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All-female space walk a starry-eyed achievement: The Statesman – The Straits Times

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NEW DELHI (THE STATESMAN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – It is a starry-eyed achievement almost literally.

Christina Koch and Jessica Meir, two NASA astronauts, have crafted space history by embarking on what they call the first all-female space walk.

Tasked with replacing a failed power control unit, their performance has been decidedly spectacular as they floated feet-first out of the International Space Station’s (ISS) Quest airlock on Friday (Oct 18).

The spacewalk, known as an extra-vehicular activity (EVA) in the jargon of astronauts, took place seven months after the originally scheduled date for an “all-female outing”, which had to be dropped because the ISS had only one medium-sized spacesuit on board.

The agency sent up a second medium spacesuit in October.

From space to ground zero, the happiest thought at the moment must be that both the achievement and empowerment of women are now manifest in the rarified atmosphere of space.

Very appropriately has the significance of the spacewalk been summed up by Christina: “I think it’s important because of the historical nature of what we’re doing,” she said ahead of the spacewalk.

“In the past, women haven’t always been at the table. It’s wonderful to be contributing to the space programme at a time when all contributions are being accepted, when everyone has a role. That can lead in turn to increased chance for success.”

On closer reflection, more than the space-walk, it is the assignment that is historic to fix a failed power control unit.

Previously, 14 women and 213 men had carried out spacewalks. The first woman was the Russian cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya, who went outside the USSR’s Salyut 7 space station in 1984.

Video footage from the astronauts’ helmet cameras, as they dangled 260 miles above Earth, provided a live stream of the painstaking operation to carry the new hardware, install it and then return the faulty battery to the airlock for a postmortem back on Earth into why it failed.

Their work in space will, therefore, be followed up by the labs on Earth.

Exceptional must be the projected coordination between space science and pure science as the world knows it.

At 40, Christina is due to remain on the ISS until February, bringing her total time in space to 328 days, the longest single spaceflight by a woman and just short of Scott Kelly’s 340-day record.

Researchers are collecting extensive biomedical data on the impact of spaceflight on her system.

The majority of data available is on male astronauts, but there is some evidence that there are sex differences in response to a space environment.

One study found that women are more likely than men to suffer faintness as a result of “orthostatic hypotension”, a cardiovascular issue.

Men appear more prone to vision changes caused by spaceflight associated neuroocular syndrome (Sans).

A flight to space has a lot to bear on human health. The contretemps notwithstanding, NASA has reached a milestone.

The Statesman is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media entities.

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NASA: Boeing Spaceflights Are Way Pricier Than SpaceX – Futurism

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Pricey Ticket

According to a recent report by NASA’s inspector general, the projected seat price for sending an astronaut to the International Space Station is 60 percent higher on board Boeing’s Starliner than on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft — about $90 million and $55 million, respectively.

Surprisingly, Boeing’s price is actually more than what Russia’s space corporation Roscosmos currently charges to send American astronauts to the space station on board a Soyuz spacecraft, as Ars Technica points out. Since 2017, NASA had to pay Russia an average of $79.7 mission per seat.

Boeing has been pressing NASA for additional funding for a number of years, trying to secure far more money for crewed missions than what NASA and Boeing had previously agreed upon, Ars Technica reports.

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NASA’s report also revealed that Boeing not only is charging more per ticket than SpaceX, but the development turned out to be far more expensive as well. According to the report, Boeing asked NASA for an additional $287.2 million in 2016, while “SpaceX was not provided the same opportunity as Boeing to propose a solution.”

And yet NASA kept Boeing on as a “second crew transportation provider” to keep its options open.

The report also mentions the difficulties each contractor is facing in developing a sustainable and safe method of sending American astronauts to the space station. SpaceX’s efforts in developing its Crew Dragon spacecraft hit a major roadblock when the company’s testing capsule exploded in a ball of smoke back in April.

READ MORE: NASA report finds Boeing seat prices are 60% higher than SpaceX [Ars Technica]

More on Boeing and SpaceX: Here’s Why Elon Musk is Feuding With the Head of NASA

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Astronauts start spacewalk series to fix cosmic ray detector

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Astronauts launched an extraordinarily complicated series of spacewalks Friday to fix a cosmic ray detector at the International Space Station.

Armed with dozens of dissecting tools, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano removed two protective covers to gain access to the inside of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. He handed them to his U.S. spacewalking partner, American Andrew Morgan, for tossing overboard.

“OK, 3-2-1, release,” Morgan said as he let go of the 4-foot-long (127-centimetre) shield high above the Pacific.

Later, over the South Atlantic, Morgan ditched the second, smaller cover. “Another great pitch,” Mission Control radioed.

