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SpaceX Is Setting Up Crew Dragon For Its First Human Spaceflight – Futurism

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Ready for Launch

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule just arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center ahead of its first crewed test flight dubbed Demo-2 on May 27.

If everything goes according to plan, the spacecraft will make history as the first US vessel to transport astronauts to the International Space Station from American soil since NASA retired the Space Shuttle in 2011. Since then, the US has been relying on Russian-made Soyuz spacecraft.

The plan is to send two NASA astronauts, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, to the International Space Station using one of SpaceX’s tried-and-true Falcon 9 rockets.

Demo-2

In March 2019, SpaceX successfully sent the vehicle to the ISS and docked it autonomously — without any passengers on board.

The mission is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which first launched in 2010. SpaceX and Boeing have been developing their respective launch vehicles to carry US and international crew members to the space station and back.

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner encountered problems during early testing and has fallen behind SpaceX’s efforts. It’s unclear when Boeing will conduct its first test flight, crewed or uncrewed.

According to NASA, Hurley and Behnken will travel to the Kennedy Space Center tomorrow. NASA will then conduct its final checks to clear the May 27 launch.

READ MORE: SpaceX’s 1st Dragon capsule for astronauts arrives at launch site for historic mission [Space.com]

More on Crew Dragon: Dock a SpaceX Spacecraft to the ISS in This Amazing Simulator

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Three powers are now capable of launching astronauts into space: Russia, China and Elon Musk – Haaretz

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It was from launchpad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, in Florida, that Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins lifted off for the moon in 1969. It was from there, too, that the disastrous missions of the space shuttles Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003 took off. But today, nine years after the last mission of the Atlantis space shuttle, only weeds emerge from the scorched asphalt. For nearly a decade, the United States has been left without a human launch system. When it has wanted to send its astronauts to the International Space Station, it has been compelled to buy places on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft, which were launched from Kazakhstan.

In the meantime, at NASA, they were left wondering what to do with a rusting launch facility. Then, in 2014, the perfect client appeared: the eccentric billionaire engineer Elon Musk, who made his initial fortune from the sale of PayPal. The founder of the electric vehicle company Tesla and of the space exploration company SpaceX, Musk took a 20-year lease on the site. He wasn’t the only tech baron who entered a bid. When Musk’s bid was accepted, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and of the aerospace firm Blue Origin, moved quickly to lease the adjacent complex, No. 36, from which the probes were launched to Mars and Venus in the 1960s and 1970s.

Last Saturday, the fire was again ignited at launchpad 39A. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley blasted off for the ISS in a Dragon capsule. “Launch America” was the name NASA’s PR folks gave the widely covered event. The United States, it was said, had resumed launching astronauts from American soil. In fact, only the soil was U.S. property. The spacecraft, the launcher, the launch devices, even the spacesuits – all are the private property of SpaceX. The appearance of the NASA logo, which was displayed proudly on the spacecraft, was purchased. By the same token, it could have been the Coca-Cola logo that appeared there. Thus, as of the moment when these lines are being written, only three powers in the world have the capacity to launch astronauts into space: Russia, China and Elon Musk.

To understand how this situation came about, we need to go back to 2010. As the end of the space shuttle program approached, the Obama administration decided to shift to outsourcing. Instead of investing government resources in transporting cargo and people into orbit around Earth, NASA would focus on deep space ventures, such as preparation for a manned flight to Mars. As part of the plan, it was decided that NASA would develop the heavy-lift SLS (space launch system) rocket and the Orion spacecraft that would launch on it. At the same time, the federal government would encourage private investors to develop launch systems for near space – moon tourism, for example – and would underwrite trips for its NASA astronauts to the International Space Station.

The new space revolution is deceptive. To an observer on the side it looks as though commercial firms are competing with NASA. Actually, NASA is both the principal investor in the companies and their biggest client. The space agency has funneled more than $8 billion to Boeing and to SpaceX over the past decade, most of it earmarked for the development and production of launchers and spacecraft. The rest of the funds are intended to purchase 12 flights to the International Space Station for NASA – six in Musk’s Dragon and six in Boeing’s Starliner, which is also due for a debut manned launch as early as next year.

