Boeing’s new Starliner capsule rocketed toward the International Space Station on its first test flight Friday, a crucial dress rehearsal for next year’s inaugural launch with astronauts.
The Starliner carried Christmas treats and presents for the six space station residents, hundreds of tree seeds similar to those that flew to the moon on Apollo 14, the original air travel ID card belonging to Boeing’s founder and a mannequin named Rosie in the commander’s seat.
The test dummy — named after the bicep-flexing riveter of World War II — wore a red polka dot hair bandanna just like the original Rosie and Boeing’s custom royal blue spacesuit.
“She’s pretty tough. She’s going to take the hit for us,” said NASA’s Mike Fincke, one of three astronauts who will fly on the next Starliner and, as test pilots, take the hit for future crews.
Liftoff! Go <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Starliner?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Starliner</a>! Go <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/AtlasV?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#AtlasV</a>! <a href=”https://t.co/wHbRh4u06O”>pic.twitter.com/wHbRh4u06O</a>
As the astronauts watched from nearby control centres, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the capsule blasted off just before sunrise from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It was a one-day trip to the space station, putting the spacecraft on track for a docking Saturday morning.
SpaceX could carry astronauts by spring
This was Boeing’s chance to catch up with SpaceX, NASA’s other commercial crew provider that completed a similar demonstration last March. SpaceX has one last hurdle — a launch abort test — before carrying two NASA astronauts in its Dragon capsule, possibly by spring.
The U.S. needs competition like this, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said Thursday, to drive down launch costs, boost innovation and open space up to more people.
“We’re moving into a new era,” he said.
The space agency handed over station deliveries to private businesses, first cargo and then crews, to focus on getting astronauts back to the moon and on to Mars.
Commercial cargo ships took flight in 2012, starting with SpaceX. Crew capsules were more complicated to design and build, and parachute and other technical problems pushed the first launches from 2017 to now next year.
U.S. astronauts reliant on Soyuz spacecraft since 2011
It’s been nearly nine years since NASA astronauts have launched from the U.S. The last time was July 8, 2011, when Atlantis — now on display at Kennedy Space Center — made the final space shuttle flight.
Since then, NASA astronauts have travelled to and from the space station via Kazakhstan, courtesy of the Russian Space Agency. The Soyuz rides have cost NASA up to $86 million US apiece.
“We’re back with a vengeance now,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said from Kennedy, where crowds gathered well before dawn.
Chris Ferguson commanded that last shuttle mission. Now a test pilot astronaut for Boeing and one of the Starliner’s key developers, he’s assigned to the first Starliner crew with Fincke and NASA astronaut Nicole Mann. A successful Starliner demo could see them launching by summer.
“This is an incredibly unique opportunity,” Ferguson said on the eve of launch.
Mann juggled a mix of emotions: excitement, pride, stress and amazement.
“Really overwhelmed, but in a good way and really the best of ways,” she said.
What Starliner is like
Built to accommodate seven, the white capsule with black and blue trim will typically carry four or five people. It’s five metres tall with its attached service module and 4.5 metres in diameter.
Every Starliner system will be tested during the eight-day mission, from the vibrations and stresses of liftoff to the Dec. 28 touchdown at the Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Parachutes and air bags will soften the capsule’s landing. Even the test dummy is packed with sensors.
Boeing Starliner launch this morning. <a href=”https://twitter.com/NWSJacksonville?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@NWSJacksonville</a> <a href=”https://t.co/2ZcwPeSRED”>pic.twitter.com/2ZcwPeSRED</a>
Bridenstine said he’s “very comfortable” with Boeing, despite the prolonged grounding of the company’s 737 Max jets. The spacecraft and aircraft sides of the company are different, he noted. Boeing has long been involved in NASA’s human spacecraft program, from Project Mercury to the shuttle and station programs.
Boeing began preliminary work on the Starliner in 2010, a year before Atlantis soared for the last time.
