spaceflight

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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!

An illustrated timeline of spacesuit design.

Some incredible Redditors have compiled a visual timeline of spacesuits designed for use in the space program. The chart includes both Soviet, Russian and American space suits as well as technology demonstrators, prototype, and  other suits that didn’t actually make it into space.

Check out the full-sized image here.

Interestingly enough, the G5C suit used on Gemini 8 isn’t included on here, although its immediate two predecessors are. Those were modified G3C suits and only used on that mission. Additionally, the Apollo A1C suit, a modified Gemini G3C, is not included either. That was to be used for the ill-fated Apollo 1 and cancelled Apollo 5 crewed missions.

Luca on camera

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano uses a digital still camera during a spacewalk as work continues on the International Space Station. A little more than one hour into the sortie on 16 July, Luca reported water floating inside his helmet. The water was not an immediate health hazard for Luca, but NASA Mission Control decided to end the spacewalk early. Both astronauts are well, and the cause of the leak is still being investigated.

Image credit: NASA/ESA

It was a busy week in spaceflight and many amazing things happened:

  • December 1st, Russia launched new-generation navigation satellite GLONASS-K (Global Navigation Satellite System) into orbit (x)
  • December 2nd, a Japanese (JAXA) launcher blasted off, dispatching Hayabusa 2 probe, a daring six-year expedition to bring a piece of an asteroid back to Earth (x)
  • December 5th, NASA launched Orion’s spaceship designed to carry astronauts far beyond Earth, setting up the possibility of human exploration of Mars (x)
  • December 6th, European Space Agency’s Ariane-5 carrier rocket launched with two telecommunications satellites, one to beam down ultra-sharp television programming into millions of American homes and another craft to give Indian citizens expanded access to information technology (x)

Rocket Science - NASA is going open source, releasing a treasure trough of software for the aspiring rocket scientist. Everything from the Apollo lunar lander guidance system software to star tracker algorithms is up for grabs, license/royalty free. The release is part of a Presidential directive for all agencies to release their work and encourage others to build on it.

This NASA software catalog will list more than 1,000 projects, and it will show you how to actually obtain the code you want. The idea to help hackers and entrepreneurs push these ideas in new directions — and help them dream up new ideas. Some code is only available to certain people — the rocket guidance system, for instance — but if you can get it, you can use it without paying royalties or copyright fees.

Within a few weeks of publishing the list, NASA says, it will also offer a searchable database of projects, and then, by next year, it will host the actual software code in its own online repository, a kind of GitHub for astronauts.

It’s all part of a White House-directed push to open up the federal government, which is the country’s largest creator of public domain code, but also a complete laggard when it comes to sharing software. Three years ago, President Obama ordered federal agencies to speed up tech transfer programs like this. 

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50 years ago Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space. Initially both Vostok 5 and 6, which flew at the same time, would be piloted by women. Tereshkova would pilot Vostok 5 and Valentina Ponomaryova  Vostok 6. However, due to changes in the Sovjet Spaceflight program, Vostok 5 was flown by Bykovsky and Vostok 6 by Tereshkova. She would remain the only woman to have been in orbit for another 19 years.

MAVEN spacecraft launches to Mars

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft launches aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41, Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 1:28 p.m. EST on Monday, Nov. 18, 2013.

MAVEN is the first spacecraft devoted to exploring and understanding the Martian upper atmosphere. The trip to Mars takes 10 months, and MAVEN will go into orbit around Mars in September 2014.

Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Badass Scientist of the Week: Valentina Tereshkova

Valentina Tereshkova (1937–) is a Soviet cosmonaut, an engineer, and the first woman to fly in space. Born to a tractor driver and a textile plant worker in the Yaroslavl Region of Russia, Tereshkova left school at 17 to work as a textile factory assembly worker and continue her education by correspondence. She was also a keen amateur skydiver through the DOSAAF Aviation Club in Yaroslavl. Tereshkova made her first jump in May 1959 at age 22, and two years later in April 1961, the Soviet Union launched Vostok 1, aboard which was Yuri Gagarin: the first man in space. 

In early 1962, the Soviet Union recruited 50 new cosmonauts into their Vostok program—with 5 women among them, in an attempt to beat the Americans. Piloting experience wasn’t needed, but after re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, the pilot of the Vostok spacecraft would be ejected to make a landing by parachute. Thanks to her parachuting expertise, Tereshkova was selected. She was the least qualified of the 5 women, who were test pilots, engineers, and world-class parachutists, but after intensive training—weightless flights, centrifuge and isolation tests, spacecraft engineering, parachute jumps and pilot training—Tereshkova was in the final two candidates: herself and Ponomaryova. 

At first it was planned that Tereshkova would launch first in Vostok 5 and Ponomaryova would follow in Vostok 6, but the plan was scrapped in early 1963; instead, a male cosmonaut flew Vostok 5, and Tereshkova flew in Vostok 6. She was 26 years old. 

