CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The two astronauts who will end a nine-year launch drought for NASA arrived at Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday, exactly one week before their historic SpaceX flight.
It will be the first time a private company, rather than a national government, sends astronauts into orbit.
NASA test pilots Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken flew to Florida from their home base in Houston aboard one of the space agency’s jets.
“It’s an incredible time for NASA and the space program, once again launching U.S. crews from Florida and hopefully in just a week from about right now,” Hurley told reporters minutes after arriving.
Hurley was one of the four astronauts who arrived at Kennedy on July 4, 2011, for the final space shuttle flight, “so it’s incredibly humbling to be here to start out the next launch from the United States.”
“We feel it as an opportunity but also a responsibility for the American people, for the SpaceX team, for all of NASA,” Behnken added.
The two are scheduled to blast off next Wednesday afternoon atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, bound for the International Space Station. They’ll soar from the same pad where Atlantis closed out the shuttle program in 2011, the last home launch for NASA astronauts.
Since then, the only way to the space station for astronauts has been on Russian rockets launched from Kazakhstan.
Hurley and Behnken still don’t know how long they’ll spend at the space station: anywhere between one and four months. Only one American is up there right now – astronaut Chris Cassidy – and could use a hand. Hurley said he got an email from Cassidy on Tuesday night in which he wrote that “he’s looking forward to seeing our ugly mugs on board.”
Greeting the astronauts at Kennedy’s former shuttle landing strip were the centre’s director, former shuttle commander Robert Cabana, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
“You really are a bright light for all of America right now,” Bridenstine told them.
The welcoming committee was reduced drastically in size because of the coronavirus pandemic. There were no handshakes for the astronauts, who did not wear masks but kept their distance at separate microphones. Cabana and Bridenstine wore masks except while addressing the crowd; so did the approximately 20 journalists standing more than 20 feet (6 metres) away.
During these tough times, Bridenstine said, “this is a moment when we can all look and be inspired as to what the future holds.”
NASA’s commercial crew program has been years in the making. Boeing, the competing company, isn’t expected to launch its first astronauts until next year.
As the trailblazers, Hurley and Behnken are establishing new prelaunch traditions. They shared two at Bridenstine’s request Wednesday.
Hurley, a former Marine and fighter pilot, followed military tradition and put a mission sticker on the SpaceX flight simulator in Houston on Tuesday, after completing training. Behnken, an Air Force colonel, followed Russian custom and planted a tree. He had help back home from his wife, who’s also an astronaut, and their 6-year-old son.
“My son will always have that lemon tree that he was a part of planting,” Behnken said. “Hopefully, it makes it through Houston’s hot summer this year and becomes a tradition for some other folks as well.”
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
China launches mission to bring back material from moon – Red Deer Advocate
WENCHANG, China — China launched an ambitious mission on Tuesday to bring back rocks and debris from the moon’s surface for the first time in more than 40 years — an undertaking that could boost human understanding of the moon and of the solar system more generally.
Chang’e 5 — named for the Chinese moon goddess — is the country’s boldest lunar mission yet. If successful, it would be a major advance for China’s space program, and some experts say it could pave the way for bringing samples back from Mars or even a crewed lunar mission.
The four modules of the Chang’e 5 spacecraft blasted off at just after 4:30 a.m. Tuesday (2030 GMT Monday, 3:30 p.m. EST Monday) atop a massive Long March-5Y rocket from the Wenchang launch centre along the coast of the southern island province of Hainan.
Minutes after liftoff, the spacecraft separated from the rocket’s first and second stages and slipped into Earth-moon transfer orbit. About an hour later, Chang’e 5 opened its solar panels to provide its independent power source.
Spacecraft typically take three days to reach the moon.
The launch was carried live by national broadcaster CCTV which then switched to computer animation to show its progress into outer space.
The mission’s key task is to drill 2 metres (almost 7 feet) beneath the moon’s surface and scoop up about 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of rocks and other debris to be brought back to Earth, according to NASA. That would offer the first opportunity for scientists to study newly obtained lunar material since the American and Russian missions of the 1960s and 1970s.
The Chang’e 5 lander’s time on the moon is scheduled to be short and sweet. It can only stay one lunar daytime, or about 14 Earth days, because it lacks the radioisotope heating units to withstand the moon’s freezing nights.
The lander will dig for materials with its drill and robotic arm and transfer them to what’s called an ascender, which will lift off from the moon and dock with the service capsule. The materials will then be moved to the return capsule to be hauled back to Earth.
The technical complexity of Chang’e 5, with its four components, makes it “remarkable in many ways,” said Joan Johnson-Freese, a space expert at the U.S. Naval War College.
“China is showing itself capable of developing and successfully carrying out sustained high-tech programs, important for regional influence and potentially global partnerships,” she said.
In particular, the ability to collect samples from space is growing in value, said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Other countries planning to retrieve material from asteroids or even Mars may look to China’s experience, he said.
While the mission is “indeed challenging,” McDowell said China has already landed twice on the moon with its Chang’e 3 and Chang’e 4 missions, and showed with a 2014 Chang’e 5 test mission that it can navigate back to Earth, re-enter and land a capsule. All that’s left is to show it can collect samples and take off again from the moon.
“As a result of this, I’m pretty optimistic that China can pull this off,” he said.
The mission is among China’s boldest since it first put a man in space in 2003, becoming only the third nation to do so after the U.S. and Russia.
Chang’e 5 and future lunar missions aim to “provide better technical support for future scientific and exploration activities,” Pei Zhaoyu, mission spokesperson and deputy director of the Chinese National Space Administration’s Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center told reporters at a Monday briefing.