In 2014, Boeing and SpaceX made the final cut. Boeing got more than $4 billion to develop and fly the Starliner, while SpaceX got $2.6 billion for a crew-version of its Dragon cargo ship.
NASA wants to make sure every reasonable precaution is taken with the capsules, designed to be safer than NASA’s old shuttles.
“We’re talking about human spaceflight,” Bridenstine cautioned. “It’s not for the faint of heart. It never has been, and it’s never going to be.”
Earth's Days Are Mysteriously Getting Longer, Scientists Say – ScienceAlert
Atomic clocks, combined with precise astronomical measurements, have revealed that the length of a day is suddenly getting longer, and scientists don’t know why.
This has critical impacts not just on our timekeeping, but also things like GPS and other technologies that govern our modern life.
Over the past few decades, Earth’s rotation around its axis – which determines how long a day is – has been speeding up. This trend has been making our days shorter; in fact, in June 2022 we set a record for the shortest day over the past half a century or so.
But despite this record, since 2020 that steady speedup has curiously switched to a slowdown – days are getting longer again, and the reason is so far a mystery.
While the clocks in our phones indicate there are exactly 24 hours in a day, the actual time it takes for Earth to complete a single rotation varies ever so slightly. These changes occur over periods of millions of years to almost instantly – even earthquakes and storm events can play a role.
It turns out a day is very rarely exactly the magic number of 86,400 seconds.
The ever-changing planet
Over millions of years, Earth’s rotation has been slowing down due to friction effects associated with the tides driven by the Moon. That process adds about about 2.3 milliseconds to the length of each day every century. A few billion years ago an Earth day was only about 19 hours.
For the past 20,000 years, another process has been working in the opposite direction, speeding up Earth’s rotation. When the last ice age ended, melting polar ice sheets reduced surface pressure, and Earth’s mantle started steadily moving toward the poles.
Just as a ballet dancer spins faster as they bring their arms toward their body – the axis around which they spin – so our planet’s spin rate increases when this mass of mantle moves closer to Earth’s axis. And this process shortens each day by about 0.6 milliseconds each century.
Over decades and longer, the connection between Earth’s interior and surface comes into play too. Major earthquakes can change the length of day, although normally by small amounts.
For example, the Great Tōhoku Earthquake of 2011 in Japan, with a magnitude of 8.9, is believed to have sped up Earth’s rotation by a relatively tiny 1.8 microseconds.
Apart from these large-scale changes, over shorter periods weather and climate also have important impacts on Earth’s rotation, causing variations in both directions.
The fortnightly and monthly tidal cycles move mass around the planet, causing changes in the length of day by up to a millisecond in either direction. We can see tidal variations in length-of-day records over periods as long as 18.6 years.
The movement of our atmosphere has a particularly strong effect, and ocean currents also play a role. Seasonal snow cover and rainfall, or groundwater extraction, alter things further.
Why is Earth suddenly slowing down?
Since the 1960s, when operators of radio telescopes around the planet started to devise techniques to simultaneously observe cosmic objects like quasars, we have had very precise estimates of Earth’s rate of rotation.
A comparison between these estimates and an atomic clock has revealed a seemingly ever-shortening length of day over the past few years.
But there’s a surprising reveal once we take away the rotation speed fluctuations we know happen due to the tides and seasonal effects. Despite Earth reaching its shortest day on 29 June 2022, the long-term trajectory seems to have shifted from shortening to lengthening since 2020. This change is unprecedented over the past 50 years.
The reason for this change is not clear. It could be due to changes in weather systems, with back-to-back La Niña events, although these have occurred before. It could be increased melting of the ice sheets, although those have not deviated hugely from their steady rate of melt in recent years.
Could it be related to the huge volcano explosion in Tonga injecting huge amounts of water into the atmosphere? Probably not, given that occurred in January 2022.
Scientists have speculated this recent, mysterious change in the planet’s rotational speed is related to a phenomenon called the “Chandler wobble” – a small deviation in Earth’s rotation axis with a period of about 430 days.
