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Time Is the SpaceX Launch. How to Watch

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On Saturday, for the first time since the retirement of the space shuttles in July 2011, NASA astronauts are scheduled to blast off from American soil on an American rocket to the International Space Station. In contrast to astronaut launches in the past when NASA ran the show, this time a private company, SpaceX, will be in charge of mission control. The company, founded by Elon Musk, built the Falcon 9 rocket and the capsule, Crew Dragon, which the two astronauts will travel in.

The mission is scheduled to lift off at 3:22 p.m. Eastern time from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Coverage of the launch on NASA Television will begin at 11 a.m. The Times will provide live video of the launch.

The first attempt to launch, on Wednesday, was called off about 15 minutes before it was to occur because the weather wasn’t playing nice. SpaceX’s launch directors deemed the risk of lightning and other weather hazards too high to allow the astronauts to lift off safely.

The weather officers said that they expected conditions to clear up about 10 minutes after the scheduled launch time. But in order for the capsule to catch the space station at the right moment the next day, the launch had to go off at the precise time of 4:33 p.m. Eastern time.

Credit…Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Not the most promising. Weather forecasts currently give a 50 percent chance of favorable conditions at the launch site. The next opportunity on Sunday is slightly better, with a 60 percent chance of favorable conditions.

Lifting off in bad weather can be catastrophic to rockets. During the countdown, about 10 members of the 45th Weather Squadron, part of the United States Space Force, keep a close eye on conditions to see if they fall within predetermined launch criteria. If the weather conditions violate the criteria, SpaceX’s launch director will call off the launch.

The launch has to occur at a precise moment to allow the Crew Dragon to meet up with the space station, and there is no leeway for delays.

For the safety of the crew, the launch team also has to consider weather and ocean conditions just off the coast, where the capsule would splash down if there were an emergency on the launchpad or farther away in the Atlantic if a problem occurred on the way to orbit.

Credit…John Raoux/Associated Press

The astronauts are Robert L. Behnken and Douglas G. Hurley, who have been friends and colleagues since both were selected by NASA to be astronauts in 2000.

They both have backgrounds as military test pilots and have each flown twice previously on space shuttle missions, although this is the first time they have worked together on a mission. Mr. Hurley flew on the space shuttle’s final mission in 2011.

In 2015, they were among the astronauts chosen to work with Boeing and SpaceX on the commercial space vehicles that the companies were developing. In 2018, they were assigned to the first SpaceX flight.

SpaceX has never taken people to space before. Its Crew Dragon is a gumdrop-shaped capsule — an upgraded version of SpaceX’s original Dragon capsule, which has been used many times to carry cargo, but not people, to the space station.

Crew Dragon has space for up to seven people but will have only four seats for NASA missions. If this launch succeeds, it will ferry four astronauts to the space station later in the year.

 

SpaceX Postpones Launch of Two NASA Astronauts

The Crew Dragon launch is now scheduled for Saturday at 3:22 p.m. Eastern time.

 

The Crew Dragon is scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station 19 hours after launch on Sunday, at about 10:30 a.m. Eastern time. During their trip, the astronauts will test to test how the spacecraft flies and verify that the systems are performing as designed. Unless something goes wrong, the Crew Dragon’s computers usually handle all of the maneuvering and docking procedures.

The astronauts also said they planned to test out the capsule’s toilet.

 

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Never miss an eclipse, a meteor shower, a rocket launch or any other astronomical and space event that’s out of this world.

Source: – The New York Times

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Edited BY Harry Miller

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NASA pens new rules to prevent us from contaminating the Moon and Mars – The Weather Network

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NASA has a strict set of guidelines for sending missions out into space to prevent Earth microbes from contaminating the planets and moons that we visit. Now, the agency has revised those rules to clear the way for human missions to the Moon, and eventually Mars.

Science fiction has already taught us many lessons about the human exploration of space. Chief among those lessons is how we need to do everything we can to prevent some kind of harmful alien bacteria or organisms from being brought back to Earth.

On the flipside, however, is another crucial issue: to preserve the unique alien environments of our solar system – on the Moon, Mars, and other celestial bodies. To do this, we also need to prevent them from being contaminated by microbes that originate from Earth. That is one of the key points of the Outer Space Treaty – an international agreement for the fair and responsible use of space.

This is where NASA’s Office of Planetary Protection comes in. The sole concern for this part of the agency is the possibility of harmful biological contamination due to space exploration. Their rules and regulations cover both forward contamination (Earth microbes hitching a ride to another celestial body) and back contamination (returning spacecraft, or astronauts, or samples bringing alien microbes back to Earth).

