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NASA ushering in new era with first operational launch of SpaceX Crew Dragon carrying 4 astronauts – CBS News



After six years, two successful test flights and a multi-billion-dollar investment in American enterprise, NASA is poised to launch four astronauts to the International Space Station this weekend, the first government-certified flight of a commercially developed SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Originally expected to take off Saturday, the launch was delayed to Sunday, at 7:27 p.m. EST, because of expected high winds at the Kennedy Space Center and weather offshore where the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage will attempt to land on a SpaceX droneship. The company plans to reuse the booster for the next Crew Dragon flight.

Appropriately enough, the three-man one-woman crew named their spaceship “Resilience.”

“That means functioning well in times of stress or overcoming adverse events,” said mission commander Mike Hopkins. “I think all of us can agree that 2020 has certainly been a challenging year — global pandemic, economic hardships, civil unrest, isolation.

“And despite all of that, SpaceX, NASA has kept the production line open and finished this amazing vehicle that’s getting ready to go on its maiden flight to the International Space Station.”

How to watch the SpaceX Crew Dragon launch

  • What: NASA launches 4 astronauts aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon on a mission to the International Space Station
  • Date: Sunday, November 15, 2020
  • Time: Live coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. EST. Launch targeted for 7:27 p.m. EST
  • Location: Kennedy Space Center, Florida
  • Online stream: Live on CBSN in the player above and on your mobile or streaming device

Joining Hopkins will be former F/A-18 carrier pilot Victor Glover, research astronaut Shannon Walker and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

It will be the second flight for both Hopkins and Walker, who flew earlier aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft, and the third for Noguchi, a veteran of both the Soyuz and the space shuttle. Glover, the first African American astronaut to join a long-duration space station crew, is making his first space flight.

Left to right: NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi arrive at Kennedy Space Station to prepare for launch aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon to the International Space Station. 

NASA/Joel Kowsky

If all goes well, the Crew Dragon will execute an automated rendezvous with the International Space Station, gliding in for a docking at the lab’s forward port around 11 p.m. Monday to kick off a six-month stay.

Kennedy Space Center remains closed for normal business due to coronavirus protocols and the astronauts have been in strict quarantine for the past several weeks to make sure no one carries the virus to the space station.

Against that backdrop, SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted overnight that he “was tested for COVID four times today. Two tests came back negative, two came back positive.” He later added he had experienced “mild sniffles & cough & slight fever past few days. Right now, no symptoms.”

Bridenstine told The Washington Post that contact tracing showed Musk had not come in contact with anyone who had access to the Crew-1 astronauts and no impact on the launch was expected.

NASA managers did not attempt to warn off possibly large crowds expected to gather along Florida’s “Space Coast” to witness the weekend launching. But Kathy Lueders, director of NASA’s space exploration directorate, urged the public to be cautious, to wear masks and socially distance wherever they might gather.

“We’re expecting a large turnout,” she said. “We do want folks to celebrate with us (but) we do want people to be careful when they’re out there. We’d be really sad if this was a super-spreader event.”

COVID aside, NASA and SpaceX managers held a launch readiness review Friday to assess the weather and the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket’s nine first stage engines during a test firing Wednesday. The engines received a clean bill of health and forecasters predicted a 60% chance of acceptable weather at the launch site Sunday.

The Crew-1 astronauts in a SpaceX simulator (left to right): Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins and Soichi Noguchi.


Mission managers will continue to assess conditions in the Atlantic Ocean along the Crew Dragon’s northeasterly trajectory to make sure winds and sea states are acceptable in case of a malfunction that could force the crew to make an emergency splashdown.

Relatively calm seas are required for recovery of the Falcon 9’s first stage, which the company plans to re-use for the next Crew Dragon flight six months from now. A company droneship, the whimsically named “Just Read the Instructions,” went to sea Thursday, heading for the landing zone several hundred miles northeast of Cape Canaveral.

“Landing weather for the first stage is a big deal,” Lueders said Thursday. “It’s the stage we’ll be using for Crew-2, so we care about it. Not that we don’t care about them (all), but this is an important stage.”

NASA is counting on the Crew-1 flight and follow-on missions by SpaceX and Boeing to end the agency’s sole reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft for trips to and from low-Earth orbit. NASA has spent $4 billion since 2006 buying seats aboard Soyuz spacecraft and another $6 billion to date on its Commercial Crew Program, ultimately awarding contracts to SpaceX and Boeing.