“Scientific needs and technical and economic conditions” would determine whether China decides to send a crewed mission to the moon, said Pei, whose comments were embargoed until after the launch. “I think future exploration activities on the moon are most likely to be carried out in a human-machine combination.”
While many of China’s crewed spaceflight achievements, including building an experimental space station and conducting a spacewalk, reproduce those of other countries from years past, the CNSA is now moving into new territory.
Chang’e 4 — which made the first soft landing on the moon’s relatively unexplored far side almost two years ago — is currently collecting full measurements of radiation exposure from the lunar surface, information vital for any country that plans to send astronauts to the moon.
China in July became one of three countries to have launched a mission to Mars, in China’s case an orbiter and a rover that will search for signs of water on the red planet. The CNSA says the spacecraft Tianwen 1 is on course to arrive at Mars around February.
China has increasingly engaged with foreign countries on missions, and the European Space Agency will be providing important ground station information for Chang’e 5.
U.S. law, however, still prevents most collaborations with NASA, excluding China from partnering with the International Space Station. That has prompted China to start work on its own space station and launch its own programs that have put it in a steady competition with Japan and India, among Asian nations seeking to notch new achievements in space.
China’s space program has progressed cautiously, with relatively few setbacks in recent years. The rocket being used for the current launch failed on a previous launch attempt, but has since performed without a glitch, including launching Chang’e 4.
“China works very incrementally, developing building blocks for long-term use for a variety of missions,” Freese-Johnson said. China’s one-party authoritarian system also allows for “prolonged political will that is often difficult in democracies,” she said.
While the U.S. has followed China’s successes closely, it’s unlikely to expand co-operation with China in space amid political suspicions, a sharpening military rivalry and accusations of Chinese theft of technology, experts say.
“A change in U.S. policy regarding space co-operation is unlikely to get much government attention in the near future,” Johnson-Freese said.
Sam McNeil, The Associated Press
Jupiter and Saturn are about to do something not seen for nearly 800 years – Fox News
The two largest planets in the solar system, Jupiter and Saturn, have fascinated astronomers for hundreds of years. But the two gas giants will do something next month not seen since the Middle Ages — they will look like a double planet.
The rare occurrence will happen after sunset on Dec. 21, 2020, the start of the winter solstice.
“Alignments between these two planets are rather rare, occurring once every 20 years or so, but this conjunction is exceptionally rare because of how close the planets will appear to one another,” said Rice University astronomer Patrick Hartigan in a statement. “You’d have to go all the way back to just before dawn on March 4, 1226, to see a closer alignment between these objects visible in the night sky.”
Between Dec. 16 and Dec. 25, the two planets will be separated by less than a full moon, Hartigan added.
“On the evening of closest approach on Dec. 21 they will look like a double planet, separated by only fifth the diameter of the full moon,” Hartigan explained. “For most telescope viewers, each planet and several of their largest moons will be visible in the same field of view that evening.”
The celestial event can be observed anywhere on earth, but Hartigan noted the farther north someone is, “the less time they have to catch a glimpse.”
Stargazers should try to see the event next month or risk waiting a long time for the next occurrence. The two planets won’t be this close to each other again until March 15, 2080, and sometime after the year 2400, Hartigan explained.
A 2020 space oddity? Mysterious metal object found in Utah desert – Global News
A mysterious slab of metal stands silently in the desert, leaving Earth’s primates puzzled.
That’s how the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey begins. It’s also the way things are playing out in Utah in 2020, after biologists made a baffling discovery in the state’s southern desert.
State wildlife officials say they were counting bighorn sheep from a helicopter last Wednesday when they stumbled upon a mysterious slab of metal sticking up out of the rock. The object stood 3-3.7 metres tall and appeared to be completely solid and undecorated, according to a crew from the Utah Department of Public Safety and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
Its true origin is unknown.
“One of the biologists is the one who spotted it and we just happened to fly directly over the top of it,” helicopter pilot Bret Hutchings told Utah broadcaster KSLTV.
Hutchings and the crew of biologists touched down nearby and ventured down into a red-rock cove to examine the object up close.
Video shows it’s a solid piece of metal standing as tall as two humans.
“The intrepid explorers go down to investigate the alien life form,” one crew member said with a chuckle, in video they later provided to KSLTV.
Hutchings says the group had some fun with the discovery, though they still don’t know exactly they’re dealing with.
“We were joking around that if one of us suddenly disappears, I guess the rest of us make a run for it,” Hutchings said.
The object appeared to have been planted in place and likely did not fall into position from above, Hutchings said.
State officials did not indicate exactly where they found the monolith because it was in a remote area that is dangerous for hikers. They say they’d rather not inspire amateur adventurers to go out looking for it in hopes of solving the mystery.
“That’s been about the strangest thing that I’ve come across out there in all my years of flying,” Hutchings said.
He added that the object is probably an art installation or a tribute to Kubrick’s film.
The opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey depicts a race of ape-like human ancestors who swarm over a mysterious slab of metal that suddenly appears in their rocky home. One of the apes learns how to use tools a short time after the object appears.
No members of the helicopter crew have reported any incredible scientific discoveries to date, but that hasn’t stopped people from speculating about the object’s origin.
The Utah Highway Patrol encouraged followers to guess about the object’s purpose, triggering a slew of guesses about aliens, wormholes, interdimensional portals and Kubrick’s film.
Many users called for the object to be left alone, if only to avoid any further misfortunes during a historically weird 2020.
“If I were y’all I’d wait until at least 2021, maybe 2022 for good measure, before touching it,” one user wrote.
“PUT IT BACK!” another user wrote. “We’ve had enough surprises this year.”
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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