Remembering the Apollo 1 Tragedy

By the winter of 1967, President John F. Kennedy’s goal of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth” by the end of the decade appeared to be in doubt. A three-month delay in the delivery of a newly designed spacecraft had pushed back the Apollo program’s first manned mission to February 1967, and repeated testing failures plagued the most complex flying machine ever engineered.

The three men set to blast off on Apollo 1—rookie astronaut Roger Chaffee and veterans Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Ed White—had issues with the new craft as well. They voiced their concerns about the quantity of flammable nylon and Velcro in the command module with Joseph Shea, manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office, before presenting him with a gag version of their crew portrait in which their heads were bowed and hands were clasped in prayer. “It isn’t that we don’t trust you, Joe, but this time we’ve decided to go over your head,” read the inscription.

Read more at: History

The Hell of Apollo 1: Pure Oxygen, a Single Spark, and Death in 17 Seconds

On a gray January afternoon in Houston, Walt Cunningham leaned into his Eames Lounge Chair and clasped his hands behind his head, the better to try and bend his thoughts back across five decades. Floor-to-ceiling windows let in a dull light that outlined Cunningham; it was a gloomy backdrop that mirrored the Apollo astronaut’s melancholy mood.

As a backup crew member for the initial Apollo mission, Cunningham recalled clambering into the first Apollo capsule on Jan. 26, 1967 for some pre-flight work. All had gone well, and no one thought the next day’s test, when the capsule would rely on its own internal power for the first time, would prove fatal. “We always expected that we’d lose at least one mission before we landed on the Moon, because of how far we were reaching out,” he said. “But we didn’t expect it to be on the ground.”

The Apollo astronauts, most of them confident or even cocky test pilots, were accustomed to risk. In those early days as NASA invented spaceflight on the fly, all of the vehicles had flaws. The early astronauts trusted that they could handle any situation that came their way. “Rightly or wrongly, we thought we were going to be good enough to compensate for whatever it was,” Cunningham explained.

Read more at: Ars Technica

50th Anniversary of Apollo 1 Fire: What NASA Learned from the Tragic Accident

This time of year is always a somber one for NASA as the space agency remembers the astronauts who died in three horrific spaceflight disasters.

Today (Jan. 27) marks the 50th anniversary of the first major, deadly disaster for the U.S. space program: the Apollo 1 fire. On Jan. 27, 1967, a fire erupted inside the Apollo command module during a preflight rehearsal test, killing three astronauts who were trapped inside.

Coincidentally, two other deadly spaceflight accidents that occurred decades later happened around the same time of year. On Jan. 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, killing all seven crewmembers. Tragedy struck again on Feb. 1, 2003, when the space shuttle Columbia broke into pieces as it returned to Earth, killing another seven astronauts.

Read more at: Scientific American

NASA Unveils Spaceship Hatch 50 Years After Fatal Apollo 1 Fire

NASA on Friday marked the 50th anniversary of its moon program’s fatal Apollo launchpad fire with the first public display of the scorched hatch that trapped three astronauts inside their spaceship during a routine pre-launch test.

NASA astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee died when thick smoke filled the crew module of the Apollo 1 capsule on Jan. 27, 1967, in what was the first deadly accident in the space agency’s early days.

The men were unable to open the capsule’s three-part hatch before being overcome by smoke. Emergency rescue teams rushed to battle the fire at the launchpad, located at what is now Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, but were too late. The hatch has now been taken out of storage and incorporated into a new display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to honor the fallen astronauts and serve as a reminder of the risks of spaceflight.

Read more at: Reuters

How an International Treaty Signed 50 Years Ago Became the Backbone for Space Law

Fifty years ago today, the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom opened a treaty for signature that would become the backbone for international space law. It was a United Nations-approved agreement called the Outer Space Treaty, and 104 nations have become parties to the document since it was signed and enacted in 1967. Since then, the treaty has helped ensure the peaceful exploration of space, as well as provide a lasting framework for how nations are supposed to behave in Earth orbit and beyond.