Observations from radio telescopes also show that the wobble has diminished in recent years; the two may be linked.
One final possibility, which we think is plausible, is that nothing specific has changed inside or around Earth. It could just be long-term tidal effects working in parallel with other periodic processes to produce a temporary change in Earth’s rotation rate.
Do we need a ‘negative leap second’?
Precisely understanding Earth’s rotation rate is crucial for a host of applications – navigation systems such as GPS wouldn’t work without it. Also, every few years timekeepers insert leap seconds into our official timescales to make sure they don’t drift out of sync with our planet.
If Earth were to shift to even longer days, we may need to incorporate a “negative leap second” – this would be unprecedented, and may break the internet.
The need for negative leap seconds is regarded as unlikely right now. For now, we can welcome the news that – at least for a while – we all have a few extra milliseconds each day.
Matt King, Director of the ARC Australian Centre for Excellence in Antarctic Science, University of Tasmania and Christopher Watson, Senior Lecturer, School of Geography, Planning, and Spatial Sciences, University of Tasmania.
Korea realises its ambitions and already travels to meet the moon – Atalayar
The Republic of Korea has been keen to demonstrate that it is in fact Asia’s fourth-largest space power and ranks just behind China, Japan and India in terms of space ambitions and development.
With the launch of its first moon-bound probe, it has made it clear that although it is considered to be the world’s tenth largest economy, it is one of the seven nations globally with the greatest interest in outer space. The South Korean scientific spacecraft is called Danuri, which in English means “enjoy the moon”, weighs 678 kilos, is cube-shaped, measures 3.18 x 6.3 x 2.67 metres and, according to the Seoul government, cost 182 million dollars.
In a way, Korea has followed in the footsteps of the United Arab Emirates, which relied on Japan and its H-IIA rocket to send its first interplanetary probe, the Al Amal Mars spacecraft, to Mars. In the Korean case, it has chosen its great ally, the United States, and Danuri’s liftoff took place late on 4 August from the Cape Canaveral launch complex in Florida. A Falcon 9 vector from US tycoon Elon Musk’s SpaceX company was responsible for launching it en route.
The spacecraft took off on the same day that US Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi arrived in Seoul to support the Asian country in maintaining a strong deterrent against North Korea and seeking its denuclearisation. South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office on 10 May, had the opportunity to speak to Pelusi by phone, thanking him for his gesture and explaining that Danuri will serve “to boost Korea’s space economy and scientific expertise”.
If the probe succeeds in reaching lunar orbit, the Republic of Korea will become the seventh nation to explore the Moon in situ, as Russia, the United States, China, India, the European Space Agency and Japan have already done. But the South Korean mission is not an isolated initiative. “The first step of our national space exploration programme is the moon,” says Science Minister Lee Jong-ho.
Hyundai and Kia to be on the moon in 2031
The president of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), Professor Lee Sang-ryool, has confirmed that “there are technologies we need to improve, but we can travel and land on the moon with our own capabilities”. Seoul aims to launch a lunar surface module together with a small rover by 2031.
And they are already working on it. On 27 July, the car manufacturers Hyundai and Kia signed an agreement with six Korean research institutes to develop robotic technologies to equip the country’s future space rover. The project is joined by Korea’s extensive space business network, which manufactures satellites and even the KSLV-II Nuri launcher, which successfully completed its second successful flight into space from the Naro space centre in southern Korea on 21 October.
Regarding the Danuri probe – also known as the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter or KPLO – the Korean Ministry of Science and Telecommunications has already verified its proper operational status in orbit and confirmed that “the solar panels are generating sufficient power and all on-board devices are working properly”.
It is being monitored throughout the mission by NASA’s three Deep Space Network communications stations: the US station at Goldstone, California; the Australian station near Canberra; and the Spanish station located in the municipality of Robledo de Chavela, near Madrid. Korea also maintains partial contact with the probe via the large satellite dish it has built in Yeoju, Gyeonggi Province.
