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SpaceX’s Crew Dragon slated to bring NASA astronauts home for the first time this weekend – The Verge



This weekend, two NASA astronauts are slated to return home to Earth inside SpaceX’s new passenger capsule, the Crew Dragon. It’ll be the first time that the Crew Dragon carries passengers back to the planet’s surface, ultimately proving if the vehicle can safely transport people to space and back.

Veteran astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will be aboard the spacecraft. The duo made history at the end of May when they launched to the International Space Station inside the Crew Dragon, marking the first time a privately made vehicle carried people to orbit. The launch heralded the return of human spaceflight in the US. The last time people flew to orbit from the United States was in 2011, with the last flight of the Space Shuttle. For nine years, NASA relied on Russian rockets to get astronauts to the ISS — but now the agency can use SpaceX’s vehicles instead.

While the launch received lots of fanfare, getting the astronauts home is an equally critical part of this mission. “From the laws of physics standpoint, we’re only halfway done,” Garrett Reisman, a former NASA astronaut and SpaceX consultant who used to work on the Crew Dragon, tells The Verge. “All that energy you put in [during launch], you have to take every bit of that energy out when you come home.” The Crew Dragon, with Behnken and Hurley inside, will have to undock from the station and plunge itself into Earth’s thick atmosphere. A heat shield should protect the crew from the intense heat created during the descent, which can reach up to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Eventually, the Crew Dragon will deploy a suite of parachutes, slowing the vehicle down so that it can splash down relatively gently in the Atlantic Ocean.

SpaceX has brought multiple spacecraft back from space before, but all of those vehicles were cargo versions of the Crew Dragon, which are different in shape and overall function. The Crew Dragon is more asymmetrical than its predecessor, thanks to the inclusion of an emergency abort system. The company has brought the Crew Dragon back to Earth from space before — but only once, during an uncrewed test flight of the vehicle in March 2019.

“Bringing a spaceship home, that’s a really big deal,” Benji Reed, director of crew mission management at SpaceX, said during a press conference on the landing. “And it’s very important, as part of that sacred honor that we have, for ensuring that we bring Bob and Doug back home to their families, to their kids, and making sure that they’re safe.”

This landing is the last big test for SpaceX as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, an initiative aimed at developing private spacecraft to ferry astronauts to and from low Earth orbit. But before those flights can get started in earnest, SpaceX has to prove to NASA that its Crew Dragon vehicles are safe. The company had to do an uncrewed test flight of the Crew Dragon — sending it to the station and then back home again — as part of a mission called Demo-1. Behnken and Hurley are part of SpaceX’s first crewed test flight, a mission dubbed Demo-2.

The Crew Dragon has remained docked since arriving at the station on May 31st. The astronauts and NASA have done tons of analysis on the Crew Dragon to see how it’s held up in the space environment, and the vehicle seems to be doing just fine. “The systems on Dragon are doing very well,” Steve Stich, the manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said during the conference. “The spacecraft is very healthy.”

Right now, Behnken and Hurley are scheduled to undock from the space station at around 7:34PM ET on Saturday, August 1st. The capsule will then slowly distance itself from the ISS over the next several hours. Then on Sunday, August 2nd, the Crew Dragon is scheduled to fire up its thrusters at around 1:56PM ET, taking the vehicle out of orbit. The capsule should touch down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida about an hour later at around 2:42PM ET. There are seven different landing sites where the Crew Dragon can potentially touch down.

This is all subject to change, as weather is a big limiting factor. The Crew Dragon is the first human-carrying spacecraft, since the Apollo missions, designed to land in water when it comes back to Earth, which means good weather at the landing site is key. NASA doesn’t want the astronauts landing in choppy water after pulling extra G forces on the way down to Earth. If things are too rough, the capsule could tip over, making it difficult for the astronauts to get out.

So for this landing, NASA wants calm waters and winds below 10 miles per hour at the landing site. The mission team doesn’t want rain or lightning in the area either. Originally, things weren’t looking good for a landing this weekend, as Hurricane Isaias was projected to track up the east coast of Florida on Saturday and Sunday. However, SpaceX has the option to land on the western coast of Florida if necessary, and NASA said it is moving forward with the schedule after a recent weather check.

NASA and SpaceX will continue to evaluate if they need to move the undocking. But ultimately, undocking can be called off right at the last minute. “Literally, we have about an hour period where we can undock and if at the last minute we thought that the weather or something wasn’t okay, the SpaceX team could command the vehicle and Bob or Doug could stop and stop the whole undock sequence,” Reed said.

