NASA may need more astronauts to meet its human spaceflight goals over the coming years, according to a new report from the agency’s investigative office.
Currently, NASA only flies astronauts to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsules and Russia’s Soyuz vehicles. But the agency’s ambitious Artemis program to return humans to the moon is set to change that, with the program’s first crewed mission targeting 2024. That flight is meant to be the first stage in developing a long-term lunar exploration program that supports future human exploration of Mars.
As a result, NASA is looking at sending more astronauts off-Earth — perhaps more than the agency can expect to have available, according to a report from the Office of Investigator General released on Tuesday (Jan. 11) that evaluates how NASA manages its astronauts.
“After reaching its peak of nearly 150 astronauts in 2000, the size of the corps has diminished with the end of space shuttle missions in 2011 and now stands at 44, one of the smallest cadres of astronauts in the past 20 years,” officials wrote in the report. “As NASA enters a new era of human space flight, including returning to the moon and eventually landing humans on Mars, effective management of its astronaut corps — the people who fly its space flight missions — is critical to the agency’s success.”
Related: How to become an astronaut
While flying on missions to space missions is perhaps the highlight of a NASA astronaut’s duties, NASA also assigns astronauts roles like capsule communicators who relay information from mission control to space, as well as training new astronauts and speaking with the public about NASA’s work.
Right now, NASA has the smallest astronaut corps since the crew slipped below 40 people in the 1970s. The current size of the corps is in part due to a surge in retirements — about 10 a year, according to the report — around 2011 when the agency grounded its fleet of space shuttles and flight opportunities starkly decreased.
The potential shortage is even more complicated because astronauts are not interchangeable, as the report noted. NASA assigns individual astronauts to specific flights based on criteria ranging from flight experience to their training with the specific vehicle to how their specific expertise fits in with the rest of the crew. Those requirements will become more complicated to meet as NASA astronauts fly on more different types of vehicles to more destinations, the report warned.
“With a corps aligned to a single mission, as it is now with the ISS [International Space Station], the Astronaut Office is in a position to quickly reassign astronauts because all 44 have been selected and initially trained for the same mission,” officials wrote in the report. “However, as the agency undertakes new missions with new requirements and new vehicles, fewer astronauts will be trained and available for each mission.”
The agency uses a formula to guide how many astronauts it will bring into each new class of astronaut candidates. The newest class of 10 was announced in December 2021 and just began the agency’s general two-year training program; the class prior, which “graduated” in January 2020 added 11 astronauts to the corps.
After becoming a full-fledged astronaut, training for a space station mission requires an additional 18 to 24 months. The first two astronauts to fly from the most recent graduated class are currently in space, Raja Chari and Kayla Barron. This lengthy training time means that the latest recruits likely won’t begin to fly until perhaps late 2025, so the agency needs to think now about its crew requirements for later in the decade.
Artemis missions are expected to require about the same period of specialized training as space station missions, the report noted. But while NASA has selected a group of 18 astronauts from which to pull Artemis crewmembers, it has not assigned any seats yet, nor has the agency developed the training program for its moon missions; the report warned that the agency may be running low on time for that process.
“While the Astronaut Office estimates training for the Artemis 3 and successor missions will require approximately two years, even with the projected delays to Artemis 2 and 3 launches the agency could be overestimating the time available to develop and implement the necessary training framework and regimen across key Artemis systems,” the report noted.
Overall, the report conveys concern that NASA’s astronaut corps will join the list of constraints on future missions along with factors like budgets, spacesuit supply and rocket manufacturing. “If not addressed,” the report states of its astronaut recommendations, “these factors could potentially result in disruptive crew reorganizations, extended training periods, or mission delays.”
In addition to flagging concerns about astronaut quantity and training schedules, the report also suggested that the agency beef up its information management system for data including astronaut demographics and skills to help facilitate the assignment process.
For example, as NASA pushes to diversify its representation in space, the agency needs accurate demographic information about its astronauts, the report noted. Similarly, as missions head to planetary surfaces instead of low Earth orbit, tracking which astronauts have backgrounds in geology — currently just four astronauts — will be important, according to the report.
As part of the report procedure, the Office of Inspector General provided a draft of the document to Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations for comment. Lueders wrote that the agency concurred with all four of the report’s recommendations and intends to execute them by November. NASA declined to provide additional comments about the report to Space.com.
Explainer-Scientists struggle to monitor Tonga volcano after massive eruption
Scientists are struggling to monitor an active volcano that erupted off the South Pacific island of Tonga at the weekend, after the explosion destroyed its sea-level crater and drowned its mass, obscuring it from satellites.
The eruption of Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano, which sits on the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire, sent tsunami waves across the Pacific Ocean and was heard some 2,300 kms (1,430 miles) away in New Zealand.
“The concern at the moment is how little information we have and that’s scary,” said Janine Krippner, a New Zealand-based volcanologist with the Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program.
“When the vent is below water, nothing can tell us what will happen next.”
Krippner said on-site instruments were likely destroyed in the eruption and the volcanology community was pooling together the best available data and expertise to review the explosion and predict anticipated future activity.
Saturday’s eruption was so powerful that space satellites captured not only huge clouds of ash but also an atmospheric shockwave that radiated out from the volcano at close to the speed of sound.
Photographs and videos showed grey ash clouds billowing over the South Pacific and metre-high waves surging onto the coast of Tonga.
There are no official reports of injuries or deaths in Tonga https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/impact-assessment-aid-efforts-underway-world-responds-tonga-tsunami-2022-01-16 yet but internet and telephone communications are extremely limited and outlying coastal areas remain cut off.