In reality, the “Outer Space Treaty” is just a nickname. The document’s full title is the “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.” It’s a lengthy name, but it sums up the essence of the treaty well: it’s a list of principles for what nations can and cannot do in space and on other worlds. For example, nations can’t claim an asteroid as theirs, and they also should prevent contaminating foreign planets.

Read more at: Verge

Rogue Actors and the Coming Space Law Crisis

Launching rockets into space has traditionally been the domain of nation states: only a handful of countries over the last several decades have mounted the technical expertise and financial resources to put payloads in orbit. With so few players, outer space was governed by the “Cold War principles” outlined in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which holds nation states accountable and reserves the use of space for scientific study and other peaceful purposes.

Today, space law needs an overhaul, according to James Gilley, an Instructor of International Studies at Louisiana State University. After all, some of the key assumptions that underlie the Outer Space Treaty no longer apply. A wide range of entities, from treaty non-signatories to private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin, are charging into low Earth orbit and beyond, and their intentions are unlikely to be restricted to scientific research.

“We’ve kind of forgotten as an international community that we’ve written laws about this stuff,” says Gilley, “because nothing has truly upset the apple cart.” But that could change soon, and Gilley points to a few plausible cases where rogue actors could set off an international legal crisis.

Read more at: Discover Magazine

Cornyn, Culberson Introduce Bill to Require Mars Mission and NASA Human Exploration Strategy

U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and U.S. Representative John Culberson (TX-07) today introduced a bill to require the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to develop plans for the future of U.S. human space exploration, with the goal of landing an astronaut on Mars.  The Mapping a New and Innovative Focus on our Exploration Strategy (MANIFEST) for Human Spaceflight Act is based on the recommendations of a 2014 National Academies report.

“By requiring a strategic plan from NASA, this bill will help focus existing resources towards achieving our long-term goal of landing a human on Mars,” said Sen. Cornyn.  “This bill reaffirms our nation’s longstanding commitment to advancing science and exploring the expansive universe around us.”

Read more at: Cornyn

JAXA to Try Out New Technique Designed to Remove Debris from Space

A groundbreaking experiment designed to simulate the removal of debris from space is scheduled to begin in the evening on Jan. 28. The experiment, which will be carried out by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) over a seven-day period, aims to make use of the earth’s magnetic field and an electrified tether to slow space debris and make it fall to the earth’s atmosphere before safely burning away.

Space debris from old satellites and defunct rocket hulks is a problem for those involved in space exploration. With an estimated 520,000 pieces of waste — ranging from one centimeter to 10 centimeters or above in size — there is a real danger of unwanted collisions between pieces of space debris and the International Space Station (ISS) or satellites.

In the experiment, the unmanned cargo spacecraft “Kounotori 6,” which was used to resupply the ISS with items such as food and batteries as well as experimental equipment, will represent a piece of space junk. JAXA will attach a metallic rope, known as a “tether,” to the spacecraft. By electrifying the extended tether, it is thought that this will cause a reaction with the Earth’s magnetic field, which in turn, should create a brake-like force. Consequently, the altitude of the space debris is expected to drop — due to the Earth’s gravitational pull.

Read more at: Mainichi

Technical Troubles Likely to Delay Commercial Crew Flights Until 2019

This week Boeing made a public splash by debuting a new blue spacesuit for astronauts to wear aboard its Starliner spacecraft. What the company did not dwell on as it rolled out “Boeing Blue,” however, was when the lighter, more modern-looking flight suits might be put into action with crewed flights into orbit.

That is because much work remains to integrate all of Starliner’s various systems, including qualifying them for flight, ensuring their compatibility, and writing and testing software that will make for smooth flying. And Boeing is not alone; its “commercial crew” competitor SpaceX also faces similar technical hurdles with the Dragon V2 spacecraft and the Falcon 9 rocket that will launch it into space.

