the concept of the communications satellites, without which, life as we are accustomed would not be possible. While non-functioning, both Telstar 1 and 2 continue to orbit the earth. A backup craft to Telstar 1 and 2 is on display at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington DC. 

Also in 1962, The Tornados release an instrumental song that becomes the first UK single to reach #1 on the charts in the US. 

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“BOEING REVEALS ITS NEW SVELTE SPACESUITS”

 Boeing has decided to fashion brand new spacesuits for its upcoming crew spaceflight missions. Their goal was to design a new kind of spacesuit for a new kind of astronaut - an astronaut leading the new business of commercial crewed orbital missions.
 Visually, it is immediate that the suits are designed for mobility thanks to the lightness of the materials used. Looking at the suit, it is evident that the suit is much-reduced in terms of its sheer mass compared to prior suits. This was made possible not only by using lighter materials, but by taking out stuff deemed non-essential for EVA activities (spacewalks).
 Some of the broader new features of the spacesuit include touchscreen gloves and lightweight shoes. Looking closer at the design, some of the more subtle changes emphasize the spacesuit’s need for minimalism and functionality: the slack in the rear and at the knees allow astronauts more convenience in their seated position during launch to the zip across the stomach to prevent bunching when bent at the mid-section.

Read more about this fascinating story at: https://techcrunch.com/2017/04/12/get-up-close-and-personal-with-boeings-svelte-new-spacesuit/

Science in Space!

What science is headed to the International Space Station with Orbital ATK’s cargo resupply launch? From investigations that study magnetic cell culturing to crystal growth, let’s take a look…

Orbital ATK is targeted to launch its Cygnus spacecraft into orbit on April 18, delivering tons of cargo, supplies and experiments to the crew onboard.

Efficacy and Metabolism of Azonafide Antibody-Drug Conjugates in Microgravity Investigation

In microgravity, cancer cells grow in 3-D. Structures that closely resemble their form in the human body, which allows us to better test the efficacy of a drug. This experiment tests new antibody drug conjugates.

These conjugates combine an immune-activating drug with antibodies and target only cancer cells, which could potentially increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy and potentially reduce the associated side-effects. Results from this investigation could help inform drug design for cancer patients, as well as more insight into how microgravity effects a drug’s performance.

Genes in Space

The Genes in Space-2 experiment aims to understand how the regulation of telomeres (protective caps on the tips of chromosomes) can change during spaceflight. Julian Rubinfien, 16-year-old DNA scientist and now space researcher, is sending his experiment to space as part of this investigation. 

3-D Cell Culturing in Space

Cells cultured in space spontaneously grow in 3-D, as opposed to cells cultured on Earth which grow in 2-D, resulting in characteristics more representative of how cells grow and function in living organisms. The Magnetic 3-D Cell Culture for Biological Research in Microgravity investigation will test magnetized cells and tools that may make it easier to handle cells and cell cultures.

This could help investigators improve the ability to reproduce similar investigations on Earth.

SUBSA

The Solidification Using a Baffle in Sealed Ampoules (SUBSA) investigation was originally operated successfully aboard the space station in 2002. 

Although it has been updated with modernized software, data acquisition, high definition video and communications interfaces, its objective remains the same: advance our understanding of the processes involved in semiconductor crystal growth. 

Space Debris

Out-of-function satellites, spent rocket stages and other debris frequently reenter Earth’s atmosphere, where most of it breaks up and disintegrates before hitting the ground. However, some larger objects can survive. The Thermal Protection Material Flight Test and Reentry Data Collection (RED-Data2) investigation will study a new type of recording device that rides alongside of a spacecraft reentering the Earth’s atmosphere. Along the way, it will record data about the extreme conditions it encounters, something scientists have been unable to test on a large scale thus afar.

Understanding what happens to a spacecraft as it reenters the atmosphere could lead to increased accuracy of spacecraft breakup predictions, an improved design of future spacecraft and the development of materials that can resist the extreme heat and pressure of returning to Earth. 

IceCube CubeSat

IceCube, a small satellite known as a CubeSat, will measure cloud ice using an 883-Gigahertz radiometer. Used to predict weather and climate models, IceCube will collect the first global map of cloud-induced radiances. 