These latest pieces of space junk pose no danger to the orbiting lab, according to NASA. The larger shield should remain in orbit a year or so before re-entering the atmosphere and burning up. The smaller one should re-enter in a few weeks.

NASA considers these spacewalks the most difficult since the Hubble Space Telescope repairs a few decades ago. Unlike Hubble, the spectrometer was never meant to undergo space surgery. After 8 1/2 years in orbit, its cooling system is almost dead.

Parmitano and Morgan will go out at least four times this month and next to revitalize the instrument. Their second spacewalk is next Friday.

Delivered to orbit by Endeavour in 2011 on the next-to-last space shuttle flight, the $2 billion spectrometer is hunting for elusive antimatter and dark matter.

It’s already studied more than 148 billion charged cosmic rays. That’s more than what was collected in over a century by high-altitude balloons and small satellites, said lead scientist Samuel Ting, a Nobel laureate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He monitored Friday’s 6 1/2-hour spacewalk from Mission Control in Houston.

The huge spectrometer — 16 feet by 13 feet by 10 feet (5 metres by 4 metres by 3 metres), with a mass of 7 1/2 tons (6,800 kilograms) — was designed to operate for three years. By installing four new and improved coolant pumps, the astronauts can keep it working throughout the life of the space station, or another five to 10 years. The replacement pumps arrived at the space station nearly two weeks ago, along with an assortment of new tools.

Parmitano, the lead spacewalker, and Morgan trained extensively for the plumbing job before rocketing into orbit in July. They hustled through Friday’s cover removals and even got a jump on future chores.

Next week’s spacewalk will involve slicing through stainless steel tubes and splicing in connections for the new pumps, which like the old will use liquid carbon dioxide as the coolant.

In some respects, this work, 250 miles (400 kilometres) up, is even trickier than the Hubble spacewalks, said NASA project manager Ken Bollweg. As before, the stakes are high.

“Any time you do heart surgery you’re taking some risks,” Bollweg said in an interview earlier this week.

Morgan is an emergency physician in the Army — a bonus for this kind of intricate work. He’s making his first spaceflight.

For second-time station resident Parmitano, it marked his return to spacewalking following a close call in 2013. He almost drowned when his helmet flooded with water from the cooling system of his spacesuit. Unable to talk because of the rising water, he managed to keep his cool as he made his way back to the safe confines of the space station.

Marcia Dunn, The Associated Press

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NASA overpaid Boeing by hundreds of millions of dollars: Auditor – Hindustan Times

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NASA “overpaid” Boeing by hundreds of millions of dollars on a fixed contract to develop a spaceship to carry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), an audit report has said, compensation it called “unnecessary.”

The US has relied on Russia to transport its crews to the ISS since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, but has hired Boeing and SpaceX under multi-billion dollar contracts, with the two companies already two years behind schedule.

“We found that NASA agreed to pay an additional $287.2 million above Boeing’s fixed prices to mitigate a perceived 18-month gap in ISS flights anticipated in 2019,” the inspector general’s report issued Thursday said.

“We question $187 million of these price increases as unnecessary costs,” it added.

The auditors determined the amount of additional spending was not required because the risk of such a gap occurring was minimal, and SpaceX was not provided an opportunity to propose a solution “even though the company previously offered shorter production lead times than Boeing.”

What’s more, NASA failed to consider in their analysis that they could overcome any perceived gap by purchasing more seats either directly from Russia or from Boeing.

In fact, five days after NASA committed to paying the $287.2 million, Boeing proposed to sell NASA five seats on the Russian spacecraft Soyuz during the same mission period, a sale completed for an additional $373.5 million, the report found.

But the report’s authors added: “We acknowledge the benefit of hindsight and appreciate the pressures faced by NASA managers at the time to keep the program on schedule to the extent possible.”

The Commercial Crew Program has been beset by delays as the two companies face technical and safety challenges.

As of May 2019, Boeing and SpaceX’s contracts were valued at $4.3 billion and $2.5 billion, with each company awarded six round-trip missions to the ISS.

Assuming four astronauts per flight, the inspector general estimated average cost per seat at $90 million for Boeing and $55 million for SpaceX.

NASA contested the findings, saying in a written response that “We do not agree that the dollar amounts cited were questionable, unnecessary, or unreasonable.”

The report was also a blow for Boeing, which is in the midst of one of the most serious crises in its history following the grounding of its 737 MAX airplanes after two recent crashes killed 346 people.

The aerospace giant has come under fire by critics who allege it rushed the plane’s production to match its Airbus competitor, compromising safety.

Responding to the report, Boeing defended its extra billing to NASA saying it offered “additional flexibility and schedule resiliency.”

It also contested that its average cost per seat was $90 million, saying the actual value was “significantly less” but declined to give a price.

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