Boeing has set a “no earlier than” date of August 2018 for its first crewed test flight, and SpaceX has targeted May 2018. But those dates seem optimistic. Ars spoke to a handful of sources familiar with the commercial crew program this week, and all expressed pessimism about the public timelines the companies have for reaching the launch pad. According to this unofficial analysis, even a single crewed test flight in 2018 by either company now appears unlikely, as teams from both Boeing and SpaceX continue to work through significant technical issues.

Read more at: Ars Technica

Photos: Dream Chaser Delivered to Edwards AFB for Next Flight Test

It has been just over a year now since NASA announced the winners of their multi-billion dollar second round of Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-2) contracts to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) from 2019 through 2024. SpaceX and Orbital ATK both secured contracts, but Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), who was not selected by NASA for a big commercial crew contract in 2014, was awarded a CRS-2 cargo contract too, allowing for the dream of their Dream Chaser spaceplane to now become a reality.

This week SNC took another significant step toward that reality, delivering an engineering test article of their “mini shuttle” to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, located at Edwards Air Force Base, where it will now undergo several months of testing in preparation for its next approach and landing flight test on the base’s runway 22L.

SNC put their test article through its first free flight Approach and Landing test, ALT-1, at Armstrong three years ago, and the test went about as good as SNC could have hoped for, until the command was given to deploy its landing gear. Only two of its three gear deployed, causing the vehicle to skid off the runway, sustaining minor structural damage.

Read more at: America Space

Astronaut Twin Study Shows Possible Stress of Long Space Missions

Early results of an unprecedented study to determine the effects of space travel show genetic differences between astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent a year in space, and his identical twin brother who stayed on Earth.

There were changes in Kelly’s gene expression and DNA methylation, meaning the genes were essentially chemically activated, according to preliminary results published Thursday on the journal Nature’s website. “Almost everyone is reporting that we see differences,” said Christopher Mason, a geneticist at New York’s Weill Cornell Medical College, according to Nature. It’s unclear what the preliminary findings indicate. The brothers will be closely followed for at least four more years.

Kelly and his brother Mark Kelly, who served as the test’s control, agreed to help scientists learn more about the effects of space on one’s body. The latest results were presented at the annual meeting of the Human Research Program in Galveston

Read more at: TIME

Joint Russian-Japanese Research in Space Helps Understand the Effects of Microgravity on Bone Tissue

As is well-known, space flights bring with them a unique set of health hazards. That includes bone and muscle deterioration. Loss of bone density is currently one of the most serious problems for astronauts. It is similar in nature to osteoporosis, an ailment common for senior people. Understanding microgravity and its effects on living organisms can help find new clinical methods of coping with this issue.

Oleg Gusev explains, «Fishes are one of the test organisms that give an opportunity to outline space flight effects on one’s health. Water stabilizes overloads and compensates microgravity. What we see in this research are the results of other factors, possibly space radiation or other sensitivities to gravity. Medaka fish also grows fast, so that’s another benefit for the testing process. Their genome has been deciphered».

Soyuz TMA-06M delivered several medakas to the International Space Station. Its other name – rice fish – indicates its special affinity for rice paddies. Medakas first visited space in 1994 on Columbia – they successfully spawned during that flight. This time they will stay in ISS for several years. As it turned out, medakas start losing bone density much faster than humans – almost immediately after arriving. The paper aims to explain what events and genes influence the progress of osteoporosis in medakas.

Read more at: Kpfu

Outer Space is the Next Commercial Frontier

Today, the Niskanen Center is releasing a research paper on the future of outer space commercialization. Outer space capabilities play a crucial role in the United States’ economy and national security. Commercial space endeavors, such as new launch vehicles and satellites, are on the cutting edge of space development and progress.

Promoting these enterprises would benefit our economy and national security. However, companies wishing to use space are hindered by complex and cumbersome regulations and governance mechanisms. To ensure that America remains a leader in space, the government should take steps to reform how it oversees commercial outer space.