The key objective for this investigation is to raise the technology readiness level, a NASA assessment that measures a technology’s maturity level.

Advanced Plant Habitat

Joining the space station’s growing list of facilities is the Advanced Plant Habitat, a fully enclosed, environmentally controlled plant habitat used to conduct plant bioscience research. This habitat integrates proven microgravity plant growth processes with newly-developed technologies to increase overall efficiency and reliability. 

The ability to cultivate plants for food and oxygen generation aboard the space station is a key step in the planning of longer-duration, deep space missions where frequent resupply missions may not be a possibility.

Watch Launch!

Orbital ATK and United Launch Alliance (ULA) are targeting Tuesday, April 18 for launch of the Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station. Liftoff is currently slated for 11 a.m. EST.

Watch live HERE.

You can also watch the launch live in 360! This will be the world’s first live 360-degree stream of a rocket launch. Watch the 360 stream HERE.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

1983 - Aboard OV-099 Challenger, Astronauts Story Musgrave and Don Peterson perform the shuttle program’s first EVA during mission STS-6. One can see clearly the hand-holds integrated into the payload bay for Astronauts to utilize on spacewalks. 

STS-6 was Challenger’s maiden flight, launching 3 days earlier on April 4th. The first Tracking and Data Relay System satellite (TDRS) was also deployed during STS-6.

10 People You Wish You Met from 100 Years of NASA’s Langley

Something happened 100 years ago that changed forever the way we fly. And then the way we explore space. And then how we study our home planet. That something was the establishment of what is now NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Founded just three months after America’s entry into World War I, Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory was established as the nation’s first civilian facility focused on aeronautical research. The goal was, simply, to “solve the fundamental problems of flight.”

From the beginning, Langley engineers devised technologies for safer, higher, farther and faster air travel. Top-tier talent was hired. State-of-the-art wind tunnels and supporting infrastructure was built. Unique solutions were found.

Langley researchers developed the wing shapes still used today in airplane design. Better propellers, engine cowlings, all-metal airplanes, new kinds of rotorcraft and helicopters, faster-than-sound flight - these were among Langley’s many groundbreaking aeronautical advances spanning its first decades.

By 1958, Langley’s governing organization, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or NACA, would become NASA, and Langley’s accomplishments would soar from air into space.

Here are 10 people you wish you met from the storied history of Langley:

Robert R. “Bob” Gilruth (1913–2000) 

  • Considered the father of the U.S. manned space program.
  • He helped organize the Manned Spacecraft Center – now the Johnson Space Center – in Houston, Texas. 
  • Gilruth managed 25 crewed spaceflights, including Alan Shepard’s first Mercury flight in May 1961, the first lunar landing by Apollo 11 in July 1969, the dramatic rescue of Apollo 13 in 1970, and the Apollo 15 mission in July 1971.

Christopher C. “Chris” Kraft, Jr. (1924-) 

  • Created the concept and developed the organization, operational procedures and culture of NASA’s Mission Control.
  • Played a vital role in the success of the final Apollo missions, the first manned space station (Skylab), the first international space docking (Apollo-Soyuz Test Project), and the first space shuttle flights.

Maxime “Max” A. Faget (1921–2004) 

  • Devised many of the design concepts incorporated into all U.S.  manned spacecraft.
  • The author of papers and books that laid the engineering foundations for methods, procedures and approaches to spaceflight. 
  • An expert in safe atmospheric reentry, he developed the capsule design and operational plan for Project Mercury, and made major contributions to the Apollo Program’s basic command module configuration.

Caldwell Johnson (1919–2013) 

  • Worked for decades with Max Faget helping to design the earliest experimental spacecraft, addressing issues such as bodily restraint and mobility, personal hygiene, weight limits, and food and water supply. 
  • A key member of NASA’s spacecraft design team, Johnson established the basic layout and physical contours of America’s space capsules.

William H. “Hewitt” Phillips (1918–2009) 

  • Provided solutions to critical issues and problems associated with control of aircraft and spacecraft. 
  • Under his leadership, NASA Langley developed piloted astronaut simulators, ensuring the success of the Gemini and Apollo missions. Phillips personally conceived and successfully advocated for the 240-foot-high Langley Lunar Landing Facility used for moon-landing training, and later contributed to space shuttle development, Orion spacecraft splashdown capabilities and commercial crew programs.

