A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule is slated to take a group of professional astronauts to space this weekend. But first, NASA must look over and approve some changes SpaceX made to address some issues with a key component — the toilet.
A problem with the Crew Dragon toilet was first identified during SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission in September, which carried four people on the first all-tourism mission to orbit, where they spent three days.
Jared Isaacman, the commander and financier of the “Inspiration4” mission, as it was called, told CNN Business last month that an alarm went off during the mission, alerting the crew to an unforeseen problem with the toilet’s fan. He said he and his fellow passengers had to work with SpaceX controllers on the ground to troubleshoot.
The issue did not cause any serious problems for the Inspiration4 crew, nor were there any instances of bodily fluids getting loose inside the capsule.
“I want to be 100% clear: There were no issues in the cabin at all as it relates to that,” Isaacman said.
But after the Inspiration4 crew’s return to Earth, SpaceX disassembled their spacecraft to further inspect what might have gone wrong.
“There’s a storage tank where the the urine goes to be stored [and] there’s a tube that came disconnected or came unglued,” said William Gerstenmaier, a former associate administrator at NASA who now works as SpaceX’s head of mission assurance. “That allowed urine essentially to not go into the storage tank, but essentially go into the fan system.”
The situation highlights how spacecraft that have conducted all the necessary test flights, been vetted and approved, and even completed full missions can still prove to have unforeseen design risks.
Fans are used on spacecraft toilets to create suction and control the flow of urine because, in the microgravity environment of space, waste can — and does — go in every possible direction.
In this particular case, the Inspiration4 crew, however, did not notice any excreta floating around the cabin because the leakage was still relegated to contained areas underneath the floor, Gerstenmaier said. But when a SpaceX team pried up the floor, they confirmed there was “contamination,” he added.
As it turns out, another Crew Dragon capsule that was launched earlier but is still in space is also dealing with a similar leak.
The capsule that had been used to take professional astronauts to the International Space Station in April, on a mission dubbed Crew-2, experienced similar problems. But because those astronauts only had to rely on Crew Dragon’s on-board toilet while in transit to the ISS — rather than the full three days the Inspiration4 crew spent aboard their capsule — the mess wasn’t as bad.
That Crew Dragon capsule, however, is still attached to the ISS and will have to be used to return that crew of astronauts to Earth next month. So, SpaceX ran a series of ground tests to make sure the Crew Dragon’s aluminum structure could hold up to the leaked urine and that the substance hadn’t become dangerously corrosive.
Basically, SpaceX researchers coated some pieces of metal in urine mixed with Oxone — the same substance used to remove ammonia from urine on board Crew Dragon — to see how it would react with the aluminum. They put it inside a chamber to mimic the vacuum of space, and they found limited corrosion, Gerstenmaier said.
“We’ll double check things, we’ll triple checks things, and we got a couple more samples we’ll pull out of the chambers and inspect,” he said. “But we’ll be ready to go and make sure the crew is safe to return.”
And to make sure that such a situation never crops up again, SpaceX designed a fix for its upcoming mission, opting to weld the wayward tube in place to eliminate the risk of it coming unglued. NASA still has to give a final OK for that fix, but, all things considered, NASA and SpaceX officials are confident these issues will be put to rest, and this weekend’s mission will move forward.
In this case, “that Inspiration4 flight was really a gift for us,” said Steve Stich, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager.
This weekend’s flight will mark the fourth SpaceX Crew Dragon mission to carry professional astronauts to the space station as part of a deal SpaceX inked with NASA. On board will be NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, as well as ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer. They’ll spend six months aboard the ISS, continuing the space station’s 20-year history of hosting astronauts from all over the world to conduct scientific research.
The International Space Station just swerved to avoid space junk – Deseret News
- “Five minutes ago, the ISS avoided a conjunction with the U.S. space debris, the Pegasus carrier rocket remnants,” Rogozin said, per the report.
- According to Sky News, the mission control specialists “calculated how to correct the orbit” of the 100-meter wide space station to protect it from the collision.
- The engines of Russia’s expendable Progress cargo spacecraft, which is currently docked on the station, will be used to boost the station 1.2 km higher, per the report.
Earlier this week, NASA postponed a spacewalk, originally planned for Tuesday, when it received a space debris warning from ISS.
- “Due to lack of opportunity to properly assess the risk it could pose to the astronauts, teams have decided to delay the Nov. 30 spacewalk until more information is available,” the agency said via Twitter.
NASA received a debris notification for the space station. Due to the lack of opportunity to properly assess the risk it could pose to the astronauts, teams have decided to delay the Nov. 30 spacewalk until more information is available. https://t.co/HJCXFWBd3Y pic.twitter.com/swj5hqusSo
— International Space Station (@Space_Station) November 30, 2021
According to Sky News, NASA tracks more than 23,000 pieces of space junk, though there is much more debris too small to track but large enough to threaten human spaceflight.
And these debris travel at speeds up to 17,500 mph. “Even tiny paint flecks can damage a spacecraft when traveling at these velocities,” said NASA.
Newly Discovered Dinosaur Had A Unique Weaponized Tail – IFLScience
A newly discovered species of ankylosaur protected itself from predators with a tail weapon that is unlike anything in the paleontological record. Indeed, in an effort to describe it, the best comparison dinosaur describers could find was the Mesoamerican war club, the macuahuitl. The advantages and disadvantages of this slashing blade compared to the spikes and maces developed by other armored dinosaurs remain a mystery, but the discovery proves Gondwanan Cretaceous species were in need of as much protection as their northern hemisphere counterparts.