The steps outlined in the paper—reforms on government organization, business practices, and regulatory structures—are only initial suggestions. With careful application, however, they could create an environment in which commercial space flourishes, and the United States remains at the forefront of space exploration and commercialization.

Read more at: Niskanencenter

A Private Space Station Might Be Born From the ISS

What’s going to happen to the International Space Station (ISS) after it is retired? While international agreements work out how long the station will last after its planned budget end in 2024, one startup private company has a vision that could build a new station on pieces of the old one.

Called Axiom Space, its chief executive is Michael Suffredini, the former NASA program manager of the ISS. The company has ambitious plans to send up a module in 2020 to attach to the space station, then to remove that module when the space station program ends. Depending on what the partners want, Axiom could even remove pieces of the ISS along with its own module.

Amir Blachman, Axiom’s vice-president of strategic development, suggests that such pieces could be salvaged and put to new use, including a storage module, the Canadarm (a robotic arm used for spacewalks and snagging robotic spacecraft) and even the Cupola, a 360-degree window that faces Earth.

Read more at: Seeker

Spaceport Plans Delayed by Brexit

The UK government announced in the Queen’s Speech in May last year that it would bring forward a bill. Two Scottish sites have announced plans to bid for the spaceport licences – Prestwick airport and Machrihanish. However, the government said there was currently no timetable for the introduction of the bill.

There is a growing market for launching small or nano satellites which could be used for communications such as broadband. The Scottish sites want to tap into this market and also lay down the infrastructure for future developments such as space tourism. Legislation concerning space is reserved to Westminster.

Read more at: BBC

Critics Fear DARPA Program Could Undermine Orbital ATK’s Commercial Satellite Business

Three lawmakers, including Virginia Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock, signed a letter Wednesday urging the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to rethink one of its satellite programs out of fear it could undermine commercial companies who have poured their own money into similar technologies.

And caught in the crossfire is Orbital ATK Inc. (NYSE: OA), the Dulles-based space technology company that has for the last year been plowing research dollars into its expanding commercial satellite business. The lawmakers took aim at DARPA’s “Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellite” (RSGS) program, launched last March. The program is looking for industry partners to help it build a space vehicle with robotic arms that can repair and extend the lives of satellites in geosynchronous orbit — 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface. DARPA is currently in the source selection process.

Read more at: Bizjournals

Russian Engineers Suggest Creating Satellites for Spacecraft Maintenance

Russian mechanical engineering company NPO Mashinostroyenia suggests developing service satellites for maintenance of other spacecraft. “We would like to emphasize the high technical readiness and huge potential market, company engineer Anton Sviridov said on Friday.

Such satellites will be capable of monitoring spacecraft, identifying damage, bringing to the target orbit in the event of failures of the upper stages or space junk deorbiting. Service satellites may also perform spacecraft recharging and automatic assembly of large structures in space in the long run.

Satellite makers and customers, insurers and private investors capable of finding commercial application for service satellites may be stockholders in the development of such spacecraft.

Read more at: TASS

Proton Grounded by Poor Quality Control

Russia’s most powerful operational rocket faces a new ban on all its launches for at least a half a year, as the nation’s space officials try to sort out egregious quality control problems within the industry. Media and unofficial sources in Moscow report that Roskosmos State Corporation recalled all the engines of the Proton rocket in the wake of serious violations of their manufacturing procedures. As a result, Russia begins 2017 with practically its entire rocket fleet grounded.

The Proton rocket last launched on June 9, 2016, delivering the Intelsat-31 communications satellite into a geostationary orbit. The mission was declared a success, but multiple unofficial sources and available flight data pointed at technical problems during the operation of the second stage. The Proton remained grounded for the rest of 2016 and its return to flight has been continuously delayed first to January and then to February 2017.