She spent 70.8 hours in space, making 48 orbits of the Earth, and with one single flight she logged more flight time than all previous American astronauts put together. She also conducted experiments on the effects of space on the human body and took photos that helped identify aerosols in the atmosphere. 

After her return to Earth, Tereshkova never flew again, but studied engineering at the Zhukovsky Air Force Academy and eventually obtained her PhD in 1977. She also became a prominent politician, served on international councils and spoke at international conferences, played a critical role in socialist women’s issues, and was awarded with the USSR’s highest honour, the Hero of the Soviet Union medal, along with many other awards. 

After Tereshkova, it took 19 years until another woman flew to space: another Soviet cosmonaut, Svetlana Savitskaya. A year after that in 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. Of the 536 people who have flown in space to date, only 10% of them have been women. 

Tereshkova also married astronaut Andrian Nikolayev. Their daughter, Elena, was the first person whose parents had both flown in space. 

On her 70th birthday, Tereshkova said that if she had a chance, she would like to fly to Mars even if it was only a one-way trip, showing she still retains her pioneering spirit to this day.

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Mostly Mute Monday: A final view from the Moon

“From December 11th to the 14th, 1972, astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt set foot on the lunar surface, becoming the last two human beings to do so as part of the Apollo program.”

It’s been nearly 43 years since humans have set foot on the Moon, and yet we’ve never forgotten what it looks like. Yet nothing that anyone can describe – either about what it was like or what we’ve done while we were there – can take the place of what our final, highest-at-the-time resolution views can tell us. Go experience the whole thing for yourself.

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Crew Dragon pad abort test - from the capsule’s perspective.

SpaceX has released incredible onboard footage from the crew Dragon pad abort test earlier this month.

Three cameras were used to compile the video; one mounted on the north-facing side of the capsule, just above a SuperDraco engine, one looking upwards just below the parachute compartment, and one looking sideways to the right of the trunk/capsule umbilical connector.

Of particular interest to see is the structure of the forward portion of the trunk compartment and the structural connections to the capsule.

Additionally, the cameras also recorded sound during the 90 second test. The full video can be seen here.

Click here for our pad abort coverage.

Space is Hard - After 13 years, John Carmack’s Armadillo Aerospace calls it quits. The space startup has laid off all full-time staff, and John himself has stated he does not intend to invest any more of his own money. Started in 2000, the company was aimed at developing suborbital space tourism capabilities, but now it looks like it won’t make it.

One day after speaking at the QuakeCon in Dallas, John Carmack—the famed video game designer and space entrepreneur—confirmed to Ars that he’s “winding down” his company, Armadillo Aerospace. The private space company began in 2000, and eventually began doing contract work for NASA, but it turned to developing reusable rockets in recent years. “I laid off most of the full-time employees,” Carmack told Ars on Friday.

“[We have a few doing some] minor part-time hours, and there’s one guy still on there. We still have the building, and I own materials there, and I don’t have the funding to continue development.” He said that he’d spent over $1 million a year of his own money to fund the company, which will now be cut significantly. “I’m spending [somewhere] in the couple hundred thousand [dollar range], we still have to pay accountants, lawyers, and pay for insurance. We’re talking to people and we hope that some money shows up, but if not we’ll wind down even further.”

I do hope that the Armadillo will come back from hibernation at some point in the future, but if nothing else this does illustrate the point that it is rocket science after all.

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Now, few of my own illustrations to show the future of the ISS!  With the success of the Commercial Cargo program, bringing SpaceX’s Dragon and Orbital’s Cygnus spacecraft to the station, the Commercial Crew program is set to bring the US back to manned spaceflight to the ISS.  To this end, in 2015, the station was reconfigured to allow for 2 berthed cargo vehicles, while converting the 2 Space Shuttle PMAs (Pressurized Mating Adapter) to NASA Docking Standard ports with support for autonomous docking.

With SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft servicing the station, station crew capacity will be extended to 7.  The International Space Station has proven to be an excellent place to validate and test new spacecraft, serving as the testbed for ATV, HTV, Dragon and Cygnus while looking to do the same for CST-100 and Crew Dragon in 2017.

Meanwhile, the orbiting outpost will play a role in validating new spaceflight technology.  In 2015, the Bigelow Aerospace BEAM (Bigelow Expandable Activity Module) will be flown to the station.  This technology, based on the cancelled NASA Transhab, will be validated by astronauts on-orbit.  Using expandable modules, future space stations can be built for a fraction of the cost of ISS while gaining large amounts of living space.  Other experiments on orbit include micro satellite servicing and deployment and the testing of small reentry vehicles from a proposed small airlock.

As the station’s future has now been all but completely extended to 2024 (awaiting Japanese and European approval), and the possibility of use until 2028, the question arises of what will succeed it after the station’s lifetime is complete and it is de-orbited.  Current NASA dialog suggests a similar arrangement to the commercial programs whereby NASA would purchase space on a commercial space station as an “anchor client” while purchasing commercial rides to reach them.