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SpaceX, NASA set for historic Crew-1 launch today: Everything to know – CNET

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Inside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft are NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins, and astronaut Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. They constitute the crew of NASA’s Crew-1 mission.  


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Despite a global pandemic, a record hurricane season and problematic rocket engines that needed to be swapped out, NASA and SpaceX remain determined to get the historic Crew-1 mission off the ground from Florida on Sunday. At 1:30 p.m. PT, the four astronauts headed to the ISS were on their way to launch pad 39A. Their flight in a Crew Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket follows the success of the Demo-2 mission and its historic splashdown and will set a few key spaceflight milestones. 

Here are the answers to your most pressing questions about the mission. 

Wait, what was that about the engines?

The targeted launch date for Crew-1 was pushed back from late October after NASA and SpaceX noticed some unexpected behavior from a few Falcon 9 engines that were set to be used for an unrelated mission to launch a military GPS satellite. That mission was scrubbed with just two seconds left on the countdown and an investigation later revealed a stray bit of lacquer had clogged a tiny relief valve line. The clog caused two of the rocket’s engines to try and fire early, potentially damaging the engines had liftoff not been automatically aborted. 

SpaceX found that engines in the rocket to be used for Crew-1 had the “same tendencies.” Launch date was moved to November, the engines were swapped out and now NASA and SpaceX are both satisfied that it’s go time.  

OK, so why is Crew-1 a big deal?

Crew-1 is part of the culmination of NASA’s Commercial Crew program that’s been years in the works. For decades, NASA has typically developed its own rockets and spacecraft internally with the help of contractors, but the Commercial Crew program works more like chartering a flight. Companies like SpaceX and Boeing have vehicles designed to be used by other customers, and NASA can hitch a ride on them. 

It’s also a huge step in bringing spaceflight back to US soil. From the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011 up until the Demo-2 mission that sent two NASA astronauts to the ISS aboard a Crew Dragon earlier this year, NASA has relied on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to shuttle its astronauts to orbit. 


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Demo-2 was considered a successful demonstration of Crew Dragon and NASA looks at Crew-1 as the first official crew rotation mission from US shores since the retirement of the Shuttle. 

“It’s exciting, especially with Crew-1 being the first time we’ve ever put four people on a space capsule ever, as humans, like that’s pretty cool,” explained NASA’s Anthony Vareha, the lead flight director for the mission. “It’s also the longest mission of a crewed US capsule ever.”

Who are the astronauts flying in the Crew Dragon?

Along for the historic flight will be NASA’s Crew Dragon Commander Michael Hopkins, pilot Victor Glover and mission specialist Shannon Walker, joined by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) mission specialist Soichi Noguchi to the space station. 

Up until now, three people in a Soyuz capsule amounted to a cramped ride, but Crew Dragon can accommodate up to seven (for comparison, the Space Shuttle flew crews of up to eight), making the trip for these four spacefarers seem relatively spacious.

How long is the trip?

The members of Crew-1 are embarking on a six-month science mission, which is exciting for people involved in the orbital and space science world because four crew members making the trip amounts to more hands available on the station to do more experiments in microgravity.

“It’s going to be exciting to be able to see how much work we can get done while we’re there,” Hopkins said Monday. 

But first, of course, the astronauts will have to get there. The actual trip to the ISS takes just about eight-and-a-half hours from launch Saturday evening to docking with the station early Sunday morning.  

How do I watch?

Right here. NASA and SpaceX will stream the launch, currently set for Sunday, Nov. 15 at 4:27 p.m. PT (after being delayed from Saturday, due to weather) from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. 

NASA TV will broadcast the launch and the docking, and we’re also carrying a livestream, which you can catch below.

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Earth is 2000 light years closer to supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy than we thought – CTV News

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A new map of the Milky Way by Japanese space experts has put Earth 2,000 light years closer to the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.

This map has suggested that the center of the Milky Way, and the black hole which sits there, is located 25,800 light-years from Earth. This is closer than the official value of 27,700 light-years adopted by the International Astronomical Union in 1985, the National Observatory of Japan said.

What’s more, according to the map, our solar system is traveling at 227 kilometers per second as it orbits around the galactic center — this is faster than the official value of 220 kilometers per second, the release added.

These updated values are a result of more than 15 years of observations by the Japanese radio astronomy project VERA, according to an announcement released Thursday from the National Observatory of Japan. VERA is short for VLBI Exploration of Radio Astrometry and refers to the mission’s array of telescopes, which use Very Long Baseline Interferometry to explore the three-dimensional structure of the Milky Way.

Because the Earth is located inside the Milky Way, it’s difficult to step back and see what the galaxy looks like. To get around this, the project used astrometry, the accurate measurement of the position and motion of objects, to understand the overall structure of the Milky Way and Earth’s place in it.

The black hole is known as Sagittarius A* or Sgr A* and is 4.2 million times more massive than our sun. The supermassive hole and its enormous gravitational field governs the orbits of stars at the center of the Milky Way. Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez earned the 2020 Nobel prize for physics for its discovery. There are several types of black holes, and scientists believe the supermassive ones may be connected to the formation of galaxies, as they often exist at the center of the massive star systems — but it’s still not clear exactly how, or which form first.

