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NASA Astronaut Will Vote From Space – KCCU

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On Election Day, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins will be more than 200 miles above her nearest polling place. But she’s still planning to vote — from space.

“It’s critical to participate in our democracy,” Rubins told the Associated Press. “We consider it an honor to be able to vote from space.”

Rubins, who has a Ph.D. in cancer biology from Stanford and was the first person to sequence DNA in space, is currently training for her upcoming six-month mission on the International Space Station.

Voting from the space station is similar to voting absentee from anyplace on the planet — except instead of relying on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver the ballot, Rubins will get hers forwarded electronically from Mission Control in Houston.

“Using a set of unique credentials sent to each of them by e-mail, astronauts can access their ballots, cast their votes, and downlink them back down to Earth,” the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum explained in 2018.

The ballot is then sent to the county clerk for tabulation.

American astronauts have been able to cast ballots from above for over two decades now, ever since a Texas lawmaker learned that astronaut John Blaha couldn’t vote in the 1996 presidential race between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole. At the time, Blaha was serving on Russia’s Mir Space Station, a predecessor to the ISS.

“He expressed a little bit disappointment in not being able to do that,” Republican State Senator Mike Jackson told NPR’s Nell Greenfieldboyce in 2008.

Voting from space had never really been an issue before then, because NASA astronauts typically spent no more than about two weeks on shuttle missions. But with the advent of the space station, Americans were sometimes on missions for months at a time.

So a new law was born. “I can attest to how important one person’s vote is because my first election I won by seven votes out of over 26,000,” Jackson said.

Texas lawmakers approved the measure in 1997, and then-Gov. George W. Bush signed it into law. That same year, astronaut David Wolf became the first American to “vote while you float,” as NASA cheekily put it.

“I voted alone up in space, very alone, the only English speaker up there, and it was nice to have an English ballot, something from America,” Wolf told The Atlantic in 2016. “It made me feel closer to the Earth and like the people of Earth actually cared about me up there.”

Most NASA astronauts live in Houston, so since that Texas law was passed, several astronauts have been able to cast ballots from above. This isn’t even the first time Rubins has exercised her orbital privilege; she also voted in the 2016 presidential election from the space station — listing her address as “low-Earth orbit.”

“I think it’s really important for everybody to vote,” Rubins said. “If we can do it from space, then I believe folks can do it from the ground, too.”

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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NASA successfully tags asteroid Bennu: What you need to know about the mission – CNET

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Artist’s conception of NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft and the asteroid Bennu.


NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

Editors’ note: Osiris-Rex has touched down on Bennu. Our coverage of the event is here. Our answers to questions about the mission are below.

NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft briefly touched down on a large asteroid Tuesday to snag some rocks and dust from its surface to be returned to Earth for study. On Wednesday, NASA revealed the first batch of images. The event marks a major first for NASA and a boon for science, space exploration and our understanding of the solar system. 

The touch-and-go, or TAG, sample collection of asteroid 101955 Bennu was deemed a success at around 3:12 p.m. PT. NASA broadcast the TAG maneuver live on NASA TV and the agency’s website. You can find a video at the end of this piece. For answer to your mission questions, read on. 

When did the mission begin?

Osiris-Rex as a concept has been in existence since at least 2004, when a team of astronomers first proposed the idea to NASA. After more than a decade of development, the spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Sept. 8, 2016, atop an Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The spacecraft spent the next 26 months cruising to Bennu, officially arriving on Dec. 3, 2018.

Since then, the mission team has spent nearly two years orbiting the diamond-shaped space rock, surveying and mapping its surface to select the best sampling spot. In recent months, rehearsals led up to the sample collection attempt. 


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Why Bennu?

Bennu is what’s called a “rubble pile” asteroid, meaning it was formed in the deep cosmic past when gravity slowly forced together remnants of an ancient collision. The result is a body shaped something like a spinning top with a diameter of around one-third of a mile (500 meters) and a surface strewn with large rocks and boulders. 

Bennu is thought to be a window into the solar system’s past: a pristine, carbon-rich body carrying the building blocks of planets and of life. Some of these resources, such as water and metals, could also be worth mining at some point in the future for use on Earth or in space exploration. 

The asteroid has one other characteristic that makes it particularly interesting to scientists, and humans in general. It has a chance of impacting Earth in the distant future. On NASA’s list of impact risks, Bennu is ranked No. 2. Current data shows dozens of potential impacts in the final quarter of the 22nd century, although all only have a minute chance of actually happening. 

How does TAG work?

For anyone who’s ever dabbled with robots or maybe even entered a robotics competition, the Osiris-Rex mission would seem to be the ultimate culmination of a young roboticist’s dreams. The touch-and-go sampling procedure is a complex, high-stakes task that’s been building to a key climactic moment for years. If it succeeds, it will play a role in history and our future in space. 

The basic plan was for Osiris-Rex to touch down on Bennu at a rocky landing site dubbed Nightingale. The van-size spacecraft would need to negotiate building-size boulders around the landing area to touch down on a relatively clear space that’s only as large as a few parking spaces. However, a robotic sampling arm was the only part of Osiris-Rex to actually set down on the surface. One of three pressurized nitrogen canisters was fired to stir up a sample of dust and small rocks that could then be caught in the arm’s collector head for safe keeping and return to Earth. 