Danuri will reach its long-awaited goal by the end of the year and not in about six days, the time it took the Apollo 11 mission in 1969 to travel nearly 400,000 kilometres. The reason is that the South Korean spacecraft does not follow a direct trajectory, which consumes a lot of energy. Instead, it flies in the direction of the Sun. It follows a so-called “lunar ballistic transfer” trajectory with low energy and fuel consumption, until it reaches the so-called Lagrange Point 1 (L1), located 1.56 million kilometres from our Blue Planet, where the Sun’s attraction is balanced by the Earth’s attraction. There it will slow down and be re-routed towards the Moon.
135 days to reach lunar orbit
It is a similar path to that followed by the small American probe Capstone. Weighing 25 kilos and launched into orbit by NASA on 28 June from New Zealand, it is scheduled to reach the moon on 13 November, i.e. it will take 136 days to reach the moon.
If the Danuri mission goes according to the calculations of the KARI engineers, the probe will be captured by the Moon on 16 December after 135 days, i.e. four and a half months after the start of its flight. On 31 December, it will be placed in a circular orbit at an altitude of a hundred kilometres above the lunar surface. Once it has stabilised and the six scientific instruments on board have been checked, the spacecraft will begin observing and collecting data in early January.
One of the instruments has been provided by NASA. It is the ShadowCam camera, an evolution of the one on board the US Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter probe, launched on 18 June 2009, but about 200 times more sensitive. Its task is to map with a resolution of up to 1.7 metres per pixel the ground of the lunar regions at both poles that are always in shadow. The ShadowCam is intended to locate water ice deposits and other resources to help plan future manned missions and build sustainable bases.
ShadowCam and communications are not NASA’s only contribution. The Agency is providing technical assistance, navigation technologies and, in collaboration with the Korea Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute, a kind of interplanetary Internet to prevent disruption of transmissions to Earth.
The other four instruments are a magnetometer (KMAG) to track the magnetic field between the Earth and the Moon; a gamma-ray spectrometer (KGRS) to search for spontaneous gamma-ray bursts produced by massive dying stars; a wide-angle polarimetric camera (PolCam) to analyse the properties of grains deposited on the lunar surface. For the descent mission planned for 2031, it incorporates a high-resolution camera (LUTI), which will provide images for KARI technicians to determine the most suitable landing sites.
Scientist's photo of 'distant star' was actually a slice of chorizo – USA TODAY
Étienne Klein, a physicist and research director at France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, shared the spicy Spanish sausage shot on social media last week, applauding the “level of detail” it provided.
“Picture of Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the Sun, located 4.2 light years away from us. It was taken by the James Webb Space Telescope. This level of detail … A new world is unveiled everyday,” he posted on Twitter Sunday to more than 91,000 followers.
The first images from the $10 billion telescope – launched Dec. 25, 2021 – went viral throughout July when they were released to the public. The scientific marvel, a joint project involving NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency, has traveled 1 million miles through space.
A few days after his post, Klein revealed the photo he tweeted was not from the world’s most powerful space telescope. He admitted he tweeted a slice of the reddish, speckled meat.
“When it’s time for the aperitif, cognitive biases seem to have a field day … beware, then, of them,” he played off in further tweets. “According to contemporary cosmology, no object belonging to Spanish charcuterie exists anywhere but on Earth.”
New space stamp release: James Webb Space Telescope will take flight as a US postage stamp in September
NASA’s new telescope images: NASA releases ‘sharpest’ images of the universe from James Webb Space Telescope
“I feel compelled to clarify that this tweet showing an alleged snapshot of Proxima Centauri was a form of amusement. Let us learn to be wary of arguments from authority as much as of the spontaneous eloquence of certain images,” he wrote, as translated by Google.
Natalie Neysa Alund covers trending news for USA TODAY. Reach her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.
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