To achieve “operational” status, the agency had to “human rate” the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 rocket, an exhaustive process culminating in two test flights, one unpiloted and the other carrying astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken to the space station for a 64-day stay earlier this summer.

SpaceX splashdown marks a milestone


With two successful test flights behind them, NASA engineers were able to certify the spacecraft after a detailed analysis of telemetry and inspections of the flight hardware. It was the first such certification since the space shuttle was being built in the 1970s and the first ever granted a commercially developed spacecraft.

“I believe 20 years from now, we’re going to look back at this time as a major turning point in our exploration and utilization of space,” said Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight development at NASA Headquarters. “It’s not an exaggeration to state that with this milestone, NASA and SpaceX have changed the historical arc of human space transportation.

“Not only can NASA transport our astronauts to and from the International Space Station with U.S. systems, but now, for the first time in history, there is a commercial capability from a private sector entity to safely and reliably transport people to space.”

Thanks to multiple NASA contracts to deliver cargo and astronauts to the space station, “this is all leading up to the big operational cadence,” said Benji Reed, SpaceX director of crew mission management. “And this is super cool.”

NASA managers opted to press ahead with the Crew-1 flight after work to correct a handful of problems in the wake of this summer’s Demo-2 test flight. In one case, SpaceX beefed up the heat-shield insulation in areas where more re-entry erosion was seen than expected. In another, the company improved a system used to trigger release of stabilizing drogue parachutes during descent to splashdown.

More recently, SpaceX had to resolve a subtle Falcon 9 engine problem that triggered a launch abort October 2 that grounded a U.S. Space Force navigation satellite. The problem was traced to residual contamination in turbopump machinery found in the GPS rocket. Similar problems were found in the Crew-1’s Falcon 9.

Two engines in each booster were replaced and the GPS satellite was successfully launched November 5. SpaceX test fired the engines in the Crew-1 Falcon 9’s first stage on Wednesday and no problems were seen.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon is rolled out to the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in anticipation of the Crew-1 mission launching 4 astronauts to the International Space Station.

NASA/Joel Kowsky

Standing by to welcome them aboard will be Expedition 64 commander Sergey Ryzhikov, Sergei Kud-Sverchkov and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins. Rubins used NASA’s last currently contracted Soyuz seat when she and her two crewmates blasted off October 14 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard the Soyuz MS-17/63S spacecraft.

With the arrival of the Crew Dragon, the station crew will swell to seven, with five working and living in the U.S. segment of the lab while Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov operate systems in the Russian segment.

“It’s going to be great to watch the Crew-1 crew come through that hatch, and we’ll definitely welcome them on board because with more crew members, we can spend a lot more time doing scientific research and experiments,” Rubins said before launch.

“There’s a certain amount of time we have to devote just to station maintenance, and with only one or two U.S. and international partner crew members, it’s hard to get all of the science done that we want to do. So having all these extra crew members there means we can accomplish that much more scientifically.”

The station’s life support systems, including its water recycling equipment and carbon dioxide removal gear, have been beefed up to support a seven-member crew and additional stores and supplies have been laid in.

But the U.S. segment of the station only has four crew “sleep stations” and Hopkins plans to bunk with a sleeping bag in the powered-down Crew Dragon. A new crew compartment is expected to launch next year.

If all goes well, Hopkins, Glover, Walker and Noguchi will spend 165 days aboard the space station, welcoming four cargo ships along the way. Multiple spacewalks are planned to outfit an external experiment platform on the European Space Agency’s Columbus science module and to upgrade the station’s solar power system.

And throughout their stay, the crew will focus on a wide variety of experiments and research projects.

The Crew-1 launch will mirror the SpaceX Demo-2 test flight, seen here blasted off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on May 30.


The next Crew Dragon, carrying Crew-2 astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, is scheduled for launch around March 30. Three Russians — Oleg Novitsky, Pyotr Dubrov and Sergey Korsakov — will arrive aboard a Soyuz on April 10, briefly boosting the station crew to 11.

Ryzhikov, Kud-Sverchkov and Rubins return to Earth one week later, on April 17, with a landing on the steppe of Kazakhstan. Hopkins and his Crew-1 colleagues will follow suit around May 1, splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean northeast of Cape Canaveral or in the Gulf of Mexico south of Pensacola, depending on the weather.