MORE PRECISE APPROACH

In August, VERA published its first catalog, containing data for 99 celestial objects. Based on this catalog and recent observations by other groups, astronomers constructed a position and velocity map. From this map, the scientists were able to calculate the center of the galaxy, the point that everything revolves around.

VERA combines data from four radio telescopes across Japan. The observatory said that, when combined, the telescopes were able to achieve a resolution that in theory would allow the astronomers to spot a United States penny placed on the surface of the Moon.

To be clear, the changes don’t mean Earth is plunging toward the black hole, the observatory said. Rather, the map more accurately identifies where the solar system has been all along.

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Russia hails launch of China’s lunar probe – TASS

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MOSCOW, November 24. /TASS/. Moscow welcomes China’s achievements in space exploration and regards this field as very promising for bilateral cooperation, Russian presidential spokesman, Dmitry Peskov said about China’s launch of the moon sample return mission, which will for the first time in the history of China’s space exploration bring samples of lunar soil and rock to the Earth.

“Naturally, we welcome the achievements of our allies – our Chinese colleagues – in the field of space exploration,” the Kremlin official said. “Cooperation in space exploration is one of the areas that has the broadest potential for bilateral interaction.”

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) on Tuesday launched a moon sample return mission Chang’e, which will bring lunar soil and rock samples to the Earth.

It is expected that the project will become a landmark event in China’s lunar program as it will put the correctness of Beijing’s lunar exploration strategy to test. Also, it will provide valuable information that will give a boost to Chinese space technologies.

Peskov said nothing about Russia’s plans for sending a mission to Mars. “The program was discussed, but as far as the details of and outlook for its implementation are concerned, Roscosmos will provide the necessary explanations,” he said.

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Study finds Neanderthals may have used their hands differently from humans – CTV News

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If you were to greet a Neanderthal with a handshake, it might feel a little awkward.

The digits of the Stone Age people, who went extinct about 40,000 years ago, were much chunkier than ours. What’s more, a Neanderthal’s thumb would have stuck out from his hand at a much wider angle.

“If you were to shake a Neanderthal hand you would notice this difference,” said Ameline Bardo, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Kent’s School of Anthropology and Conservation in the United Kingdom.

“There would be confusion over where to place the thumb, and for a thumb fight I think you would win in terms of speed and movement!” she said via email.

The Neanderthals did use their hands differently from us, a new study published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports has suggested. Our archaic relatives, lead study author Bardo said, would have been more at ease with “squeeze grips” — the grip we use when we hold tools with handles like a hammer.

To find out how Neanderthals used their hands, Bardo and her colleagues had what they said was a unique approach.

Other studies have quantified how shapes in thumb bones vary in Neanderthals and modern humans, as well as other fossil human relatives. Most research to date, however, has only looked at the bones in isolation — until now.

ANALYSIS OF JOINT MOVEMENT

The researchers used 3D mapping to analyze the joints between the bones responsible for movement of the thumb — referred to as “the trapeziometacarpal complex” — of the remains of five Neanderthal individuals. The scientists then compared the results to measurements taken from the remains of five early modern humans and 50 recent modern adults.

“Our study is novel in looking at how the variation in the shapes and orientations of the different bones and joints relate to each altogether,” she said.

“Movement and loading of the thumb is only possible by these bones, as well as the ligaments and muscles, working together so they need to be studied together,” she said.

While their meatier hands perhaps suggest a lack of dexterity, Neanderthals were definitely able to use a precision grip — like we would hold a pencil, Bardo said.

“The joint at the base of the thumb of the Neanderthal fossils is flatter with a smaller contact surface between the bones, which is better suited to an extended thumb positioned alongside the side of the hand,” she explained. “This thumb posture suggests the regular use of power ‘squeeze’ grips.”

By contrast, human thumbs have joint surfaces that are generally larger and more curved, “which is an advantage when gripping objects between the pads of the finger and thumb, a precision grip,” she said.

Neanderthals made specialized tools, painted caves, threaded seashells to wear as jewelry and made yarn — but they may have found precision grips “more challenging” than we do, Bardo said.

The powerful squeeze grip would have helped Neanderthals grasp spears while hunting and use stone scrapers or knives to work wood or animals skins. It might have been harder for Homo neanderthalensis, though, to use strong precision grips such as using flakes of stone between the pads of the finger and thumb to cut meat, Bardo said.

However, she noted that there is a big variation among modern humans when it comes to dexterity — and that could also have existed among Neanderthals.

Neanderthals walked the Earth for a period of about 350,000 years before they disappeared, living in what’s now Europe and parts of Asia. It’s thought they overlapped with modern humans geographically for a period of more than 30,000 years after humans migrated out of Africa.

“Their hand anatomy and the archaeological record makes abundantly clear that Neanderthals were very intelligent, sophisticated tool users and used many of the same tools that contemporary modern humans did,” Bardo said.

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