In January, increasingly gloomy rumors about the state of affairs with Proton and its manufacturer — GKNPTs Khrunichev — circulated on the Internet, however the company vehemently denied any serious problems with the rocket. On January 23, the Kazakh-based division of the Interfax news agency reported the likelihood of an unusually lengthy delay with Proton missions, which could last several months. A day later, the Kommersant newspaper reported that a recent firing test had revealed technical problems with RD-0210 and RD-0212 engines, which propel the second and third stage of the Proton rocket respectively. The failure of the engine was reportedly traced to illegal replacement of precious heat-resistant alloys within the engine’s components with less expensive but failure-prone materials. The report in the Kommersant echoed the results of the investigation into the 2015 Proton failure, which found that low-quality material in the turbo-pump shaft of the engine had led to the accident.

Read more at: Russian Spaceweb

Former NOAA Administrator, Astronaut Sullivan to Write Book on Satellite Servicing

Former NOAA Administrator and NASA astronaut Kathy Sullivan has been selected by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum (NASM) as the 2017 Charles A. Lindbergh Chair of Aerospace History.   She will spend her one year in that position writing a book about satellite servicing as a philosophy and practice.  As a space shuttle astronaut, she not only was the first American woman to conduct a spacewalk, but was on the shuttle mission that deployed the Hubble Space Telescope, the poster child of satellite servicing.

Sullivan resigned as Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator of NOAA on January 20 at the end of the Obama Administration.  An oceanographer by training, she has a long career in aerospace including her years as a NASA astronaut (1978-1993), president and CEO of the interactive science center COSI Columbus (Ohio), Director of Ohio State’s Battelle Center for Mathematics and Science Education, and an earlier stint at NOAA as chief scientist.

Read more at: Space Policy Online

SpaceX Faces Challenges Over Astronaut Safety

Earlier this month, SpaceX delivered 10 new Iridium satellites to orbit aboard a Falcon 9 rocket in a flawless launch from California, and then landed one of the rocket stages on a ship. It was the company’s first flight since its disastrous launchpad accident in Florida this fall, which destroyed a rocket and $200 million in equipment. But the success came just days after a NASA report to Congress that again raised questions about the risks that the company’s fueling procedures could pose to astronauts.

The new annual report, by NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, raises concerns about SpaceX’s “load-and-go” rocket-fueling process, which calls for the fueling of super-chilled liquid oxygen to be conducted after astronauts have boarded the spacecraft, in order to keep the fuel as cold as possible. The approach is a break from conventional wisdom about space travel—typically rocket fueling occurs before a crew is aboard—and the report indicates possible challenges to that plan within NASA.

Read more at: Fastcompany

A First Look at the Path NASA Astronauts will Walk When the U.S. Launches Humans into Space Again

They’ll take the elevator 175 feet above the shoreline, then march 15 steps across the platform and 13 down the grated gangplank to the double doors that open to a small white room. There the astronauts will make their final preparations, adjust their spacesuits, check their equipment, before stepping into the spacecraft.

This is the walk the astronauts will take as part of the NASA’s effort to restore human spaceflights from U.S. soil by 2018, ending an ignominious hiatus that has endured since the space shuttle was retired in 2011. Now, NASA is depending on two commercial companies — Boeing and SpaceX — to ferry its astronauts to the International Space Station, under contracts worth billions of dollars.

Both companies have faced technical and design challenges that have forced them to push back the dates of their initial flights — delays that could prove costly.

Read more at: Washington Post

Spinal Taps and Sleeping Sacks: Astronauts Try to Learn Why Vision Changes in Space

NASA’s latest research connects astronauts on the International Space Station, cancer patients on a roller coaster, plane flight and high-tech sleeping sacks.   After spending six months on the International Space Station, Michael Barratt had a strange request when he finally stepped foot on Earth. He wanted a spinal tap. “Yep, it ranked right up there with a hot shower,” he said.