This is an artist’s concept of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft approaching Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

By pure biological necessity, we bring microbes with us, no matter what we do or where we go. Apparently, with NASA’s previous rules, this fact would prevent any living astronaut from ever setting foot on Mars. They would also impose restrictions on visiting anywhere on the Moon that could have frozen water ice.

With new missions to the Moon currently in the works, such as NASA’s Artemis program, and with ideas for future crewed missions to Mars, the agency realized they needed to revisit these guidelines.

Now, after going over those rules, they have released two new NASA Interim Directives (NIDs) this week.

These directives take into account what they’ve learned from nearly 20 years of continuous human habitation of the International Space Station, as well as decades of robotic exploration of the Moon and Mars, and even from their plans for the new Lunar Gateway station.

The first NID changes how we treat the surface of the Moon. Before this, visiting anywhere on the lunar surface required special consideration, because we now know that the Moon has pockets of water ice. The new NID states that these restrictions now only count for specific areas of the surface where these pockets could exist; notably the so-called Permanently Shadows Regions at the bottom of craters near the lunar poles, and the Apollo landing sites which already contain biological materials left behind by the astronauts. The rest of the lunar surface would be free from planetary protection restrictions.

Moon-base-1This artist’s rendition shows a base on the Moon. Credit: ESA

“We are enabling our important goal of sustainable exploration of the Moon while simultaneously safeguarding future science in the permanently shadowed regions,” Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a NASA press release. “These sites have immense scientific value in shaping our understanding of the history of our planet, the Moon and the solar system.”

The other NID updates the planetary protections in place for Mars. Before now, Mars had one of the most stringent sets of restrictions in place. Anything that would touch down on the surface needed to be almost completely sterilized before it would be allowed to launch. For landers and rovers with life-detection capabilities, such as the Viking landers or the new Perseverance rover, they would have to be even more thorough.

NASA-Perseverance-RoverThis artist’s rendition shows the Perseverance rover on the surface of Mars. Credit: NASA

Basically, there’s no sense in sending a robot to detect life on another planet if it only ends up detecting life that hitched a ride from Earth. To ensure that the search for extraterrestrial life is as honest and thorough as possible, we cannot bring anything with us.

The problem becomes: we can’t use the same sterilization methods with human astronauts as we do robotic explorers. So, if we are going to plan crewed missions to Mars, these rules have to change.

There’s one limitation to changing the rules, however. Even after over 40 years of exploring the surface of Mars, we still don’t know enough about it to develop a responsible set of restrictions.

“The challenge with Mars is that we simply don’t yet have enough information to know where it is we can go and where we shouldn’t go, and where we can go but we need to be more careful than other places,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said when the new NIDs were announced.

NASA Mars astronauts base roverA simulated base on Mars. Credit: NASA

NASA’s new Perseverance Rover is designed to search for signs that life existed on Mars in its distant past. It may even be able to tell us if there is life on the planet now (although in all likelihood, it would be microbes deep beneath the ground). Perseverance is currently scheduled to launch later this month, with a landing in Mars’ Jezero crater in February of 2021. So, once Perseverance arrives and begins its investigations, the science it collects will go into forming these new rules for human missions to Mars.

Sources: NASA | NASA OSMA

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Space mystery: Scientists spot 'unexpected class of astronomical objects' – Express.co.uk

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They can be everything from the leftovers of a supernova, a planetary nebular, or looking at something such a proto-planetary disc or star-forming galaxy from a certain angle.

They can also be a sign of a bug and may come about when there are bright sources from incorrectly-calibrated telescopes.

However, the newly discovered circles do not appear to be explained by any of those more traditional objects.

Instead, the researchers note, they “appear to be a new class of astronomical object”.

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Your guide to spotting the NEOWISE comet – London Free Press (Blogs)

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Discovered at the end of March, the NEOWISE comet is passing within 100 million kilometres of our planet. “That in astronomical terms is close, but in human terms very far,” said Parshati Patel, an astrophysicist with Western University’s Institute for Earth & Space Exploration.

So don’t worry — even though Patel says comets are unpredictable, this one won’t ram into the Earth, as often happens in Hollywood movies and science-fiction paperbacks.

Comets are leftover chunks from the formation of a planet, she says, composed of dust, ice and rocks. “It’s almost like a dirty snowball in many ways,” Patel said. They appear as bright spots, with a tail, in the sky.

Patel got up early this week to catch a glimpse of NEOWISE, which gets its name from the asteroid-hunting part of NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer mission, an Earth-orbiting telescope that detected the object.

“I personally went on Tuesday. It wasn’t really great. There were some clouds in the sky,” Patel said. “We couldn’t really see it with the naked eye.”

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