A trio of Chinese astronauts returned to Earth on Friday after a 90-day stay aboard their nation’s first space station in China’s longest mission yet.
Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo landed in the Shenzhou-12 spaceship just after 1:30 p.m. local time after having undocked from the space station Thursday morning.
State broadcaster CCTV showed footage of the spacecraft parachuting to land in the Gobi Desert where it was met by helicopters and off-road vehicles. Minutes later, a crew of technicians began opening the hatch of the capsule, which appeared undamaged.
The three astronauts emerged about 30 minutes later and were seated in reclining chairs just outside the capsule to allow them time to readjust to Earth’s gravity after three months of living in a weightless environment. The three were due to fly to Beijing on Friday.
“With China’s growing strength and the rising level of Chinese technology, I firmly believe there will even more astronauts who will set new records,” mission commander Nie told CCTV.
After launching on June 17, the three astronauts went on two spacewalks, deployed a 10-metre mechanical arm and had a video call with Communist Party leader Xi Jinping.
While few details have been made public by China’s military, which runs the space program, astronaut trios are expected to be brought on 90-day missions to the station over the next two years to make it fully functional.
The government has not announced the names of the next set of astronauts nor the launch date of Shenzhou-13.
Source of national pride
China has sent 14 astronauts into space since 2003, when it became only the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to do so on its own.
China’s space program has advanced at a measured pace and has largely avoided many of the problems that marked the U.S. and Russian programs that were locked in intense competition during the heady early days of spaceflight.
That has made it a source of enormous national pride, complementing the country’s rise to economic, technological, military and diplomatic prominence in recent years under the firm rule of the Communist Party and current leader Xi Jinping.
WATCH |Chinese astronauts blast off, dock at space station:
China embarked on its own space station program in the 1990s after being excluded from the International Space Station, largely due to U.S. objections to the Chinese space program’s secrecy and military backing.
Space probe on Mars
China has simultaneously pushed ahead with uncrewed missions, placing a rover on the little-explored far side of the Moon and, in December, the Chang’e 5 probe returned lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s.
China this year also landed its Tianwen-1 space probe on Mars, with its accompanying Zhurong rover venturing out to look for evidence of life.
Another program calls for collecting samples from an asteroid, an area in which Japan’s rival space program has made progress of late.
China also plans to dispatch another mission in 2024 to bring back lunar samples and is pursuing a possible crewed mission to the moon and eventually building a scientific base there, although no timeline has been proposed for such projects. A highly secretive space plane is also reportedly under development.
‘Coolest darn mission’: NASA asteroid hunter Lucy rockets into sky with diamonds – Global News
A NASA spacecraft named Lucy rocketed into the sky with diamonds Saturday morning on a 12-year quest to explore eight asteroids.
Seven of the mysterious space rocks are among swarms of asteroids sharing Jupiter’s orbit, thought to be the pristine leftovers of planetary formation.
An Atlas V rocket blasted off before dawn, sending Lucy on a roundabout orbital journey spanning nearly 4 billion miles (6.3 billion kilometers). “I’m just elated,” NASA’s associate administrator, Robert Cabana, said following liftoff. “This is the coolest darn mission.”
Lucy is named after the 3.2 million-year-old skeletal remains of a human ancestor found in Ethiopia nearly a half-century ago. That discovery got its name from the 1967 Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” prompting NASA to send the spacecraft soaring with band members’ lyrics and other luminaries’ words of wisdom imprinted on a plaque. The spacecraft also carried a disc made of lab-grown diamonds for one of its science instruments.
In a prerecorded video for NASA, Beatles drummer Ringo Starr paid tribute to his late colleague John Lennon, credited for writing the song that inspired all this.
“Lucy is going back in the sky with diamonds. Johnny will love that,” Starr said. “Anyway, If you meet anyone up there, Lucy, give them peace and love from me.”
The paleoanthropologist behind the fossil Lucy discovery, Donald Johanson, said he was filled with wonder about this “intersection of our past, our present and our future.”
“That a human ancestor who lived so long ago stimulated a mission which promises to add valuable information about the formation of our solar system is incredibly exciting,” said Johanson, of Arizona State University, who traveled to Cape Canaveral for the launch.
Lucy’s $981 million mission is the first to aim for Jupiter’s so-called Trojan entourage: thousands _ if not millions _ of asteroids that share the gas giant’s expansive orbit around the sun. Some of the Trojan asteroids precede Jupiter in its orbit, while others trail it.
Despite their orbits, the Trojans are far from the planet and mostly scattered far from each other. So there’s essentially zero chance of Lucy getting clobbered by one as it swoops past its targets, said Southwest Research Institute’s Hal Levison, the mission’s principal scientist.
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Lucy will swoop past Earth next October and again in 2024 to get enough gravitational oomph to make it all the way out to Jupiter’s orbit. On the way there, the spacecraft will zip past asteroid Donaldjohanson between Mars and Jupiter. The aptly named rock will serve as a 2025 warm-up act for the science instruments.
