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NASA, SpaceX set to launch space station’s next crew to orbit

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Elon Musk’s private rocket company, SpaceX, was due to launch four more astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA on Wednesday, including a veteran spacewalker and two younger crewmates chosen to join NASA’s forthcoming lunar missions.

The SpaceX-built launch vehicle, consisting of a Crew Dragon capsule perched atop a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket, was set for liftoff at 9:03 p.m. (0200 GMT Thursday) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

If all goes smoothly, the three U.S. astronauts and their European Space Agency (ESA) crewmate will arrive about 22 hours later and dock with the space station 250 miles (400 km) above the Earth to begin a six-month science mission aboard the orbiting laboratory.

But rain and heavy clouds over the Cape on Wednesday cast renewed doubt on prospects for the launch proceeding as planned, although NASA said its latest forecasts called for a 70% chance of favorable weather conditions for liftoff.

A string of weather delays has confounded the mission since its original launch window on Oct. 31. One postponement earlier this month was attributed to an astronaut’s unspecified medical issue, which has since been resolved.

Joining the SpaceX mission’s three NASA astronauts – flight commander Raja Chari, 44, mission pilot Tom Marshburn, 61, and mission specialist Kayla Barron, 34 – is German astronaut Matthias Maurer, 51, an ESA mission specialist.

Chari, a U.S. Air Force combat jet and test pilot, Barron, a U.S. Navy submarine officer and nuclear engineer, and Maurer, a materials science engineer, are all making their debut spaceflights aboard the Dragon vehicle, dubbed Endurance.

The three rookies will become the 599th, 600th and 601st humans in space, according to SpaceX.

Both Chari and Barron were also among the first group of 18 astronauts selected last year for NASA’s upcoming Artemis missions to the moon.

Spaceflight experience in low-Earth orbit and aboard the space station “is a great training ground for those kind of skills that we’ll need for return to the moon on Artemis,” NASA commercial crew manager Steve Stich told reporters during a preflight briefing late on Tuesday.

Marshburn, a physician and former NASA flight surgeon, is the most experienced astronaut of the crew, having logged two previous spaceflights and four spacewalks. He was part of a 13-member team that helped assemble the space station in 2009 and returned to the orbiting outpost in a 2012-2013 mission.

‘CREW 3’

Wednesday’s liftoff, if successful, would count as the fifth human spaceflight SpaceX has achieved to date, following its “Inspiration 4” launch in September that sent an all-civilian crew to orbit for the first time.

The latest mission would mark the fourth crew NASA has launched to orbit aboard a SpaceX vehicle in 17 months, building on a public-private partnership with the rocket company formed in 2002 by Musk, also founder of electric maker Tesla Inc.

Their collaboration helped usher in a new era for NASA leading to last year’s first launch of American astronauts from U.S. soil in nine years, since it quit flying space shuttles in 2011.

The team set for blastoff on Wednesday has been designated “Crew 3” – the third full-fledged “operational” crew NASA and SpaceX have flown to the space station after a two-astronaut trial run in May 2020.

The four astronauts of “Crew 2” safely returned to Earth late on Monday from a record 199 days in orbit, splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico off Florida after an eight-hour voyage home from the space station.

The latest mission also follows a flurry of recent high-profile astro-tourism flights. In July, two SpaceX rivals, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic Holding Inc, launched back-to-back flights with their respective billionaire founders, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson, riding along.

Last month, 90-year-old actor William Shatner, famed for playing Captain James T. Kirk in the original 1960s “Star Trek” TV series, rode aboard a Blue Origin rocket to become the oldest person to fly in space.

Crew 3 will be welcomed aboard the space station by its three current occupants – two cosmonauts from Russia and Belarus and a U.S. astronaut who shared a Soyuz flight to the orbiting platform earlier this year.

(Reporting by Joe Skipper in Cape Canaveral, Fla.; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Russia may sue NASA astronaut over claims of drilling hole in spacecraft – WION

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US-Russia spat seems to have reached space now. In a new development, Russian space agency Roscosmos has threatened to sue a NASA astronaut.   

The agency claims the astronaut drilled a two-mm hole in a Soyuz MS-09 vehicle, which was docked with the International Space Station (ISS) in 2018.  

After completing its investigation recently, the agency deemed the action as a sabotage. It cited Serena Auñón-Chancellor, an ISS crew member during the incident, as the culprit.  

Also Read: Watch | NASA mission to test out Armageddon scenario blasts off

As the allegations were handed over to law enforcement of the Russia, Roscosmos announced the possibility of criminal charges.   

