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Everything you need to know about SpaceX's historic astronaut launch – CTV News

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The stakes have never been higher for Elon Musk’s SpaceX. On Wednesday, the company will attempt to launch two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station in a mission called Demo-2.

It will mark the first time in history that a commercial aerospace company has carried humans into Earth’s orbit. NASA and space fans have waited nearly a decade for this milestone, which will usher in the return of human spaceflight to US soil.

The launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is moving forward despite the Covid-19 pandemic, which has shuttered both private and government operations across the U.S. NASA says it must carry on with the mission in order to keep the International Space Station, a giant orbiting laboratory, fully staffed with US astronauts.

The space agency’s top official, Jim Bridenstine, also said he hopes this launch will inspire awe and uplift the general public during the ongoing health crisis.

 

Why is this important?

The United States hasn’t launched its own astronauts into space since the Space Shuttle Program ended in 2011. Since then, NASA’s astronauts have had to travel to Russia and train on the country’s Soyuz spacecraft. Those seats have cost NASA as much as US$86 million each.

But the space agency chose not to create its own replacement for the Shuttle. Instead, it asked the private sector to develop a spacecraft capable of safely ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station — a controversial decision considering that NASA had never before outsourced the development of a human-rated spacecraft. The thinking was that commercial companies could drive down costs and spur innovation, and NASA would have more time and resources to focus on exploring deeper into the solar system.

In 2014, NASA awarded two contracts: $4.2 billion for Boeing to build its Starliner vehicle, and $2.6 billion to SpaceX, which planned to create a crew worthy version of the Dragon spacecraft that was already flying cargo to and from the International Space Station. NASA had already put money toward SpaceX’s development of the Dragon spacecraft used for transporting cargo. The space agency has said Boeing received more money because it was designing the Starliner from scratch.

Boeing recently suffered a significant setback when a Starliner capsule malfunctioned during a key uncrewed test flight. But if SpaceX can carry out this mission, it’ll be a major win for NASA, which has been pushing for more commercial partnerships.

Not to mention, NASA won’t have to ask Russia for rides anymore.

 

When and where is liftoff?

NASA and SpaceX are currently targeting Wednesday at 4:33 pt ET for liftoff from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center in Brevard County, Fla. If bad weather or technical issues get in the way, NASA has May 30 and May 31 down as backup days.

As of Monday evening, there looked to be about a 60 per cent chance of favorable weather conditions. On launch day, officials will evaluate weather at six hours, four hours and 45 minutes before launch.

The rocket will take off from “Pad 39A,” a historic site that has been the starting point of missions dating back to the Apollo era, including the first moon landing in 1969. SpaceX is currently leasing the launch pad from NASA.

SpaceX and NASA will be cohosting a webcast during takeoff, and they’ll keep that live coverage rolling at least until Crew Dragon docks with the space station about 19 hours after launch.

CNN and other news networks will also be sharing live updates on TV and online.

 

Is it safe to launch during the pandemic?

According to NASA, yes.

The astronauts have been in strict quarantine together, and extra precautions are being taken to keep everything clean.

NASA, SpaceX and military personnel will need to gather in control rooms to support the launch, and they’ve implemented additional safety measures, such as changing control rooms when a new shift begins so that the other room can be deep cleaned.

Only a few dozen members of the press will be able to attend the launch, NASA has said, and Kennedy Space Center will not welcome any visitors.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine and SpaceX chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell have also implored the public to follow the launch on television in order to prevent crowds of spectators from triggering a Covid 19 outbreak. Some local officials are also asking spectators not to gather on nearby beaches or other public viewing sites.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s CEO, has faced steep criticism over his online comments about the coronavirus. He’s repeatedly expressed his belief that the United States’ coronavirus response is overblown and shared misinformation about its threat.

 

Who is flying to space?

Two veteran astronauts: Robert Behnken, 49, and Douglas Hurley, 53.

They work for NASA, but they’ve worked closely with SpaceX and have been trained to fly the Crew Dragon capsule, which will become only the fifth spacecraft design — after the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle vehicles — that NASA has certified as safe enough for humans.

Behnken and Hurley both began their careers as military test pilots and have logged hundreds of hours piloting supersonic jets. They also both flew on previous Space Shuttle missions. When NASA selected them for this mission in 2018, it continued a long lineage of military test pilots who were deemed to have the “right stuff” for groundbreaking moments in human spaceflight history.