Experts said the volcano, which last erupted in 2014, had been puffing away for about a month before rising magma, superheated to around 1,000 degrees Celsius, met with 20-degree seawater on Saturday, causing an instantaneous and massive explosion.
The unusual “astounding” speed and force of the eruption indicated a greater force at play than simply magma meeting water, scientists said.
As the superheated magma rose quickly and met the cool seawater, so did a huge volume of volcanic gases, intensifying the explosion, said Raymond Cas, a professor of volcanology at Australia’s Monash University.
Some volcanologists are likening the eruption to the 1991 Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines, the second-largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century, which killed around 800 people.
The Tonga Geological Services agency, which was monitoring the volcano, was unreachable on Monday. Most communications to Tonga have been cut after the main undersea communications cable lost power.
American meteorologist, Chris Vagasky, studied lightning around the volcano and found it increasing to about 30,000 strikes in the days leading up to the eruption. On the day of the eruption, he detected 400,000 lightning events in just three hours, which comes down to 100 lightning events per second.
That compared with 8,000 strikes per hour during the Anak Krakatau eruption in 2018, caused part of the crater to collapse into the Sunda Strait and send a tsunami crashing into western Java, which killed hundreds of people.
Cas said it is difficult to predict follow-up activity and that the volcano’s vents could continue to release gases and other material for weeks or months.
“It wouldn’t be unusual to get a few more eruptions, though maybe not as big as Saturday,” he said. “Once the volcano is de-gassed, it will settle down.”
(Reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Jane Wardell and Michael Perry)
Astronauts at Risk of 'Space Anemia' | Health | thesuburban.com – The Suburban Newspaper
MONDAY, Jan. 17, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Astronauts can develop a condition called space anemia because their bodies destroy more red blood cells than normal when in space, a groundbreaking study shows.
Assessments of 14 astronauts over six months between space missions found that 54% more blood cells were destroyed while they were in space than when they were on Earth, according to findings published Jan. 14 in Nature Medicine.
“Space anemia has consistently been reported when astronauts returned to Earth since the first space missions, but we didn’t know why,” said lead author Dr. Guy Trudel of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute in Canada. “Our study shows that upon arriving in space, more red blood cells are destroyed, and this continues for the entire duration of the astronauts’ mission.”
Before this study, it was believed that space anemia was due to fluid shifting into an astronaut’s upper body upon arrival in space.
Astronauts lose 10% of the liquid in their blood vessels this way. It was thought that their bodies rapidly destroyed 10% of their red blood cells to restore the balance, and that red blood cell control returned to normal after 10 days in space.
But this study found that red blood cell destruction is a primary effect of being in space, not just the result of fluid shifts.
On Earth, our bodies create and destroy 2 million red blood cells every second. But the astronauts in this study — both male and female — destroyed 3 million every second while in space.
Five of 13 astronauts in the study were clinically anemic when they returned to Earth. One of the 14 did not have blood drawn on landing.
The researchers also found that space anemia is reversible, with red blood cells levels progressively returning to normal three to four months after astronauts returned from space.
“Thankfully, having fewer red blood cells in space isn’t a problem when your body is weightless,” Trudel said in a hospital news release. “But when landing on Earth and potentially on other planets or moons, anemia affecting your energy, endurance and strength can threaten mission objectives. The effects of anemia are only felt once you land, and must deal with gravity again.”
The findings could be prove useful for patients who develop anemia after long illnesses that require bed rest. Bed rest has been shown to cause anemia, but how it does so is unknown.
The mechanism may be like what occurs in space anemia, according to Trudel, who plans to investigate this theory in future research.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on anemia.
SOURCE: The Ottawa Hospital, news release, Jan. 14, 2022
Western scientists study meteorite made famous after crashing into B.C. woman's bedroom – CBC.ca
A meteorite that ripped through a roof and landed inches from a B.C. woman’s head is believed to be around 470 million years old, Western researchers say.
Ruth Hamilton of Golden, B.C. was woken abruptly on the night of Oct. 3, when the small charcoal grey rock the size of a melon broke through her ceiling and landed between her floral pillowcases.
After coming to terms with the surreal experience, she lent the rock to Western University’s physics and astronomy department in London, Ont., where researchers are working to map its orbital journey around the sun before it arrived in Hamilton’s bedroom.
“It was very exciting getting it because any time you see a new meteorite, it’s kind of like Christmas Day,” said adjunct professor Phil McCausland, who leads the investigation.
Upon inspection, McCausland found that the meteorite is an L chondrite, one of the most commonly found types of meteorites to fall on Earth.
What’s not so common about Hamilton’s meteorite is where it originates in the sky.
“This rock has a very interesting and unusual orbit,” said McCausland.
“Chondrite meteors are thought with good evidence to have come from the early solar system, but they went through a major asteroid breakup event. So there is a big body in the asteroid belt that broke up about 470 million years ago,” he said.
“From then, a bunch of material has been delivered around the inner solar system, some of it arriving on Earth. And this, prospectively, is one of those pieces.”
McCausland said so far, the orbits of only a handful of L chondrite meteors are known.
“What happens out in space is that the cosmic rays interact with the rock and end up irradiating it, so that it has somewhat activated isotopes that decay over time,” he said. “We can detect what the decay products are that are coming out of this, the gamma rays and so on. And that gives us a handle on the orbital history of the rock.”
Afternoon Drive9:04Meteorite analysis at Western University
He added that researchers are looking to dash cam and surveillance footage, as well as local photographers who captured the fireball event, to reconstruct the rock’s flight path.
Under Canadian law, the meteor is owned by its finder – in this case, Ruth Hamilton. It’s hers to sell, donate, or keep.
Meanwhile, McCausland will ensure a sample is registered with the Meteoritical Society, where it will be available for future scientific research.
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