Faced with the fearsome predators of the era, many herbivorous dinosaurs found armor insufficient developing tails that could do serious damage to the shins, and possibly soft underbellies, of anything that tried to eat them. Some may have also found these useful in mating conflicts with their own species.
Having failed to develop a more scientific term, paleontologists adopted the name “the thagomizer” after a Gary Larson cartoon. A paper in Nature describes a newly identified late Cretaceous ankylosaur from Chile, whose defining feature is its thagomizer, which even the paper’s headline calls “bizarre”.
The discovery is different enough from anything known it needs a new genus, and the authors have called it Stegouros, which confusingly has nothing to do with the famous Stegosauruses. The name comes from the Greek words for “roof” and “tail”; Stegouros lived 80 million years later and on the other side of the world from its near namesake. The species name is elengassen.
Only one Stegouros fossil has been found – another major contrast to the common Stegosaurus – but that one is almost complete. At 180-200 centimeters (6-7 foot) long, tail included, it is believed to have been fully grown.
The tail was relatively short by the standards of armored dinosaurs and ended in seven pairs of flat bony deposits that form a shape somewhat like a fern frond, for those unfamiliar with ancient Aztec weaponry. It could probably slice deep into any perceived threats.
S. elengassen had a skull and teeth similar to other ankylosaurs, including the much more common representatives in the northern hemisphere. The rest of its body, however, looks like a throwback to earlier times, including some features that do indeed resemble stegosauruses.
S. elengassen was found in a layer dated between 74.9-71.7 million years old from Magellanes as the southern tip of Chile. The site was a delta at the time in which many dinosaurs and other animals were trapped. At the time South America was still connected to Antarctica and Australia as part of the supercontinent Gondwana. It’s nearest known relatives appear to be the larger Antarctopelta and Australia’s Kunbarrasaurus, but Stegouros had several noticeable differences from each. The authors propose a new clade called Parankylosauria (“next to the ankylosaurs”) to combine these. ““The Parankylosauria lack many features of the ‘true’ ankylosaurs that were already present in the middle Jurassic, about 165 million years ago. Therefore, the roots of Parankylosauria must be very old , before that date ” said Dr Alexander Vargas of the University of Chile said in a statement.
The authors still believe ankylosaurs were genuinely less common in the southern hemisphere than in the north, but our limited knowledge of the Gondwana species also partially reflects the amount of exploration done there. No dinosaurs from Chile were described before 2011, Stegouros is the fourth in ten years.
Although they may not have been common, the fact the southern hemisphere ankylosaurs represented a line that stretched back almost 100 million years suggests tanks of the animal kingdom might still be around today, were it not for a meddling asteroid.
Total solar eclipse: How and where to watch – CTV News
For a few brief moments on Saturday, things will go dark in Antarctica as a total solar eclipse crosses over.
According to NASA, a solar eclipse occurs when the moon moves between the sun and Earth, casting a shadow onto Earth. When this happens it fully or partially blocks light from the sun in some areas.
NASA said on Saturday, some people in the southern hemisphere will be able to experience a total or partial eclipse of the sun. For parts of the world where the eclipse won’t be visible, such as Canada, NASA will live stream the event if the weather allows.
“For a total solar eclipse to take place, the sun, moon and earth must be in a direct line,” the NASA website reads.
The agency says people located in the centre of the moon’s shadow when it hits Earth will see a total eclipse. This time, that will be people in Antarctica.
The agency said the sky will become very dark, “as if it were dawn or dusk.”
According to NASA, depending on the weather, those in the path of a total solar eclipse may also be able to see the sun’s corona or outer atmosphere “which is otherwise usually obscured by the bright face of the sun.”
While people outside of Antarctica won’t be able to see a total solar eclipse, some may still see a “partial” solar eclipse.
This occurs when the sun, moon and Earth are “not exactly lined up,” NASA said.
When this happens the sun will look like it has a dark shadow on a part of its surface.
According to NASA, people in parts of Saint Helena, Namibia, Lesotho, South Africa, South Georgia, and Sandwich Islands, Crozet Islands, Falkland Islands, Chile, New Zealand and Australia will be able to see a partial eclipse.
“In many of these locations, the eclipse will occur before, during, and after sunrise or sunset,” the website reads. “This means that viewers will need to get a clear view of the horizon during sunrise or sunset in order to see the eclipse.”
Astronaut Chris Hadfield shared a photo on Twitter, showing which areas can expect to see what during the eclipse.
Time and Date has also released an interactive eclipse map, where viewers can type in their location to determine what they will be able to see, and when.
In order to safely view the eclipse, NASA said solar viewing glasses — not regular sunglasses — or a pinhole projector must be used.
“It is never safe to look directly at the sun,” the website reads. “Even if the sun is partly or mostly obscured.”
HOW TO WATCH IN CANADA
For those who won’t be able to see the eclipse in-person, NASA said it will be livestreaming the event on its website and YouTube channel, weather permitting.
The agency said the event will begin at 1:30 a.m. EDT, with totality expected at 2:44 a.m. EST.
If you can’t stay up that late, you’re in luck.
While these events don’t happen that often, NASA said in October 2023, an annular solar eclipse will cross North America, and a total solar eclipse is expected to cross the continent on April of 2024.
This story has been updated to reflect that a pinhole projector, not a pinwheel projector should be used to safely view solar eclipses.
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