The descent to the surface of Bennu took roughly four hours, about the time it takes the asteroid to make one full revolution. After this slow approach, the actual TAG sample collection procedure remarkably lasted only a few seconds. 

Preparing for TAG did not go exactly as planned. Mission organizers initially hoped the surface of Bennu would have plenty of potential landing spots covered primarily with fine materials comparable to sand or gravel. It turns out the surface of Bennu is extremely rugged with no real welcoming landing spots. 

After spending much of the last two years reevaluating the mission, the team decided to try “threading the needle” through the boulder-filled landscape at Nightingale.

It’s all paid off, so far. Osiris-Rex was able to touch down, but we won’t know for sure if it collected a sample until later in October. Fortunately, if the tag was unsuccessful, the spacecraft can try again. It’s equipped with three nitrogen canisters to fire and disrupt the surface, which means the team gets up to three tries at nabbing a sample. 

Then what?

Immediately after collecting its sample, Osiris-Rex fired its thrusters to back away from Bennu. The spacecraft will continue to hang around above Bennu for the rest of 2020 before finally performing a departure maneuver next year and beginning a two-year journey back to Earth. 

On Sept. 24, 2023, Osiris-Rex is scheduled to jettison its sample return capsule, which will land in the Utah desert and be recovered for study. 

Hasn’t this been done before?

Yes. Japan’s Hayabusa spacecraft successfully returned tiny grains of the asteroid 25143 Itokawa to Earth in 2010. Its successor, Hayabusa-2, fired a special copper bullet at the large asteroid Ryugu in 2019 and then retrieved some of the shrapnel. That sample is on its way back to Earth.  

How can I watch? 

The CNET Highlights channel covered the event live. You can rewatch the stream below:

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Trio who spent six months on space station return to Earth safely – World News – Castanet.net

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A trio of space travellers safely returned to Earth on Thursday after a six-month mission on the International Space Station.

The Soyuz MS-16 capsule carrying NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, and Roscosmos’ Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner landed on the steppes of Kazakhstan southeast of the town of Dzhezkazgan Thursday. After a brief medical checkup, the three will be taken by helicopters to Dzhezkazgan, from where they will depart home.

Cassidy will board a NASA plane back to Houston, while Vagner and Ivanishin will fly home to Star City, Russia.

The crew smiled as they talked to masked members of the recovery team, and NASA and Roscosmos reported that they were in good condition.

As part of additional precautions due to the coronavirus, the rescue team members meeting the crew were tested for the virus and the number of people involved in the recovery effort was limited.

Cassidy, Ivanishin and Vagner spent 196 days in orbit, having arrived at the station on April 9. They left behind NASA’s Kate Rubins and Roscosmos’ Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, who arrived at the orbiting outpost a week ago for a six-month stay.

Cassidy, returning from his third space mission, has now spent a total of 378 days in space, the fifth highest among U.S. astronauts.

While serving as the station’s commander, Cassidy welcomed SpaceX Demo-2 crew Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, the first NASA astronauts to launch to the space station on an American spacecraft from American soil since the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2011.

Cassidy and Behnken completed four spacewalks for a total of 23 hours and 37 minutes, becoming two of only four U.S. astronauts to complete 10 spacewalks.

Before the crew’s departure, Russian cosmonauts were able to temporarily seal the air leak they tried to locate for several months. The small leak has posed no immediate danger to the station’s crew, and Roscosmos engineers have been working on a permanent seal.

In November, Rubins, Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov are expected to greet NASA’s SpaceX first operational Crew Dragon mission comprising NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

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Watch NASA's Spacecraft Touch Down on a Tiny Asteroid – Futurism

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Touchdown Confirmed

NASA has finally released footage from a truly epic moment: the agency’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft touching down on asteroid Bennu’s surface to scoop up a bunch of space rocks.

Years have led up to this moment. Finally, on Tuesday, the spacecraft made its careful approach to go in for a bite. The tiny spacecraft spent two years orbiting Bennu, an asteroid 500 meters across, which was more than 200 million miles away from Earth at the time.

Kicking Up Rocks

OSIRIS-REx only touched the surface of the space rock for about six seconds, according to NASA, near the Nightingale crater, a crater about 66 feet across near Bennu’s north pole.

“Bottom line is from analysis of the images that we’ve gotten down so far, is that the sampling event went really well, as good as we could have imagined it would,” principal investigator Dante Lauretta said during a press conference following the touchdown. “And I think the chances that there’s material inside […] have gone way up way up based on the analysis of the images.”

Mission Nightingale

The OSIRIS-REx team chose the site because prior scans showed a variety of rocky surface materials. Scientists also believe the rocks are relatively young at the crater compared to the rest of the asteroid, meaning that a sample could give them the best insights into Bennu’s history.

Immediately following the collection maneuver, the spacecraft burned its boosters to back away and gain a safe distance.

While it was an incredible feat for NASA to pull off, it’s not the first time a space agency has collected samples from an asteroid. The Japanese space agency’s Hayabusa spacecraft became the first to do so in 2010 when it sampled a few micrograms of material from the Itokawa asteroid.

READ MORE: Stunning images show NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft stirring up rocks on an asteroid [The Verge]

More on the mission: For the First Time In Its History, NASA Successfully Collects Sample From Asteroid

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