Katherine Johnson (1918-) 

  • Was one of NASA Langley’s most notable “human computers,” calculating the trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s May 1961 mission, Freedom 7, America’s first human spaceflight. 
  • She verified the orbital equations controlling the capsule trajectory of John Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission from blastoff to splashdown, calculations that would help to sync Project Apollo’s lunar lander with the moon-orbiting command and service module. 
  • Johnson also worked on the space shuttle and the Earth Resources Satellite, and authored or coauthored 26 research reports.

Dorothy Vaughan (1910–2008) 

  • Was both a respected mathematician and NASA’s first African-American manager, head of NASA Langley’s segregated West Area Computing Unit from 1949 until 1958. 
  • Once segregated facilities were abolished, she joined a racially and gender-integrated group on the frontier of electronic computing. 
  • Vaughan became an expert FORTRAN programmer, and contributed to the Scout Launch Vehicle Program.

William E. Stoney Jr. (1925-) 

  • Oversaw the development of early rockets, and was manager of a NASA Langley-based project that created the Scout solid-propellant rocket. 
  • One of the most successful boosters in NASA history, Scout and its payloads led to critical advancements in atmospheric and space science. 
  • Stoney became chief of advanced space vehicle concepts at NASA headquarters in Washington, headed the advanced spacecraft technology division at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, and was engineering director of the Apollo Program Office.

Israel Taback (1920–2008) 

  • Was chief engineer for NASA’s Lunar Orbiter program. Five Lunar Orbiters circled the moon, three taking photographs of potential Apollo landing sites and two mapping 99 percent of the lunar surface. 
  • Taback later became deputy project manager for the Mars Viking project. Seven years to the day of the first moon landing, on July 20, 1976, Viking 1 became NASA’s first Martian lander, touching down without incident in western Chryse Planitia in the planet’s northern equatorial region.

John C Houbolt (1919–2014) 

  • Forcefully advocated for the lunar-orbit-rendezvous concept that proved the vital link in the nation’s successful Apollo moon landing. 
  • In 1963, after the lunar-orbit-rendezvous technique was adopted, Houbolt left NASA for the private sector as an aeronautics, astronautics and advanced-technology consultant. 
  • He returned to Langley in 1976 to become its chief aeronautical scientist. During a decades-long career, Houbolt was the author of more than 120 technical publications.

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53 years ago today (April 12), Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut, became the first human to travel into space and change history, when his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth.

So on April 12, Gagarin, who turned into an international celebrity and hero, is being commemorated for paving the way for future space exploration by the International Day of Human Space Flight (Cosmonautics Day).

I really recommend looking him up. There’s so much to know about him and the history-making flight.

My favourite thing is probably the landing to an unplanned site: A farmer and her daughter observed the strange scene of a figure in a bright orange suit with a large white helmet landing near them by parachute. Gagarin later recalled, “When they saw me in my space suit and the parachute dragging alongside as I walked, they started to back away in fear. I told them, don’t be afraid, I am a Soviet citizen like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow!”

Happy International Day of Human Space Flight!

February 1, 2003 - Following a successful 15 day, 22 hour mission consisting of mostly scientific experiments, Space Shuttle Columbia is destroyed during re-entry over the southwestern United States, resulting in the deaths of her seven crew. 

These were Rick Husband, William McCool, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon.

During the launch of STS-107 on January 16, a piece of foam insulation broke from the external tank, striking the port-side wing and breaching the Reinforced Carbon-Carbon panels that experience some of the most intense heat during re-entry. This was the fatal blow that would prevent Columbia and her crew from returning home at Kennedy.

The loss of Columbia signaled the beginning of the end of the Space Transportation System, and the United States would be left without a manned space vehicle for years to come. 

However, the change brought by the loss of the Shuttle meant a new gap to be filled by the private sector companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, Sierra Nevada Corp, among others, that could focus on the resupply of the ISS with crew and cargo, allowing NASA to shift it’s focus to developing a new crewed vehicle to continue a mission of exploration of our solar system. 

“The cause of which they died will continue. Mankind was led into the darkness beyond our world with the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on.”