NASA wants to keep Behnken and Hurley on the space station until another Crew Dragon capsule is ready to send more people on its next mission.

The astronauts told reporters last week that they’re expecting to spend one to three months in space. The maximum length is 110 days, according to NASA.

When Behnken and Hurley return home, they’ll board Crew Dragon, journey back through the atmosphere while the vehicle deploys parachutes and then land in the Atlantic Ocean.

 

What is Crew Dragon?

It’s a gumdrop-shaped capsule that measures about 13 feet in diameter and is equipped with seven seats and touchscreen controls.

Crew Dragon and the astronauts will ride into orbit atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and the astronauts will board the vehicle the day of launch using an aerial “crew access arm.” After the rocket fires the Crew Dragon into the upper atmosphere, the spacecraft will separate and fire up its own thrusters to begin maneuvering toward the space station.

The Crew Dragon capsule is fully autonomous, so the astronauts will mostly need to just monitor the systems and keep in touch with mission control unless something goes awry.

Despite Behnken and Hurley riding with a couple empty seats on board, they’re not planning to bring extra luggage. Behnken told reporters last week that they’re only taking along a few “small items” — though, it’s not yet clear what those items are.

The astronauts will spend about 19 hours aboard the spacecraft before arriving at the International Space Station.

And yes, the Crew Dragon does have a toilet — just in case. Details about how it works have not been publicized. But one astronaut who worked on the Crew Dragon program said he has seen the design and said the accommodations are “perfectly adequate for that task.”

 

What is the International Space Station?

The International Space Station has orbited Earth for two decades. The United States and Russia are the station’s primary operators, but 240 astronauts from 19 countries have visited over the years.

Rotating crews of astronauts have staffed the ISS continuously since the year 2000, allowing thousands of scientific experiments to be carried out in microgravity. Research has included everything from how the human body responds to being in space to developing new medications.

Typically, about six people stay on the space station. But right now there are only three: NASA’s Christopher Cassidy and Russia’s Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.

 

What will this cost?

Seats on Russia’s Soyuz launches have cost NASA up to $86 million each and $55.4 million on average over the past decade, according to a 2019 report from NASA’s Office of the Inspector General.

That same report estimates that Crew Dragon seats will cost NASA about $55 million each. But those are estimates based on a contract that doesn’t clearly define the per-seat cost and only accounts for the first six missions.

A new analysis from the nonprofit Planetary Society, which promotes science and space exploration, suggests that, overall, NASA’s commercial crew program is a bargain compared to previous human spaceflight programs in the United States.

 

Is Crew Dragon safe?

Both SpaceX and NASA have had to sign off on Crew Dragon’s development throughout every major testing milestone. And this mission will be no different.

Last week, NASA conducted a “launch readiness review,” which was meant to ensure that all the stakeholders are comfortable moving forward.

Any time a spacecraft leaves Earth there are risks, and there are no perfect measurements for predicting them.

But NASA does try: SpaceX is required to ensure that Crew Dragon has only a 1 in 270 chance of catastrophic failure, based on one metric the space agency uses. There have been numerous attempts to calculate what the risk was for a given Space Shuttle mission. Ultimately, out of 135 missions, there were two Shuttle tragedies — a failure rate of about 1 in every 68 missions.

It should also be noted that Crew Dragon’s previous uncrewed trip to space gives it more experience than other US spacecraft had before humans were allowed on board. The Space Shuttle, for instance, was never taken on an unmanned test drive.

Crew Dragon is also equipped with a unique emergency abort system designed to jettison astronauts to safety if something goes wrong.

 

How will this affect the United State’s relationship with Russia?

Officials in both countries have held up their symbiotic relationship on the ISS as a beacon of post-Cold War cooperation. But tensions have climbed since the early 2010s, and that has occasionally extended into the countries’ space partnership.

But the ISS has survived other geopolitical tensions. US astronauts and Russian cosmonauts are still working closely together.

NASA officials said Russia and Japan, another ISS partner, both joined discussions for a Crew Dragon safety review last week.

 

How difficult was it for SpaceX to reach this point?

