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NASA capsule buzzes moon, last big step before lunar orbit

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA’s Orion capsule reached the moon Monday, whipping around the far side and buzzing the lunar surface on its way to a record-breaking orbit with test dummies sitting in for astronauts.

It’s the first time a capsule has visited the moon since NASA’s Apollo program 50 years ago, and represents a huge milestone in the $4.1 billion test flight that began last Wednesday.

Video of the looming moon and our pale blue planet more than 230,000 miles (370,000 kilometers) in the distance left workers “giddy” at Houston’s Johnson Space Center, home to Mission Control, according to flight director Judd Frieling. Even the flight controllers themselves were “absolutely astounded.”

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“Just smiles across the board,” said Orion program manager Howard Hu.

The close approach of 81 miles (130 kilometers) occurred as the crew capsule and its three wired-up dummies were on the far side of the moon. Because of a half-hour communication blackout, flight controllers in Houston did not know if the critical engine firing went well until the capsule emerged from behind the moon. The capsule’s cameras sent back a picture of the Earth — a tiny blue dot surrounded by blackness.

The capsule accelerated well beyond 5,000 mph (8,000 kph) as it regained radio contact, NASA said. Less than an hour later, Orion soared above Tranquility Base, where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on July 20, 1969. There were no photos of the site because the pass was in darkness, but managers promised to try for pictures on the return flyby in two weeks.

 

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Orion needed to slingshot around the moon to pick up enough speed to enter the sweeping, lopsided lunar orbit. Another engine firing will place the capsule in that orbit Friday.

This coming weekend, Orion will shatter NASA’s distance record for a spacecraft designed for astronauts — nearly 250,000 miles (400,000 kilometers) from Earth, set by Apollo 13 in 1970. And it will keep going, reaching a maximum distance from Earth next Monday at nearly 270,000 miles (433,000 kilometers).

The capsule will spend close to a week in lunar orbit, before heading home. A Pacific splashdown is planned for Dec. 11.

Orion has no lunar lander; a touchdown won’t come until NASA astronauts attempt a lunar landing in 2025 with SpaceX’s Starship. Before then, astronauts will strap into Orion for a ride around the moon as early as 2024.

Mission manager Mike Sarafin was delighted with the progress of the mission, giving it a “cautiously optimistic A-plus” so far.

The Space Launch System rocket — the most powerful ever built by NASA — performed exceedingly well in its debut, Sarafin told reporters. He said teams are dealing with two issues that require workarounds — one involving the navigational star trackers, the other the power system,

The 322-foot (98-meter) rocket caused more damage than expected, however, at the Kennedy Space Center launch pad. The force from the 8.8 million pounds (4 million kilograms) of liftoff thrust was so great that it tore off the blast doors of the elevator, leaving it unusable.

Sarafin said the pad damage will be repaired in plenty of time before the next launch.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

 

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Eta Aquariids meteor shower: Fireball streaks across BC sky

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A bright green fireball streaked across the Okanagan sky Wednesday night, and sightings were reported elsewhere in southern B.C.

The exciting celestial event occurred just before 10 p.m. Wednesday and residents across Kelowna, Kamloops and down to Osoyoos reported seeing the fireball.

One Castanet reader who lives near Kelowna International Airport said it appeared in the sky to the west.

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“It didn’t have a fast movement to it, it sort of came flowing down,” he said. “It was a very bright green, beautiful orb, just very strange, that fell out of the sky last night.”

Kamloops resident Justin Moss caught the event on his house’s surveillance camera, pointing south towards the TRU campus.

People living on Vancouver Island posted online about seeing the event as well, along with others in Washington State.

While it’s not clear what the fireball in the sky was, the Eta Aquariids meteor shower is currently ongoing. The meteor shower, associated with Halley’s Comet, generally runs from about April 19 to May 28 every year, peaking around May 5 or 6.

A meteor’s colour is indicative of the chemical makeup of a meteor. Those with a lot of nickel glow green when they burn up in the earth’s atmosphere.

 

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NASA Contractor Warns That Boeing Launch Must Be Stopped "Before Something Catastrophic Happens"

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“NASA needs to re-double safety checks and re-examine safety protocols to make sure the Starliner is safe before something catastrophic happens to the astronauts and to the people on the ground.”

Shut It Down

A NASA contractor is urging the space agency to suspend the upcoming Boeing Starliner launch over major safety concerns with the aerospace company’s wares.

In a press release, the president of ValveTech, a NASA contractor that supplies the agency with parts, warned that the buzzing sound heard during the now-scrubbed Starliner launch could indicate something seriously wrong with the transport capsule.

“As a valued NASA partner and as valve experts, we strongly urge them not to attempt a second launch due to the risk of a disaster occurring on the launchpad,” ValveTech president Erin Faville cautioned. “According to media reports, a buzzing sound indicating the leaking valve was noticed by someone walking by the Starliner minutes before launch. This sound could indicate that the valve has passed its lifecycle.”

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After the incident, which occurred just before Starliner was supposed to attempt its first crewed launch earlier in May, NASA has said that it won’t try again until at least May 17. According to Faville, much needs to be be done between now and then to head off the worst possible outcomes.

“NASA needs to re-double safety checks and re-examine safety protocols,” he said, “to make sure the Starliner is safe before something catastrophic happens to the astronauts and to the people on the ground.”

Bad News Boeing

The CEO of United Launch Alliance, which is launching the craft into orbit, pushed back strongly on X-formerly-Twitter.

“Not sure what to say about this one,” he wrote. “Close to none of it is correct: Not urgent. Not leaking. Etc. Remarkable that the particular person quoted doesn’t seem to know how this type of valve works.”

ValveTech’s warnings come not just after the scrubbed Starliner launch, but also after months of terrible press for Boeing that have included parts falling off its planes, government investigations, and two dead whistleblowers.

As the company’s press release notes, the launch scrub also occurred after a November 2023 ruling in which a federal court found that Boeing had used a valve from another aerospace company, Aerojet Rocketdyne, that copied ValveTech’s designs. The part was not, according to a witness in that trial, equipped for the job it was meant to do, and as far as the company can tell, it hasn’t been replaced.

“ValveTech continues to question how NASA, Boeing and Aerojet could have qualified this valve for the mission without proper supporting data or previous history or legacy information, which in its experience, goes against aerospace-industry qualification protocols established by NASA,” the press release reads.

All told, these are some pretty serious claims, and Futurism has reached out to NASA to ask if the parts in question have been replaced.

 

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Strong solar storm could trigger northern lights in United States

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Multiple outbursts from the sun could trigger magnificent auroras in many parts of the United States this weekend.

A severe geomagnetic storm is expected to hit Earth on Friday, triggering colorful nighttime auroras, or the northern lights. People in the United States could see moderate to strong geomagnetic activity starting around 11 p.m. and lasting through Saturday.

 

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