Barratt isn’t a masochist; he’s a NASA astronaut who while flying hundreds of miles above Earth in 2009, noticed his vision was changing. He was struggling to read checklists. “I spent a lot of time on the Russian segment as well, when you’re reading in Russian in small print in a dark place, and your visual acuity starts to tank, you notice it,” he said with a laugh.

Barratt is also a curious physician, which brings us to his request for a spinal tap to check the pressure in his brain. He knew he wasn’t the first astronaut whose vision had changed while in space, and he hoped sticking a needle into his back might provide a clue to his vision loss. The theory: microgravity raises pressure in the head and reshapes the eyeballs.

Read more at: Houston Public Media

ESA Satellite Faces Close Orbital Conjunction with Soviet Space Debris, Avoidance Maneuver Canceled

Teams at the European Space Agency were scrambling this week to move one of the agency’s Swarm magnetospheric research satellites out of the way of a piece of orbiting debris.
Preparations for an avoidance maneuver by the Swarm B spacecraft proceeded into uploading commands to the spacecraft, but teams decided to stand down just hours before the close encounter after tracking data revealed the two objects would pass each other at a safe distance.
Unlike a very close encounter earlier this month between non-maneuverable satellites, Wednesday’s conjunction was between a piece of debris and an active satellite that has the ability to move out of the way to avoid a potentially mission-ending event.

Read more at: Spaceflight 101

Boeing Shows Off Slick New ‘Boeing Blue’ Spacesuits

Instead of the bulky orange spacesuits of the space shuttle era, astronauts traveling onboard the new Boeing Starliner capsule will wear blue spacesuits that are significantly lighter and far more comfortable than their predecessors, NASA officials announced earlier this week.

The new “Boeing Blue” spacesuits, unveiled by the US space agency on Wednesday, will weigh approximately 20 pounds (nine kilograms) – 10 pounds (more than four kilograms) less than the old suits, according to Space.com. They will also come equipped with gloves that can be used on touch screens, are more flexible and have soft helmets built directly into the suit itself.

Furthermore, NASA said that the Boeing Blue spacesuits will feature new joint patterns, vents to allow astronauts to remain cooler but which are still capable of pressurizing the suit immediately, and the ability to let water vapor pass seamlessly escape the suit while keeping air inside. Also, a series of zippers will allow astronauts to alter the shape of the suit while sitting or standing.

Read more at: Red Orbit

Airbus Delivers Propulsion Test Module for the Orion Programme to NASA

Airbus Defence and Space delivered to NASA a propulsion test module for the Orion programme. The Propulsion Qualification Test Model (PQM) will be used to check that the Orion European Service Module (ESM) spacecraft’s propulsion subsystem functions correctly.

On behalf of the European Space Agency, Airbus Defence and Space is prime contractor for the ESM, a key element of NASA’s next generation Orion spacecraft.

Although the PQM will never see space, this is an important step in the development of the Orion programme. Complex systems for human spaceflight must first be tested and qualified on Earth before being used as flight hardware in space. The engineers want to determine how the system behaves in different environments, to ensure that it functions properly.

Read more at: Space Daily

UK Space Agency Boss: Brexit Won’t Derail our Mission to Discover Life on Mars

The stratospheric ambitions of the British space industry and its role in discovering life on Mars will not be blown off course by Brexit, according to the UK Space Agency boss.

Chief executive Katherine Courtney said she is confident that the growing sector, which now contributes more than £5 billion ($6.3 billion) to UK GDP, will continue to thrive once Britain leaves the European Union.

The UK Space Agency collaborates closely with the European Space Agency (ESA) — perhaps most notably on the ExoMars mission. The British government is providing £47 million of fundingto help send an unmanned rover to Mars in 2020. The first part of the mission, to send a satellite to study the atmosphere of the Red Planet, did not go to plan in October 2016 when the probe crash landed.

Read more at: Business Insider

Budget Likely to be First Indication of Trump’s Space Priorities

The space community likely has a few more months to wait before it gets an idea of what U.S. space policy under the Donald Trump administration may look like, a top aerospace analyst said Jan. 25.

