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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CPT-USN Eugene A. ‘Gene’ Cernan (14 March 1934 - 16 Jan 2017)

Gemini 9, Apollo 10, and Apollo 17 astronaut, the last man to set foot on the surface of the moon, passed away today at the age of 82. Cernan, a rough, tough Naval Aviator, A-4 jock, became part of NASA Group 3 in 1963. Gemini 9 in June 1966, proved a harrowing experience for Gene, it was one that taught us many invaluable lessons about EVA in space, a crucial step to the moon. Apollo 10 in May 1969, was to be the final test of the LEM ascent and descent stages and of it’s guidance systems from lunar orbit, a vital test flight that paved the way to Apollo 11′s historic first landing later that year. Apollo 17, the last of the historic 6 Apollo Lunar missions, in December 1972, Gene was in role as Commander of the flight, piloting the LEM along side Harrison Schmitt, landing in the mountainous region of the Taurus-Littrow valley. Gene became the last human of only 12 to set foot on the Moon.

sleep well among em’, Gene-o’

January 28th, 1986 - Space Shuttle Challenger explodes and breaks apart 73 seconds into it’s tenth mission, the 25th for the Space Shuttle Program, resulting in the deaths of her seven crew. 

These were Francis R. Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe of the Teacher in Space Program.

As with Apollo 1, Challenger proved that there will always be significant risks to spaceflight, and to those brave enough to risk it all to touch the stars. President Reagan’s speech to a nation in mourning:

“It’s all part of a process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted…it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was putting us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow it.” 

Launching aboard Saturn IB SA-204, the Lunar Module, LM-1, makes its debut flight on January 22, 1968. As with many of the Apollo systems, the Lunar Module, built by Grumman Aircraft, experienced delays in the manufacturing and fabrication process, further delaying the launch that was originally scheduled for April 1967. The success of Apollo 5 in demonstrating the flight worthiness of the LM prompted NASA to cancel the second unmanned flight of the LM. Instead, LM-3 would launch aboard Apollo 9 in March of 1969, the first manned flight of the Lunar Module. Interestingly, SA-204 was originally intended for the first manned flight of the Apollo program, Apollo 1.

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The 2 new upcoming NASA Discovery-Class missions (a category for lower cost missions) announced!  Lucy will visit the Trojan asteroids and Psyche will visit the asteroid Psyche, which appears to be almost entirely made of metal.

March 22, 1982 - OV-102 Columbia embarks on her 3rd flight, STS-3, also marking the third flight of the entirety of the Space Transportation System. STS-3 would continue checking out in-flight systems, ensuring the ship was performing as designed. 

Mission crew for this flight consisted of Jack Lousma as Commander, a Skylab 3 crew member, and Pilot Charles Gordon Fullerton on his first flight to space. 

STS-3 included tests of the Canadarm, as well as exposing parts of the top of the shuttle to the sun for thermal testing. It was discovered that thermal expansion slightly warped the payload bay doors, preventing them from closing. The fix was to roll the shuttle to prevent sunlight from being focused on any one area. A number of experiments were carried out with emphasis on the environment of LEO on a Spacelab pallet in the payload bay. 

Columbia landed at White Sands Space Harbor, New Mexico 8 days later, after her primary landing site at Edwards Air Force Base was flooded. This would be the only time a shuttle would land at White Sands in it’s 30 year career. 

The Mercury-Redstone Launch Vehicle would be America’s first step in achieving space-faring status. Like other early rockets, the Mercury-Redstone was derived from a ballistic missile design, the PGM-11 Redstone. 

The PGM-11 Redstone became America’s first nuclear armed Short Range Ballistic Missile for defense in West Germany and Europe during the Cold War, from 1958 to 1964. Under Chief Designer Wernher von Braun, the Restone Missile (a descendant of the V-2) was also developed at Huntsville, Alabama at the Redstone Arsenal under the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA), for which the missile was named. It first launched successfully in 1953. 