SpaceX’s relationship with NASA has evolved dramatically over the years. In the 2000s, SpaceX first few rocket launch attempts failed, and the company was nearly bankrupt in 2008 before it managed to safely launch one of its early Falcon 1 rockets into orbit. After that, NASA took a chance on the upstart and awarded SpaceX a $1.6 billion contract to fly cargo to the space station using a new capsule, Dragon, and rocket, dubbed Falcon 9.

SpaceX and NASA have worked closely — and sometimes awkwardly — together ever since. Their partnership has survived two failed SpaceX Falcon 9 missions: One in 2015, when a rocket hauling 5,000 pounds of cargo to the space station exploded on the way to orbit. In 2016, another Falcon 9 rocket blew up while sitting on a Florida launch pad, destroying a $200 million telecom satellite.

But the vast majority of the 80-plus Falcon 9 missions that SpaceX has launched so far have gone off without a hitch.

A setback in development of the Crew Dragon spacecraft came last year, when SpaceX was conducting a ground test of the vehicle’s emergency abort engines went explosively wrong.

SpaceX worked for months to reconfigure the Crew Dragon design and clear it with NASA before those abort engines performed flawlessly in a January test flight.

 

Will Crew Dragon make another trip?

One of SpaceX’s main goals is to bring down the costs of launching objects into space by reusing hardware.

Dragon capsules that fly cargo, for example, have been used up to three times.

And since 2015, SpaceX has managed to safely land a Falcon 9’s first-stage booster, the largest part of the rocket that gives the initial thrust at liftoff, dozens of times.

The rocket used for this week’s mission will be brand new, but SpaceX will attempt to recover the rocket’s first-stage rocket booster by landing it on a seafaring drone ship after launch.

Each Crew Dragon spacecraft could also make multiple trips to space, the company has suggested.

SpaceX’s most ambitious reuse efforts will be with Starship — a gargantuan spacecraft currently in the early stages of development. Musk hopes that every piece of that vehicle, and the giant rocket booster that will vault it into space, will be reusable.

Starship is at the core of Musk’s long-term plan for SpaceX: Sending humans to live on Mars.

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Beetle abundance attributed to forest fires – The Sudbury Star

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White-spotted sawyers can bite, but won’t if you don’t bug them

A white-spotted sawyer beetle, also known locally as a pine beetle.

Postmedia file photo

Beetle-mania seems to be gripping Sudbury lately as numerous black bugs with hard wings and long antennae make their presence known — and occasionally felt.

These insects — casually referred to as pine or longhorned beetles, but properly known as white-spotted sawyers — are capable of delivering a nip, although it’s not really their nature to go looking for a fight, according to a forest entomologist.

“It’s not that they are aggressive and attacking people,” says Taylor Scarr, research director of integrated pest management with the Great Lakes Forestry Centre in Sault Ste. Marie. 

“If you are a beetle on the side of a tree and a bird comes along to pick you off, the natural defence is to try to hold on with your feet and those strong mandibles,” he says. “So if you pick one up like a bird tries to pick them up, they grab your skin because that’s what they’re on, and to them they are on the trunk of a tree.”

Scarr says the beetles, distinguished by a white spot at the back of their necks, are native to Ontario and appear every year, but may be more conspicuous in Sudbury right now because of events that occurred a couple of years ago.

“Adults lay their eggs under the bark of recently dead or dying trees, and the grubs tunnel in there and come out two years afterwards,” he said. “So what we’re seeing now in the Sudbury area, I think, is all the beetles that have come out of trees that were killed in the Temagami and Parry Sound fires two years ago.”


A white-spotted sawyer beetle travels along the edge of a garage on St. Raphael Street in Sudbury.

Jim Moodie/Sudbury Star

He says beetles can travel a couple hundred kilometres to find a new food source, and those that emerged from the burnt-over areas would be quite plentiful, as the fires created a lot of good beetle habitat.

Sudburians might also be more aware of the beetles this year simply because “people are at home more” due to COVID-19, he suggests. “So they are seeing more.”

The adult beetles are about three-quarters of an inch long, sometimes as long as an inch, with antennae that can be three times as long as their bodies.

At this time of year the adults would be mating and dining on the bark of twigs in preparation for egg-laying.

“Before they lay their eggs, they do what is called maturation feeding, so they feed on the twigs of conifer trees,” says Scarr. “They need to feed on live twigs to mature the eggs.”