Drawing power from two huge circular solar wings, Lucy will chase down five asteroids in the leading pack of Trojans in the late 2020s. The spacecraft will then swoop back toward Earth for another gravity assist in 2030 that will swing it back out to the trailing Trojan cluster, where it will zip past the final two targets in 2033.
It’s a complicated, circuitous path that had NASA’s science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, shaking his head at first. “You’ve got to be kidding. This is possible?” he recalled asking.
Lucy will pass within 600 miles (965 kilometers) of each target; the biggest one is about 70 miles (113 kilometers) across.
“Are there mountains? Valleys? Pits? Mesas? Who knows? I’m sure we’re going to be surprised,” said Johns Hopkins University’s Hal Weaver, who’s in charge of Lucy’s black-and-white camera. “But we can hardly wait to see what … images will reveal about these fossils from the formation of the solar system.”
NASA plans to launch another mission next month to test whether humans might be able to alter an asteroid’s orbit _ practice in case Earth ever has a killer rock headed this way.
© 2021 The Canadian Press
Meteorite Crashes Through Home, Lands In Sleeping Woman's Bed – HuffPost
A woman in British Columbia had a cosmically rude awakening earlier this month when a meteorite crashed through her ceiling and landed in her bed.
Ruth Hamilton, 66, told The New York Times that around 11:35 p.m. on Oct. 3, she woke up to her dog barking, then heard what she described as “an explosion.” Flicking on the light, she saw a hole in her ceiling and thought a falling tree must have hit the house. It wasn’t until she called 911 and was talking to an operator that she spotted a 2.8-pound meteorite between her pillows.
“I didn’t feel it,” Hamilton, who lives in the town of Golden, told CTV Vancouver. “It never touched me. I had debris on my face from the drywall, but not a single scratch.”
When Hamilton first saw the space rock, though, she didn’t know what it was. Police who responded to the scene first consulted with a nearby construction crew, thinking it could be debris from some kind of blast.
Workers said they hadn’t been blasting, but had seen a “bright ball in the sky,” police told CTV ― suggesting that the rock in Hamilton’s bed may have fallen from space. Researchers at the University of Western Ontario later confirmed the projectile was indeed a meteorite.
“I was shaking and scared when it happened, I thought someone had jumped in or it was a gun or something,” Hamilton told the Pipestone Flyer. “It’s almost a relief when we realized it could only have fallen out of the sky.”
Scientists at Western are asking residents of Golden and the surrounding area to keep an eye out for rocks that could be other meteorites, and to send any footage they have of the passing fireball.
In the meantime, researchers are still studying the meteorite that landed in Hamilton’s bed, but she ultimately plans to keep it.
“My granddaughters can say that their grandmother just almost got killed in her bed by a meteorite,” she told the Times.
Meteorite found in B.C. could shed light on solar system's origin, says physicist – CTV News Vancouver
London, Ont. –
A small, angular rock that one Canadian physicist says looks like a chunk of black cheese has the potential to help scientists understand how the early solar system formed.
Peter G. Brown, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Western Ontario, says the meteorite made its fiery way to Earth on Oct. 3, after spinning out of its orbit in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, nearly 180 million kilometres away.
It tore through the roof of a home in Golden, B.C., narrowly missing the head a sleeping woman.
Brown says the woman has loaned the rock to the university and, for the next month or so, it will become “a small piece of a larger puzzle” as scientists “disentangle how the early solar system formed.”
He says the 4.5 billion-year-old meteorite is older than anything on Earth but is formed of minerals found here, like iron and nickel, although in much larger proportions, giving it unusual weight for a rock its size.
The exact chemistry is still being studied, but Brown says the findings will link the rock to specific asteroids spinning beyond Mars, while his goal is to use photos of the Oct. 3 fireball to compute the meteorite’s orbit, then merge the chemical and physical data to track the rock’s origin.
It will eventually be returned to the woman whose roof it punctured, but Brown says it will first have given scientists a peek at how the asteroid belt formed, how asteroids evolved and how all that played a role in the formation of the planets.
“This piece is sort of a primitive piece of the original material that formed in the early solar system,” Brown says in an interview from his office in London, Ont.
“The sheer quantity of information that’s hidden in the rock that we can tease out, in a lot of ways it’s like a really, really dense messenger of information about the early solar system.”
The recovery of this meteorite and the associated photos of its fireball over southwestern Canada are fairly rare, Brown says.
It happens only once every five or ten years, but he says the data produced will be combined with similar events elsewhere in the world.
“We are building up a bigger statistical collection of these sorts of samples with spatial context but each one is unique, and it certainly makes the meteorite science a lot more valuable to know what the original orbit was of the object.”
“We learn a lot of new things about the solar system each time we do this,” Brown says.
Initial analysis of the meteorite could take a few weeks to a month, but more detailed examination “could go on for years,” he says.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 15, 2021.
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