That will leave Kimbrough and his Crew-2 colleagues on board the station along with Novitsky, Dubrov and Korsakov until the next Crew Dragon arrives in the fall.

“We’re considering seven crew is pretty much our steady state going forward,” said Kenny Todd, NASA’s space station integration manager. “You might have periods where you’ll have a couple of vehicles and a larger crew during some handover periods. But the steady state crew size will be seven.”

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New species of crested dinosaur identified in Mexico



A team of palaeontologists in Mexico have identified a new species of dinosaur after finding its 72 million-year-old fossilized remains almost a decade ago, Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) said on Thursday.

The new species, named Tlatolophus galorum, was identified as a crested dinosaur after 80% of its skull was recovered, allowing experts to compare it to other dinosaurs of that type, INAH said.

The investigation, which also included specialists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, began in 2013 with the discovery of an articulated tail in the north-central Mexican state of Coahuila, where other discoveries have been made.

“Once we recovered the tail, we continued digging below where it was located. The surprise was that we began to find bones such as the femur, the scapula and other elements,” said Alejandro Ramírez, a scientist involved in the discovery.

Later, the scientists were able to collect, clean and analyze other bone fragments from the front part of the dinosaur’s body.

The palaeontologists had in their possession the crest of the dinosaur, which was 1.32 meters long, as well as other parts of the skull: lower and upper jaws, palate and even a part known as the neurocranium, where the brain was housed, INAH said.

The Mexican anthropology body also explained the meaning of the name – Tlatolophus galorum – for the new species of dinosaur.

Tlatolophus is a mixture of two words, putting together a term from the indigenous Mexican language of Nahuatl that means “word” with the Greek term meaning “crest”. Galorum refers to the people linked to the research, INAH said.


(Reporting by Abraham Gonzalez; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

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Alberta family searches for answers in teen's sudden death after COVID exposure, negative tests –



A southern Alberta mother and father are grappling with the sudden, unexplained death of their 17-year-old daughter, and with few answers, they’re left wondering if she could be the province’s youngest victim of COVID-19.

Sarah Strate — a healthy, active Grade 12 student at Magrath High School who loved singing, dancing and being outdoors — died on Monday, less than a week after being notified she’d been exposed to COVID-19.

While two tests came back negative, her parents say other signs point to the coronavirus, and they’re waiting for more answers. 

“It was so fast. It’s all still such a shock,” said Sarah’s mother, Kristine Strate. “She never even coughed. She had a sore throat and her ears were sore for a while, and [she had] swollen neck glands.”

Kristine said Sarah developed mild symptoms shortly after her older sister — who later tested positive for COVID-19 —  visited from Lethbridge, one of Alberta’s current hot spots for the virus.

The family went into isolation at their home in Magrath on Tuesday, April 20. They were swabbed the next day and the results were negative.

‘Everything went south, super-fast’

By Friday night, Sarah had developed fever and chills. On Saturday, she started vomiting and Kristine, a public health nurse, tried to keep her hydrated.

“She woke up feeling a bit more off on Monday morning,” Kristine said. “And everything went south, super-fast.”

Sarah had grown very weak and her parents decided to call 911 when she appeared to become delirious.

“She had her blanket on and I was talking to her and, in an instant, she was unresponsive,” said Kristine, who immediately started performing CPR on her daughter.

When paramedics arrived 20 minutes later, they were able to restore a heartbeat and rushed Sarah to hospital in Lethbridge, where she died.

“I thought there was hope once we got her heart rate back. I really did,” recalled Sarah’s father, Ron.

“He was praying for a miracle, and sometimes miracles don’t come,” said Kristine.

Strate’s parents say her health deteriorated quickly after being exposed to COVID-19. She died at Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge on Monday. (Ron Strate)

Searching for answers

At the hospital, the family was told Sarah’s lungs were severely infected and that she may have ended up with blood clots in both her heart and lungs, a condition that can be a complication of COVID-19.

But a second test at the hospital came back negative for COVID-19.

“There really is no other answer,” Ron said. “When a healthy 17-year-old girl, who was sitting up in her bed and was able to talk, and within 10 minutes is unconscious on our floor — there was no reason [for it].”

The province currently has no record of any Albertans under the age of 20 who have died of COVID-19.