The bugs are awkward flyers, he notes, as they have two sets of wings. “They have hard wings that cover the abdomen and underneath that are the membraneous wings they actually fly with, so for that beetle to fly they have to lift the hard wings,” he says. “They’re cumbersome and it takes a lot of energy to fly, but they can certainly do it.”

Females have a more mottled appearance than the males, but “both have a single white spot at the base of the hard wings on the back, behind the head.”

People will sometimes confuse a female sawyer with an invasive Asian beetle, says Scarr, as both have long antennae and speckled backs, but the invader is “a bigger, more robust insect, with white markings that are much sharper.”

In China, the Asian beetle is sometimes called a “starry sky beetle,” he says, for its constellation of white spots.

Scarr says the intruder can hitchhike on wooden pallets and has been documented twice in Ontario — in the Toronto/Vaughn area in 2003, and a decade later in the Toronto/Mississauga area — but in both cases the Canadian Food Inspection Agency launched an aggressive eradication program and just last week announced that this strategy has proven successful.

Ontarians are still urged to keep an eye out for the foreign critters, however, as they can wreak much more havoc on local tree species.

“It’s a very serious pest because it likes hardwoods, and unlike the white-spotted sawyer beetle, it can attack and kill healthy trees,” says Scarr. “It has a real preference for maples, so if it were to get out and spread, it would devastate not only the hardwood industry but the maple syrup industry.”

Examples of the invasive beetle have been found recently in South Carolina, and it’s taken root in a few other U.S. states, as well as Europe, he notes.

Our homegrown sawyer beetle, meanwhile, is feared in Europe and Asia, as it carries a parasitic worm that can cause a wilt disease in their trees.


Tyler Cobb, curator of invertebrate zoology at the Royal Alberta Museum, holds a white-spotted sawyer beetle.

Larry Wong/Postmedia file photo

Here in Ontario, however, the sawyer doesn’t pose a big problem, although crews working in wildfire zones are not too keen on them. “They can drop down your shirt or coveralls while fighting a forest fire and be quite a nuisance,” notes Scarr.

In rare cases, they can also create an unpleasant shock for a homeowner who utilized air-dried lumber to frame their building.

“If the wood isn’t kiln-treated, sometimes the grubs will survive,” says Scarr. “I’ve had five or six reports where, three to four years after someone built their home, they had the beetles come out through the drywall.”

They can also be a problem at times for lumber companies if they infest trees intended for sawmills.

For the most part, though, the beetles are simply going about their business in the bush, contributing to regeneration by hastening the decomposition process.

“If a forest fire kills the trees, they can’t stand up forever and occupy the site,” says Scarr. “So the beetles come in and start to chew on the trees; fungi and other insects invade them; and eventually they rot and fall down and get replaced by something else.”

They also provide food to birds and other critters. Pileated woodpeckers, especially, seem to have a good nose — or more to the point, ear — for the grubs.

“They can hear them when they are inside a tree, just like we can, making a chewing noise,” the forest pest expert says.

The species in fact got its name for the grinding racket its teeth can make, like that of a saw passing through wood. (Sawyer, by the way, is pronounced like Tom Sawyer, the famous Mark Twain character.)

While many find the wood borers unappealing, Scarr encourages residents to try to “ignore them,” or at least tolerate them, as it won’t be long before they are done their mating and egg laying, at which point the adults begin to die off.

“You usually seem them around this time, in June and early July, but later in the summer you might just see the odd one,” he says.

In the meantime, “they don’t harm anything,” he says. “They’re just a natural part of the ecosystem.”

Anyone who has experienced the sensation of mandibles on skin may, of course, protest that “harm” is indeed something that can be inflicted by a sawyer beetle.

But even this isn’t apt to happen too often, Scarr maintains.

“I’ve handled lots and I have never been bitten,” he says. “You just have to grab them behind the head.”

jmoodie@postmedia.com

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New cadence : Going viral: Why Canadian sparrows have changed their tune – RTL Today

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Members of a Canadian sparrow species famous for their jaunty signature song are changing their tune, a curious example of a “viral phenomenon” in the animal kingdom, a study showed Thursday.

Bird enthusiasts first recorded the white-throated sparrow’s original song, with its distinctive triplet hook, in the 1950s.

Canadians even invented lyrics to accompany the ditty: “Oh my sweet, Ca-na-da, Ca-na-da, Ca-na-da.”

But starting from the late 20th century, biologists began noticing that members of the species in western Canada were innovating.