Variants of the Redstone Missile include Jupiter-A, Jupiter-C, and Juno-1. Juno-I would be the launch vehicle for the United State’s first satellite - Explorer I, in January 1958 in response to the USSR’s launch of Sputnik, three months earlier. 

The Redstone platform would be used as the initial launch vehicle for the American space program’s Project Mercury. The Jupiter-C, with it’s elongated fuselage, carried enough fuel to bring the capsule to the edge of space, burning liquid oxygen and ethyl alcohol for 143 seconds through a Rocketdyne A-7 engine. The first flights of Project Mercury carried empty capsules, followed by Ham the Chimpanzee, and subsequently the first American in space, Alan Shepard aboard Freedom 7, in May 1961.

Shepard would be followed by Gus Grissom two months later, aboard Liberty Bell 7.

The Mercury-Redstone would no longer be used to launch Astronauts following Grissom’s flight. But the design of the Redstone would prove enduring. The Saturn I rocket, initially developed by the ABMA and used for NASA’s Apollo program, used a cluster of Redstone tanks making up the first stage of the the I and IB of the Saturn family of rockets.

The Redstone, as a missile, would serve the Army until 1964, when it was replaced by the MGM-31 Pershing missile. However, surplus rockets would continue to be used, including to launch Australia’s first satellite, WRESAT, in November 1967. 

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Apollo CM/LM docking assemblies.

The LEM was designed to act as a passive target when docking with the CSM. Once the probe has ‘hooked’ on to the drogue of the LM, the probe retracts, this establishes what is known as a hard-dock. The crew checks that all 12 of the latches in the docking ring are secured to ensure the integrity of the seal. The forward crew transfer hatch allows for the gradual equalization of pressure between the CM and LM. Finally, when equalization is complete, hatch, probe, and drogue are removed and stowed, then crew opens LM’s upper hatch.

March 16th, 1966 - Gemini VIII launches Astronauts David Scott and Neil Armstrong for a three-day mission with the intention of rendezvous with an Agena target vehicle launched earlier. A 2-hour EVA was also planned for Scott, but was scrubbed after the first docking of the Gemini with Agena, following an emergency that cut short Gemini 8′s flight.

After a successful docking procedure, and being out of range of ground communications, Scott noted the combined Gemini and Agena began to yaw. After corrections made by Armstrong using the OAMS thrusters, the yawing would begin again. Following orders given to them before the communications blackout by the ground team at Mission Control, Gemini 8 undocked from the Agena to prevent damage to either spacecraft. This led to Gemini 8 tumbling uncontrollably, and Armstrong resorting to using the reentry thruster in an attempt to control the craft. 

After steadying the craft and testing each maneuvering thruster, it was discovered that thruster 8 had been stuck. As per mission rules, any time the reentry thrusters are used for anything but reentry is an automatic mission abort. No direct cause was found, but an electrical malfunction is attributed to the failure of the on/off switch on for the number 8 thruster, flowing electricity though even in the off-position. 

Originally meant to land in the Atlantic Ocean, Scott and Armstrong stayed on board Gemini for one more orbit to allow for easier recovery in the Pacific by the secondary recovery team. The recovery of Scott and Armstrong was routine, with the exception of having to land on the other side of the Earth.

Gemini 8 is on display at the Neil Armstrong Air & Space Museum in  Wapakoneta, Ohio, Neil Armstrong’s birthplace.

“And in December, while I do not regard our mastery of space as anywhere near complete, while I recognize that there are still areas where we are behind — at least in one area, the size of the booster — this year I hope the United States will be ahead.”

From President John F. Kennedy’s speech at the Dedication of the Aerospace Medical Health Center in San Antonio, November 21, 1963.

President Kennedy regarded the success of the Saturn I SA-5 heavy booster, a major milestone to the mighty Saturn V, as the moment where the United States would overtake the lead the USSR has held since the launch of Sputnik, in October 1957. 

The President would be assassinated the following day. The first Saturn I SA-5 would successfully launch on January 29th, 1964.