According to the Strate family, the medical examiner is running additional blood and tissue tests, in an effort to uncover the cause of Sarah’s death.

‘Unusual but not impossible’

University of Alberta infectious disease specialist Dr. Lynora Saxinger, who was not involved in Sarah’s treatment, says it is conceivable that further testing could uncover evidence of a COVID-19 infection, despite two negative test results.

However, she hasn’t seen a similar case in Alberta.

“It would be unusual but not impossible because no test is perfect. We have had cases where an initial test is negative and then if you keep on thinking it’s COVID and you re-test, you then can find COVID,” she said.

According to Saxinger, the rate of false negatives is believed to be very low. But it can happen if there are problems with the testing or specimen collection.

She says people are more likely to test positive after symptoms develop. 

“The best sensitivity of the test is around day four or five of having symptoms,” she said. “So you can miss things if you test very, very early. And with new development of symptoms, it’s always a good time to re-test because then the likelihood of getting a positive test is a little higher. But again, no test is perfect.” 

Sarah deteriorated so quickly — dying five days after she first developed symptoms — she didn’t live long enough to make it to her follow-up COVID-19 test. Instead, it was done at the hospital.

‘An amazing kid’

The Strate family now faces an agonizing wait for answers — one that will likely take months — about what caused Sarah’s death.

But Ron, who teaches at the school where Sarah attended Grade 12, wants his daughter to be remembered for the life she lived, not her death.

Strate, pictured here at three years old, had plans to become a massage therapist. She attended Grade 12 at Magrath High School and was an active, healthy teenager who was involved in sports, music and the school’s suicide prevention group. (Ron Strate)

Sarah was one of five children. Ron says she was strong, active and vibrant and had plans to become a massage therapist after graduating from high school.

She played several sports and loved to sing and dance as part of a show choir. She was a leader in the school’s suicide prevention group and would stand up for other students who were facing bullying.

“She’s one of the leaders in our Hope Squad … which goes out and helps kids to not be scared,” he father said.

“She’s an amazing kid.”

Sarah would often spend hours helping struggling classmates, and her parents hope her kindness is not forgotten.

“She’d done so many good things. Honestly, I’ve got so many messages from parents saying, ‘You have no idea how much your daughter helped our kid,'” said Ron.

“This 17-year-old girl probably lived more of a life in 17 years than most adults will live in their whole lives. She was so special. I love her so much.”

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China launches key module of space station planned for 2022



BEIJING (Reuters) -China launched an unmanned module on Thursday containing what will become living quarters for three crew on a permanent space station that it plans to complete by the end of 2022, state media reported.

The module, named “Tianhe”, or “Harmony of the Heavens”, was launched on the Long March 5B, China’s largest carrier rocket, at 11:23 a.m. (0323 GMT) from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre on the southern island of Hainan.

Tianhe is one of three main components of what would be China’s first self-developed space station, rivalling the only other station in service – the International Space Station (ISS).

The ISS is backed by the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada. China was barred from participating by the United States.

“(Tianhe) is an important pilot project in the building of a powerful nation in both technology and in space,” state media quoted President Xi Jinping as saying in a congratulatory speech.

Tianhe forms the main living quarters for three crew members in the Chinese space station, which will have a life span of at least 10 years.

The Tianhe launch was the first of 11 missions needed to complete the space station, which will orbit Earth at an altitude of 340 to 450 km (211-280 miles).

In the later missions, China will launch the two other core modules, four manned spacecraft and four cargo spacecraft.

Work on the space station programme began a decade ago with the launch of a space lab Tiangong-1 in 2011, and later, Tiangong-2 in 2016.

Both helped China test the programme’s space rendezvous and docking capabilities.

China aims to become a major space power by 2030. It has ramped up its space programme with visits to the moon, the launch of an uncrewed probe to Mars and the construction of its own space station.

In contrast, the fate of the ageing ISS – in orbit for more than two decades – remains uncertain.

The project is set to expire in 2024, barring funding from its partners. Russia said this month that it would quit the project from 2025.

Russia is deepening ties with China in space as tensions with Washington rise.

Moscow has slammed the U.S.-led Artemis moon exploration programme and instead chosen to join Beijing in setting up a lunar research outpost in the coming years.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo and Liangping Gao; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Simon Cameron-Moore and Lincoln Feast.)

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