spaceflight

Take a Virtual Tour of NASA

Welcome to NASA! Today, we’re taking you behind-the-scenes for a virtual tour looking at our cutting-edge work and humanity’s destiny in deep space!

Starting at 1:30 p.m., we will host a series of Facebook Live events from each of our 10 field centers across the country. Take a look at where we’ll be taking you…

Glenn Research Center
1:30 p.m. EDT

Our Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, OH will host a tour of its Electric Propulsion Lab. This lab is where we test solar propulsion technologies that are critical to powering spacecraft for our deep-space missions. The Electric Propulsion Laboratory houses two huge vacuum chambers that simulate the space environment.

Marshall Space Flight Center
1:50 p.m. EDT

Our Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL will host a tour from a Marshall test stand where structural loads testing is performed on parts of our Space Launch System rocket. Once built, this will be the world’s most powerful rocket and will launch humans farther into space than ever before.

Stennis Space Center
2:10 p.m. EDT

Our Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, MS will take viewers on a tour of their test stands to learn about rocket engine testing from their Test Control Center.

Armstrong Flight Research Center
2:30 p.m. EDT 

Our Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, CA will host a tour from their aircraft hangar and Simulator Lab where viewers can learn about our X-Planes program. What’s an X-Plane? They are a variety of flight demonstration vehicles that are used to test advanced technologies and revolutionary designs.

Johnson Space Center
2:50 p.m. EDT

Our Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX will take viewers on a virtual exploration trip through the mockups of the International Space Station and inside our deep-space exploration vehicle, the Orion spacecraft!

Ames Research Center
3:10 p.m. EDT

Our Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley will bring viewers into its Arc Jet Facility, a plasma wind tunnel used to simulate the extreme heat of spacecraft atmospheric entry.

Kennedy Space Center
3:30 p.m. EDT

Our Kennedy Space Center in Florida will bring viewers inside the Vehicle Assembly Building to learn about how we’re preparing for the first launch of America’s next big rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.

Langley Research Center
3:50 p.m. EDT

Our Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia will bring viewers inside its 14-by-22-foot wind tunnel, where aerodynamic projects are tested.

Goddard Space Flight Center
4:10 p.m. EDT

Our Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD will discuss the upcoming United States total solar eclipse and host its tour from the Space Weather Lab, a large multi-screen room where data from the sun is analyzed and studied.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory
4:30 p.m. EDT

Our Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA will bring viewers to the Spacecraft Assembly Facility to learn about robotic exploration of the solar system.

So, make sure to join us for all or part of our virtual tour today, starting at 1:30 p.m. EDT! Discover more about the work we’re doing at NASA and be sure to ask your questions in the comment section of each Facebook Live event! 

Additional details and viewing information available HERE

Make sure to follow us 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.

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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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

May 15th, 1963 - Gordon Cooper launches aboard Mercury-Atlas 9, Faith 7, and is the last astronaut to fly to space under Project Mercury.

Faith 7’s mission was one of durability and stamina, in order to try and catch up with the Soviets, which had longer lasting missions following Yuri Gagarin’s Vostock 1, whereas the Mercury flights lasted only a few hours. (Thank you to YuriGagarinOfficial for catching my mistake!) 

Gordon Cooper would orbit the Earth 22 times in a mission that lasted over 34 hours before being picked up by the USS Kearsarge in the Pacific Ocean. This would be the last time an American Astronaut would orbit the Earth solo. Cooper’s capsule, Faith 7, is currently on display at Space Center Houston.

Project Mercury would be succeeded by Project Gemini, publicly announced in January 1962.

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

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. 

Ever want to ask a real life astronaut a question? Here’s your chance!

Astronaut Jeanette Epps will be taking your questions in an Answer Time session on Friday, May 5 from 10am - 11am ET here on NASA’s Tumblr. See the questions she’s answered by visiting nasa.tumblr.com/tagged/answertime!

NASA astronaut Jeanette J. Epps (Ph.D.) was selected as an astronaut in 2009. She has been assigned to her first spaceflight, which is scheduled to launch in May 2018. Her training included scientific and technical briefings, intensive instruction in International Space Station systems, spacewalk training, robotics, T‐38 flight training and wilderness survival training.

Before becoming an astronaut, Epps worked as a Technical Intelligence Officer at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Born in Syracuse, New York. Enjoys traveling, reading, running, mentoring, scuba diving and family.

She has a Bachelor of Science in Physics from LeMoyne College, as well as a Master of Science and Doctorate of Philosophy in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland. 

Follow Jeanette on Twitter at @Astro_Jeanette and follow NASA on Tumblr for your regular dose of space.

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.

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(via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-Vm7Vt-F0Q)

Kennedy Space Center’s progress this week!  Not seen here is that the LETF (Launch Equipment Test Facility) has been proving the umbilical arms can handle the speed and stresses they will be exposed to.  A hydraulic lift simulates the upward movement of the SLS as it lifts up and away from the umbilicals.  Other testing includes ensuring they retract properly if any parts fail and do not cause any damage to the rocket.

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NASA’s Idea For A Space Station In Lunar Orbit Takes Humanity Nowhere

“It’s a great way to spend a great deal of money, advancing science and humanity in no appreciable way. Instead, why not learn the lessons from humanity’s greatest successes? Don’t look at the technology you’ve already developed and ask, “what can we do with it?” Look at the goal you want to achieve and ask, “what will it take to accomplish this?"”

It’s been more than 40 years since humans last set foot on the Moon. The final space shuttle flight occurred six years ago already, and the International Space Station is set to reach the end of its life a few years from now. At the 33rd Space Symposium last month, NASA announced their new, bold plan for crewed spaceflight: a crewed space station that orbits the Moon. While this has the cost advantages of utilizing systems that have already been designed and, in some cases, built, it represents a failure of imagination, vision, and scientific goals. As a result, we’ll be no closer to returning to the Moon, exploring Mars, capturing an asteroid, or any other actual goal we may have.

If we want to accomplish something great, it’s up to us to at least attempt it. We need NASA to share that same vision!