NASA is proud of the program: It has led to the development of two independent systems for sending humans into space at half of what that would cost the government. After all, the businesspeople also chipped in with a few dollars. But in the meantime, a few things happened – and a few things didn’t happen. The inauguration of NASA’s SLS has been repeatedly postponed, and the agency’s Orion spacecraft has also not yet lifted off. And China landed rovers on the moon.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft lifts off to the International Space Station from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, May 30, 2020.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft lifts off to the International Space Station from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, May 30, 2020. Credit: JOE SKIPPER/ Reuters

Launch leader

During the past few years, Beijing has been investing vast sums in an effort to attain American capabilities. Already now it is leading in launches: Last year, of 102 devices launched into space, 34 were Chinese and only 27 were American in origin. This year, China is planning to launch no fewer than 48 satellites, shuttles and other mechanisms, and to leave the West in the stardust. China is eyeing the moon, and there’s concern in the United States that a taikonaut – as the Chinese call their astronauts – will plant the red flag on Earth’s satellite 50 years after the Americans left it – an image that will symbolize a new world order.

Which is why President Donald Trump signed an executive order in his first year in office instructing NASA to land an American on the moon by 2024. Mars was again shunted aside. In March, NASA announced that three companies, including those of Musk and Bezos, would compete for the privilege of bringing America back to the moon. The competitors received development grants totaling $1 billion; early next year we will learn who won the hefty contract. As for NASA’s SLS and Orion projects, they have been put on ice indefinitely. The United States will bel returning to the moon in a private spacecraft.

Actually, the heavy-launch vehicle that sent Armstrong and Aldrin to the moon was built by Boeing, and the capsule in which they landed was a product of the Grumman Corporation. But the U.S. government had purchased those fantastic machines from the manufacturer, the way one buys a car. In contrast, the spacecraft of Musk and Bezos will operate like leased cars. The United States will invest in their development, but in the end they will remain in the garages of Musk and Bezos. At the conclusion of NASA’s contract, the most expensive space assets in the world, which can do what rockets and launchers that were developed by a superpower like the Soviet Union are unable to do, will be in the private and exclusive hands of two super-tycoons.

We got a glimpse into the future of privatized space in 2018, when Musk launched his red Tesla Roadster car into space in a Falcon Heavy launcher test flight. It was a brilliant marketing gimmick: The electric sports car entered into solar orbit while its sound system played David Bowie’s “Starman” in a loop. According to Musk, he wanted to inspire people; according to others, he wanted to boost the value of Tesla shares. Be that as it may, in the coming decade Musk will be capable of sending his car to the moon, to Mars and in fact to every corner of the solar system.

In the meantime, Musk did not hesitate to transport Behnken and Hurley to last weekend’s launch in a Tesla Model X: Millions watched as the NASA astronauts got into that shiny new, Musk-produced car. When the Apollo 8 crew orbited the moon and recited verses from the Book of Genesis, American atheists sued the administration on the grounds that public funds must not be used for religious propaganda. But an advertisement for a car? In Donald Trump’s USA, not a single eyebrow was raised.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk celebrates after the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket spacecraft, May 30, 2020.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk celebrates after the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket spacecraft, May 30, 2020.Credit: STEVE NESIUS/Reuters

This is just one example of the United States’ growing dependence on the good will of businesspeople. Musk is dreaming of settling a million people on Mars. He has declared that he doesn’t want to be one of the first pioneers to land on the red planet, only to retire there, but who knows what will happen at the moment of truth? Perhaps after his space taxi successfully delivers NASA astronauts to the moon, he will change his mind and decide to launch himself in the inaugural mission to Mars.

That will be his prerogative. Musk is committed to getting NASA astronauts to the moon. He is not committed to getting NASA to Mars as well, even though the same spacecraft, with government financing, is serving both destinations. If Musk or Bezos wish to upstage NASA, they may find themselves competing with the agency. Toward the end of the decade, we might be seeing a completely new type of space race: the United States, China and two tycoons. Who will win?

And, in fact, who is who? Columbus sailed to America (as it turned out) under the Spanish flag. Armstrong flew to the moon under the Stars and Stripes. If the first flags to be planted in the soil of Mars are those of Tesla or Amazon, will it mean that “the Americans” got there first?

From the public-opinion perspective, the boisterous competition between Musk and Bezos is no less interesting than the contest between the world’s great powers. Will the landing by one corporation constitute a business and personal victory over the other corporation, or will it be a national triumph reflecting the economic and technological might of their country of origin? And what if Chinese taikonauts in a government-sponsored spacecraft land after them? Will China then be the victor in the international arena?

Reasons for concern

With heavy-lift space vehicles comes heavy responsibility, such as the need to prevent disruptive light pollution (caused both by reflective glare from the craft and by their passing in front of celestial objects) and reducing the man-made space debris that is accumulating in Earth’s atmosphere. In the meantime, Elon Musk is not giving the impression that he’s an especially responsible fellow. In fact, he’s now in the process of launching 13,000 Starlink satellites that will for the first time provide the planet, as well as future Mars settlers, with comprehensive internet service from space, thus doubling the number of active satellites of all companies and countries. This SpaceX project is already creating light pollution that conceals the stars from astronomers, and last year one of Musk’s satellites almost collided with a research satellite of the European Space Agency. Can we trust him to disinfect his spaceship of earthly bacteria before the Mars launch in order to prevent interplanetary biological pollution?