Once the Crew Dragon does undock from the station, that means the spacecraft is most likely going to splash down, according to Reisman. “Once you separate from the space station, you’re committed to coming back,” he says. “Because you are using up consumables on board the vehicle — like propellant, oxygen, and so forth.” SpaceX does have flexibility over when that splashdown occurs. Most of the landing opportunities occur about 15 or 17 hours after undocking, according to Reed. But SpaceX can delay the splashdown until two days later if necessary. The Crew Dragon also has enough resources on board — such as food, oxygen, and more — to last up to three days.

Once in the water, Behnken and Hurley will wait inside the Crew Dragon until SpaceX’s two recovery boats arrive. The first vessel is designed to pull the Crew Dragon out of the water, while a crew of more than 40 people on board will help the astronauts out of the capsule. A second boat will recover the Crew Dragon’s parachutes, which will detach from the capsule after landing. If for some reason the astronauts are experiencing some kind of emergency, there is a helipad on board the main recovery boat, enabling a helicopter to evacuate Behnken and Hurley quickly from the splashdown site. But if that’s not necessary, the boat will take everyone to shore.

A successful landing should help pave the way for SpaceX to start doing routine missions to the ISS. A new Crew Dragon is already slated to fly in late September, carrying a crew of four to the space station for a longer mission. And then in spring of 2021, the Crew Dragon is scheduled for another flight with a crew of four. In fact, that mission next year will use the same Crew Dragon that Behnken and Hurley are coming home in. Just after SpaceX launched this Crew Dragon, NASA approved the company to reuse the capsules on future flights. And SpaceX says it won’t take long to turn them around. “We should be able to have Dragon refurbished and ready to go in just a matter of a couple months — two months,” Reed said.

But before Crew Dragon can be fly again, it has to come home. All eyes are on Behnken and Hurley’s return, and anxiety is high as the two attempt a safe landing. “Until they’re on the boat or even until they’re on shore and I see them get out of the Gulfstream [jet] in Houston, waving to the crowd, I’m still going to be nervous,” Reisman says.

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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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NASA Pays Rich Homage To Apollo 11 Astronaut Michael Collins – Gadgets 360



NASA on Thursday paid a rich tribute to Michael Collins, the American astronaut who was the command module pilot for the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Collins, 90, passed away on Wednesday after battling cancer, his family said. Sharing a photograph on Instagram, NASA said the picture was clicked by Collins, who spent seven years of his career as an astronaut with them. The photograph shows the lunar module, “Eagle,” returning to the command module, “Columbia,” after landing on the Moon. The Earth can be seen in the background of the picture. NASA said the picture had all of the humanity in it, save for Collins who captured it.

Collins kept the command module flying while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon. “We remember Michael Collins, @NASA astronaut and crew member of Apollo 11, who passed away on April 28, 2021,” NASA said.

In the post, NASA also quoted what Collins had said during a transmission to Mission Control on the trip back to Earth from the Moon on July 21, 1969. “This trip of ours to the Moon may have looked, to you, simple or easy… All you see is the three of us, but beneath the surface are thousands and thousands of others, and to all those I would like to say, thank you very much.”

NASA further shared what the mission control stated during Apollo 11. “Not since Adam has any human known such solitude as Mike Collins is experiencing during the 47 minutes of each lunar revolution when he’s behind the Moon with no one to talk to except his tape recorder aboard Columbia. While he waits for his comrades to soar with Eagle from Tranquility Base and rejoin him for the trip back to Earth, Collins, with the help of Flight Controllers here in Mission Control Center has kept the Command Module’s system going.”

Besides, the space agency also released a statement, saying the nation had lost a “true pioneer and lifelong advocate for exploration” in Collins. NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk said that as the pilot of Apollo 11 some referred to him as the “loneliest man in history”.

“While his colleagues walked on the Moon for the first time, he helped our nation achieve a defining milestone. He also distinguished himself in the Gemini Program and as an Air Force pilot,” he said.

Jurczyk shared that Collins would say, “Exploration is not a choice, really, it’s an imperative,” adding “What would be worth recording is what kind of civilisation we Earthlings created and whether or not we ventured out into other parts of the galaxy.”

Jurczyk added that Collins’ own signature accomplishments, his writings about his experiences, and his leadership of the National Air and Space Museum helped gain wide exposure for the work of all the men and women who have helped our nation push itself to greatness in aviation and space. “There is no doubt he inspired a new generation of scientists, engineers, test pilots, and astronauts.”

We dive into all things Apple — iPad Pro, iMac, Apple TV 4K, and AirTag — this week on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts.

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