Instead of a triplet, the new song ended in a doublet and a new syncopation pattern. The new ending sounded like “Ca-na, Ca-na, Ca-na.”

Over the course of the next two decades, this new cadence became a big hit, moving eastward and conquering Alberta, then Ontario. It began entering Quebec last year.

It’s now the dominant version across more than 2,000 miles (3,000 kilometers) of territory, in an extremely rare example of the total replacement of historic bird dialect by another.

Scientist Ken Otter at the University of Northern British Columbia, and his colleague Scott Ramsay from Wilfrid Laurier University, described the dizzying pace of this transformation in the journal Current Biology.

“What we’re seeing is like somebody moving from Quebec to Paris, and all the people around them saying, ‘Wow, that’s a cool accent’ and start adopting a Quebec accent,” Otter told AFP.

Their work was based on 1,785 recordings between 2000 and 2019, the majority made by them but with contributions from citizen-scientists, who posted the files on specialist sites like xeno-canto.org.

In the western province of Alberta, about half of the recorded songs ended with the triplet in 2004; ten years later, all the males had adopted the doublet.

In 2015, half of western Canada had converted to the doublet version, and by last year, the new song had been well established on the western tip of eastern Quebec province.

At this rate, the historic triplet version may soon exist only in tape recordings.

– Bird influencers –

The males of the species sing to mark their territory, and their songs all share a common structure. Usually, if a variation appears, it remains regional and doesn’t make headway in neighboring territories.

The study represents the first time scientists have been able to show this kind spread at huge geographic scale, said Otter.

So how did it happen?

Probably in the same way that children return from summer camp humming new tunes: songbirds from different parts of Canada winter in the same parts of the United States, then return to their own homes in spring.

The researchers verified this theory by tagging a few of the birds.

So it was that in the plains of Texas and Kansas, the new song’s first adopters from western Canada — avian influencers, if you will — popularized the trend among their eastern brethren.

Previous work has shown that young birds can pick up a foreign song after listening to a recording.

But to truly understand why the males were willing to abandon the old song that had once served them well, the scientists have to rely on theories.

Otter believes it may be because females were more attracted to the new song, so young males rushed to adopt it.

“There seems to be some advantage to adding novel elements into your song that make the song, not necessarily more attractive, but increases people’s attention to it,” said Otter.

Going back to the human example, it would be akin to “if all the French women in Paris thought that a Quebec accent sounded much more interesting than a Parisian accent, and so everybody starts adopting a Quebec accent.”

The hypothesis remains unverified.

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Longhorn beetles spotted around Greater Sudbury – CBC.ca

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With summer officially underway in the region, you’re likely spending more time outside. But with that extra time outdoors, you’re likely to be sharing it with a few insects.

Recently in Sudbury, large bugs have been spotted in people’s yards. In particular, a black bug about the length of a toonie with long legs and a large antennae has been seen by many.

That bug is actually a long-horn beetle, according to entomologist and coordinator for Earthcare Sudbury Initiatives with the City of Greater Sudbury, Jennifer Babin-Fenske. 

“We do have several species of them,” she said. “Some are brown, some are black and some have different white markings.”

Babin-Fenske says that beetle is considered a “sun-loving” insect.”

“The females will lay their eggs on really hot summer days,” she said.

She adds they not only like the heat, but they’re also attracted to weakened or dead trees.

“They lay their eggs in the tree and then the larva eat their way around the wood,” she said.

“But they can be in there for about two years. Then when they emerge as adults, they still have the whole summer to kind of be adults. The life cycle for the adults is usually July and August.”

Jennifer Babin-Fenske is an entomologist and the coordinator of Earth Care at the City of Greater Sudbury. (Erik White/CBC )

But why is the antennae on the bug so big? Babin-Fenske says that has to do with finding a mate.

“For a lot of males, the antennae are longer,” she said. “For a lot of insects, the antennae for males helps them sense the pheromones of the females.”

Babin-Fenske adds the insects have “huge jaws” to chew through wood.

“They can give a bit of a bite,” she cautioned. “But if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.”

Morning North host Markus Schwabe noticed a few large black bugs in his backyard recently. Plenty of social media posts refer to the same bugs. Being the curious person he is, Markus contacted someone who has a special interest in insects. That’s Jennifer Babin-Fenske, the coordinator for Earthcare Sudbury Initiatives. 6:40

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