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Of course, heavy-lift launchers also accord many rights. Whoever controls the means to launch people into space decides who will fly. Until now, that decision was in American and Russian hands. For example, it was the United States that invited the late Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon to join a space mission, within the framework of its special relationship with Israel. The United States has never invited an Iranian or a Chinese astronaut.

For his part, Bezos, whose vast fortune apparently spares him the need to be a media star like Musk, dreams of settling billions of people on space stations orbiting Earth. Whom will he invite? And who will he not invite? Corporations, like states, have enemies. The Chinese retail giant Alibaba is an Amazon competitor. Will Bezos agree to have Alibaba deliver packages to his colony? Or perhaps Musk will invite Alibaba founder Jack Ma to be the first tourist to do a Venus flyover, simply to rile Bezos, his space nemesis?

One thing is certain: There’s money to be made in space. Lots of money. NASA’s current administrator, James Bridenstine, estimates that the space economy is already generating revenues of $383 billion a year. If space were a country, its GNP would be higher than Israel’s. But with all due respect to satellites, the true potential of space lies in tourism and in mining minerals from asteroids or the moon. Those markets were off-limits all these years because of the staggering initial capital investment needed to reach them. Now, with the aid of government subsidies, businesspeople have developed the infrastructure to expand into both near and deep space. And to judge by the way they conduct business on Earth, they will go about it mercilessly.

In 2018, Amazon earned $11 billion and didn’t pay even one dollar in income tax. About 10 percent of the warehouse staff employed in the U.S. by Bezos – the world’s richest man – need government assistance to buy food, a higher percentage even than the hamburger flippers in McDonald’s. Some of them have to urinate into plastic bottles, for fear of the consequences if they waste time on toilet breaks. This rapaciousness is unlikely to stop in the far reaches of the universe. And it’s Bezos who is selling Amazon shares for billions every year just to enter the game. Musk has also gotten down to serious work and has already established himself as a global monopoly in the realm of commercial space launches, garnering 65 percent of all international contracts. In the first quarter of 2020, even before the successful flight of Dragon, he launched more kilograms into space than China, Russia and Europe combined.

There is no doubt that the engineers of SpaceX and Blue Origin have astonishing technological achievements to their credit. And there is also no doubt that we all want to see a Mars landing in our time. But we have to remember that we are in the meantime privatizing humanity’s interstellar future and placing it in the hands of people who can barely be restrained on Earth.

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The cleanest pocket of air on Earth? It's in the Southern Ocean, between Tasmania and Antarctica – TheChronicleHerald.ca

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The cleanest air on Earth lies in a pocket of sky between Tasmania and Antarctica, scientists say.


A team of researchers at Colorado State University conducted a bioaerosol study of the Southern Ocean from Tasmania to Antarctica — the first of its kind — and drew air samples at the marine boundary level, where the atmosphere meets the ocean surface.

“We were able to use the bacteria in the air over the Southern Ocean (SO) as a diagnostic tool to infer key properties of the lower atmosphere,” microbian ecologist Thomas Hill, from Colorado State University, told

Science Alert.


Via modelling and analysis, the team noted that the samples were free of aerosol particles — a sure indicator of human activity, like fossil fuel burning, agriculture and fertilizer production — blown in from other parts of the world. The samples were also split into latitudinal zones, so that the team could observe how the air changed as they moved further south.

Via wind patterns, airborne microorganisms can travel vast distances. However, the bacterial make-up of the samples suggested that the closer they were taken to Antarctica, the cleaner they became. This suggests that aerosols from distant land masses and human activities are not travelling south into Antarctic air.


Instead, the samples appear to be composed of microorganisms from the ocean and little else.


“It suggests that the SO (Southern Ocean) is one of very few places on Earth that has been minimally affected by anthropogenic activities,” Hill said.

The results counter similar studies that were carried out in oceans in the subtropics and the Northern Hemisphere, which concluded that most microbes came from upwind continents.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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B.C.'s "living dinosaurs" threatened by ocean warming and acidification – Straight.com

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The world’s warming oceans and the ongoing acidification of seawater are having a serious effect on B.C.’s rare glass sponges and their associated reefs, according to a study conducted by UBC researchers.

