NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, whose calculations helped get the first Americans to space and back safely, died today at the age of 101. Among her many accomplishments, she completed the trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s 1961 suborbital flight, which was the first time the US sent a human into space.
Johnson’s work over 33 years propelled many of America’s breakthroughs in space exploration, including Neil Armstrong’s “giant leap for mankind” on the Moon. But the contributions she made weren’t recognized until decades later. Johnson was made to work in a segregated wing with other black women mathematicians when she started at NASA predecessor The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in 1953. Yet, her work was so integral to NASA’s early missions that John Glenn asked her to double-check computer calculations for his flight before becoming the first US astronaut to orbit Earth in 1962.
“Ms. Johnson helped our nation enlarge the frontiers of space even as she made huge strides that also opened doors for women and people of color,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. “Her dedication and skill as a mathematician helped put humans on the Moon and before that made it possible for our astronauts to take the first steps in space that we now follow on a journey to Mars.”
Johnson’s groundbreaking contributions were recognized in 2015 when she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor bestowed on civilians, from President Barack Obama. The bestselling-book-turned-Oscar-nominated-movie Hidden Figures brought Johnson’s legacy to the big screen in 2016, in which she was portrayed by Taraji P. Henson. NASA also named a building in her honor in 2017.
In an interview, she was asked what she’d tell young engineers working in the building that bears her name. “Do your best, but like it,” Johnson said. “If you don’t like it, shame on you.”
“I like work. I like the stars and the stories we were telling and it was a joy to contribute to the literature that was going to be coming out. But little did I think it would go this far,” Johnson said in the 2017 interview.
“If you think your job is pressure-packed, [Johnson’s] meant that forgetting to carry the ‘1’ might send somebody floating off into the solar system,” Obama said when Johnson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. “Katherine was a pioneer who broke the boundaries of race and gender, showing generations of young people that everyone can excel in math and science and reach for the stars,” he said.
Stargazer in Italy spots NASA's DART asteroid impact probe in night sky after launch – Space.com
An Italian telescope captured NASA’s asteroid-smashing mission shortly after its launch into space this week.
A new image and video, taken by the Elena telescope located in Ceccano, Italy, shows NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission, also known as DART, separated from the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket which launched the spacecraft from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on Tuesday (Nov. 23 PST, or early Nov. 24 EST) . The mission sent DART on a 10-month-long journey to a binary asteroid system called Didymos.
Both DART and the booster can be seen in this image (above), which was taken remotely with a single 30-second exposure, astronomer Gianluca Masi said in a statement. Masi runs the Virtual Telescope Project 2.0, which includes the Elena telescope.
The image was taken remotely 10 hours after DART lifted off, Masi said.
The robotic Elena telescope automatically tracked DART and the booster, both of which are visible at the center of the image as bright dots. The short white lines surrounding those two dots are stars in the background. When the image was taken, DART was about 93,000 miles (150,000 kilometers) from Earth, about half the distance between our planet and the moon, Masi said.
In addition to the static image, the telescope also captured a short video sequence, which shows the separated second-stage booster blinking. This blinking, Masi said, is caused by the booster spinning.
The pioneering DART mission will conduct a first-of-its-kind test that will show if and how a spacecraft can change the path of an asteroid by smashing into it. In September of next year, the spacecraft will ram into a 525-foot-wide (160 meters) asteroid “moonlet” known as Dimorphos, which orbits the larger space rock Didymos. The goal of the experiment is to alter Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos, shortening it by several minutes, to prove that such an intervention could divert the trajectory of a large asteroid if, in the future, one were to be on a path that threatened planet Earth.
DART also carries a small cubesat called LICIACube, from Italy’s space agency, which will be released 10 days ahead of DART’s self-destructive impact and film the aftermath of the crash.
In 2024, the European Space Agency (ESA) will also send a larger surveyor spacecraft called Hera to the asteroid system that will analyze the crater and gather data about Didymos’ and Dimorphos’ physical structure and chemical composition. By then, astronomers will have known whether DART deflected Dimorphos, thanks to ground-based observations.
Russia’s new module on ISS to offer docking opportunity for foreign spacecraft in future – TASS
KOROLYOV /Moscow Region/, November 26. /TASS/. NASA and Roscosmos have begun talks on harmonizing technical standards of Crew Dragon spaceships with the Russian module and Russian spacecraft with the US segment on the International Space Station (ISS), Roscosmos Chief Dmitry Rogozin said at the Flight Control Center on Friday.
“NASA and Roscosmos have launched talks on harmonizing technical standards that will allow not only Crew Dragon or Russian spaceships to dock with the American segment but, in general, this docking is possible and will require an adapter,” Rogozin said, replying to a question about whether US spacecraft would be able to dock to Russia’s new Prichal nodal module.
The Prichal module’s docking completed the formation of the ISS Russian segment, the Roscosmos chief said.
The Prichal nodal module will also serve as a prototype for similar modules for the future Russian Orbital Service Station (ROSS) that will be the ‘joints’ of its space body, Rogozin said.
“This is one of the most important prototypes for creating the ROSS whose architecture will differ from the ISS. It should employ the principle of eternal service life: modules that use up their potential will be detached from the station and it will be augmented in a different direction with the help of such nodal modules that will serve as some joints of a new and large metal design engineering body,” Rogozin said.
A Soyuz-2.1b carrier rocket with the Progress M-UM space freighter and the Prichal nodal module blasted off from Launch Pad No. 31 (‘Vostok’) of the Baikonur spaceport to the orbital outpost at 16:06 Moscow time on November 24. The flight to the orbital outpost took two days. The Prichal module docked with the Russian Nauka research lab on November 26.
The new module will boost the capabilities of Russian spaceships, including the latest Oryol spacecraft, to dock with the ISS. Overall, the new module will have five docking ports. The first docking of a manned spacecraft with the Prichal module is scheduled for March 18.
The spacecraft-module also delivered about 700 kg of various cargo to the ISS, including equipment and consumables, water purification, medical control including sanitary and hygienic supplies, maintenance and repair tools, as well as standard food rations for the 66th Main Expedition crew.
Italy and France sign agreement on space launchers
Italy and France clinched an accord on Friday to strengthen their cooperation on space launchers as part of a broader bilateral treaty.
Among the goals laid out in the bilateral treaty were pledges to reinforce military connections, including at an industrial level, and work together in the space sector.
The two countries agreed to work together on liquid and solid propulsion and press ahead with the development of launchers Ariane 6 and Vega C, Italy’s innovation minister and France’s economy minister said in a joint press release.
Launchers are the second largest area of space-manufacturing activity in Europe after commercial satellites, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).
For the development of Ariane 6, ESA is working with more than 600 companies in 13 European countries, led by prime contractor ArianeGroup, which is a joint venture of Airbus and Safran.
ESA is overseeing procurement and the architecture of the overall Vega-C launch system, while industry is building the rocket with Italy’s Avio as prime contractor.
(Reporting by Francesca Landini; Editing by Frances Kerry)
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