With the hope of returning home early, Auñón-Chancellor purposefully made the hole, reported the Izvestia newspaper while citing sources on Friday.  

Auñón-Chancellor seems to have wanted to leave due to a blood clot or a fight with her boyfriend onboard the ISS, Russian news outlet said citing sources.  

Also Read: NASA postpones ISS spacewalk because of space debris

When Auñón-Chancellor was in space, she got married to Jeff Chancellor. The couple is still married to this day. It is unclear who is the ‘boyfriend’ as stated by sources.  

After a pressure drop was identified due to an air leak, the hole was spotted on August 30, 2018.  

(With inputs from agencies) 

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NASA aims to replace ISS with a commercial space station by 2030 – The Tribune

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Washington, Dec 1

The US space agency is planning to replace the International Space Station (ISS) with one or more commercial space stations by 2030.

NASA’s auditing body, the Office of Audits, has produced a report detailing the agency’s commitment to replace the orbiting lab with commercial space stations.

Astronauts have lived and worked onboard the ISS orbiting roughly 250 miles above the Earth’s surface for more than 20 years.

“The ISS costs about $3 billion a year, roughly a third of NASA’s annual human space flight budget, and while current plans call for the Station’s retirement in 2024, an extension to 2030 is likely,” the US space agency said in the audit report.

Anticipating its retirement, NASA has committed to replacing the ISS with one or more commercially owned and operated space destinations.

“In the fiscal year (FY) that ended September 30, 2021, Congress authorised $17 million to that end — a fraction of the $150 million the Agency said it needed. NASA’s plans for long-term, deep space human exploration missions depend on continuous access to a research laboratory in low-Earth orbit,” it added.

The Artemis mission, aimed at returning humans to the Moon and ultimately landing astronauts on Mars, is not feasible without continued human health research and technology demonstrations being conducted on the ISS and its eventual replacement.

“As long as humans intend to travel in space, NASA expects research and testing will be needed in the microgravity environment of low-Earth orbit,” the audio report mentioned.

While overall ISS operations and maintenance costs remained steady at about $1.1 billion a year from FY2016 through FY2020, systems maintenance and upgrade costs trended upward 35 per cent in the same 5-year period, rising to approximately $169 million in FY2020 due primarily to upgrades.

Meanwhile, NASA and Roscosmos are investigating the cause and long-term impacts of cracks and leaks that were recently discovered in the Station’s Service Module Transfer Tunnel, which connects the Service Module to one of eight docking ports on the Station.

“Causes being explored include structural fatigue, internal damage, external damage, and material defects. Notably, based on the models NASA used to assess the structure, the cracks should not have occurred, suggesting the possibility of an earlier-than-projected obsolescence for at least one element of the Station,” the US space agency noted. IANS

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Arctic rainfall could dominate snowfall earlier than expected: study – Global Times

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A view of Arctic Photo: VCG

Rainfall could start replacing snowfall in the Arctic decades sooner than previously thought, a study found Tuesday, warning the change caused by global warming could have effects beyond the region.

The Arctic is warming much faster than the rest of the planet, melting sea ice and adding moisture to the air that is likely to increase precipitation.

Comparing the latest projections to previous climate models, the study published in the scientific journal Nature Communications estimates the switch from snowfall-dominated annual precipitation to one dominated by rain will come about “one or two decades earlier.”

“Changes are going to be more severe and occur much earlier than projected and so will have huge implications for life in and beyond the Arctic,” the study’s main author Michelle McCrystall told AFP.

“In autumn, for example, when the greatest changes occur, the central Arctic may transition around 2070 in the latest set of models compared to 2090 in the previous set,” added McCrystall, a researcher at Canada’s University of Manitoba.

But everything depends on the degree of global warming.

At the current rate of warming rain could dominate snow in the Arctic before the end of the century, the study says. But it says limiting warming to 1.5 C could mean the Arctic stays dominated by snow.

Gavin Schmidt, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said the results “imply that the worst impacts can be avoided if countries match their stated intentions to cut emissions in line with the Paris agreement.”

But Schmidt added that he felt the study did not prove the change would come sooner than expected.

Whenever it comes, the switch from snow to rain is likely to have major effects on the Arctic ecosystem. 

More rainfall on top of current snow cover could lead to increased surface ice that would make it impossible for caribou and reindeer to forage for food.

Less snow cover also means the Arctic will lose some of its capacity to deflect solar heat and light away from the Earth’s surface and thus contribute to warming.

AFP

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