The sponge reefs—constructed by living glass sponges growing on the skeletons of previous generations—can grow to the height of a six-storey building and were thought to have become extinct worldwide about 40 million years ago, until the discovery of  massive reefs 200 metres deep in Hecate Strait in northern B.C. in 1987 (although they had been observed as unexplained “mounds” on the floors of Queen Charlotte Sound and Hecate Strait during sonar surveys a few years previous).

At the time, the reefs were described by astonished scientists as “living dinosaurs”. German paleontologist Manfred Krautter was quoted as saying their discovery in B.C. waters “electrified” him and was “like discovering a herd of dinosaurs on land”, and the prehistoric constructs are often referred to as “Jurassic Park submerged”.

Subsequent dives by scientists in submersibles determined that they were up to 6,000 years old and covered a surface area of up to 700 square kilometres. It is theorized that the sponges, which are living marine animals, started building reefs there after B.C.’s most recent glaciation period scraped the ocean bottom clean more than 9,000 years ago.

Since the first discoveries, another 19 glass-sponge reefs have been found in the Strait of Georgia, part of what is often called the Salish Sea. An American geologist found other, specialized, reefs off the coast of Washington state in 2007.

The sponges use dissolved silica—glass, essentially—to build skeletons constructed of needlelike so-called spicules. Although glass sponges are common around the world, only in very rare cases do they form reefs, building new structures on top of the skeletons of dead sponges. The relatively accessible reefs found in Howe Sound are unique in the world for their shallow depth of less than 40 metres.

The UBC paper—published on May 18 in Scientific Reports, an open-access, peer-reviewed journal—detailed the results of an experiment initiated by Angela Stevenson, a postdoctoral fellow at UBC’s zoology department who is the study’s lead researcher. Stevenson was aided by scientists from Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo, Vancouver’s Ocean Wise Research Institute, and UBC’s department of botany.

Stevenson brought some examples of Aphrocallistes vastus—called the cloud sponge and one of three species of reef-building glass sponges found in B.C. waters—from Howe Sound to a UBC lab. Water temperature and acidity were then manipulated for a four-month study, resulting in the first successful long-term lab experiment involving living glass sponges.

““Their sheer size and tremendous filtration capacity put them at the heart of a lush and productive underwater system, so we wanted to examine how climate change might impact their survival,” Stevenson said in a June 1 UBC news release.

The researchers were monitoring the sponges’ durability, pumping ability, and skeletal strength. The results showed that the sponges experienced up to a 25 percent loss in tissue and a 50-percent reduction in pumpong capacity. Their bodies also became more elastic and lost about half their strength.

“Most worryingly, pumping began to slow within two weeks of exposure to elevated temperatures,” Stevenson noted.

Glass-sponge reefs are home to many marine creatures in B.C., including fish and giant Pacific octopuses.
Diane Reid/Ocen Wise

Glass sponges survive by pumping enormous volumes of water through their systems, filtering out the bacteria and plankton that they eat and purifying the surrounding seawater. It is estimated that the 19 reefs that are known to be in the Salish Sea can filter up to 100 billion litres of seawater every day, removing about 80 percent of the particles and microbes therein.

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s (CPAWS) B.C chapter, which advocates to protect glass-sponge reefs, says that 95 percent of seawater bacteria are filtered out by glass sponges and that a small reef of the sponges will filter and clean a volume of water every 60 seconds that would fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Diver Glen Dennison above a Howe Sound glass-sponge reef.
Adam Taylor/Marine Life Sanctuaries Society

The reefs are protected by various conservation efforts in B.C’s deep northern waters and shallower Salish Sea depths, including federal marine protected areas in Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound and smaller buffer zones in Howe Sound and the Strait of Georgia. CPAWS says that research shows both measuers require expansion to fully protect the delicate structures from potential fishing and resource-exploration damage.

Borttom fishing, especially trawling, can devastate glass-sponge reefs, and suspended sediment can choke the sponges’ feeding filters and even kill them. Crab and prawn traps can damage or crush the sponge skeletons.

Jeff Marliave, an Ocean Wise senior researcher and paper coauthor, said in the release that more study is needed to understand how climate change might affect the reefs. “In Howe Sound, we want to figure out a way to track changes in sponge growth, size and area and area in the field so we can better understand potential climate implications at a larger scale. We also want to understand the microbial food webs that support sponges and how they might be influenced by climate cycles.”

Stevenson had a cautionary thought about what is required to guarantee the future safety of the reefs, whaich have been described as “international treasures”.

“When most people think about reefs, they think of tropical shallow-water reefs like the beautiful Great Barrier Reef in Australia,” Stevenson said. “But we have these incredible deep-water reefs in our own backyard in Canada. If we don’t do our best to stand up for them, it will be like discovering a herd of dinosaurs and then immediately dropping dynamite on them.”

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