“The first big milestone that we’ll see may well be the release of the administration’s first budget omnibus, which we will see sometime in the spring. That’s going to be significant,” said Carissa Christensen, co-founder of The Tauri Group, an analytic consulting firm that pays close attention to the space sector and has contracts with NASA and the Defense Department.

The consensus among budget watchers in Washington is that the end of March is the earliest the new administration is likely to release its first budget proposal. That will be the first opportunity everyone has to see just what space programs the White House considers priorities — and which ones it could do without.

“We don’t yet know all that much about the new administration’s space priorities,” Christensen said at a breakfast here hosted by the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. “Although I think there have been some sign posts.”

Read more at: Space News

China’s First Cargo Spacecraft to Leave Factory

China’s first cargo spacecraft will leave the factory, according to the website of China’s manned space mission.

A review meeting was convened last Thursday, during which officials and experts unanimously concluded that the Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft had met all the requirements to leave the factory. The take-off weight of Tianzhou-1 is 13 tonnes and it can ship material of up to six tonnes. The spacecraft, which is scheduled to be launched in April from the southern province of Hainan, will dock with the Tiangong-2 space lab and refuel it.

Read more at: Space Daily

In NASA Study, Twin Astronauts Show Stresses of Space Travel

Preliminary results are in from NASA’s unprecedented twin study — a detailed probe of the genetic differences between astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent nearly a consecutive year in space, and his identical twin Mark. Measurements taken before, during and after Scott Kelly’s mission reveal changes in gene expression, DNA methylation and other biological markers that are likely attributable to his time in orbit.

From the lengths of the twins’ chromosomes to the microbiomes in their guts, “almost everyone is reporting that we see differences”, says Christopher Mason, a geneticist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. He and other project scientists reported the early results on 26 January in Galveston, Texas, at a meeting of scientists working in NASA’s Human Research Program. “The data are so fresh that some of them are still coming off the sequencing machines,” Mason says.

Read more at: Scientific American

Making AI Systems that See the World as Humans do

A Northwestern University team developed a new computational model that performs at human levels on a standard intelligence test. This work is an important step toward making artificial intelligence systems that see and understand the world as humans do.

“The model performs in the 75th percentile for American adults, making it better than average,” said Northwestern Engineering’s Ken Forbus. “The problems that are hard for people are also hard for the model, providing additional evidence that its operation is capturing some important properties of human cognition.”

The new computational model is built on CogSketch, an artificial intelligence platform previously developed in Forbus’ laboratory. The platform has the ability to solve visual problems and understand sketches in order to give immediate, interactive feedback. CogSketch also incorporates a computational model of analogy, based on Northwestern psychology professor Dedre Gentner’s structure-mapping theory. (Gentner received the 2016 David E. Rumelhart Prize for her work on this theory.)

Read more at: Space Daily

Rocket Designers Set Crosshairs on New Air Purifiers

Chinese carrier rocket designers are using their knowledge and expertise to tap into the public’s demand for fresh and clean air. The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology in Beijing, a major developer of the nation’s carrier rockets and ballistic missiles, will soon put on the market an air purifier that developers say incorporates a host of cutting-edge technologies used on rockets.

Beijing Ares Technology Co, a subsidiary of the academy responsible for the development and marketing of air purifiers, has sold 10,000 Alpha-blue air purifiers, developed by rocket designers, to space industry workers and will launch 5,000 sets on the open market after the coming Chinese New Year.

Wang Libo, chairman of Beijing Ares Technology, said on Wednesday that he expects the product to be popular because it has better capabilities compared with other air purifiers of its kind on the Chinese market, while being reasonably priced. “Compared with other purifiers of its size, the Alpha-blue has a much higher rate of delivering clear air and absorbing formaldehyde in a given period of time because we powder-coat its filter screens with nanoplatinum particles that are widely used in rocket production,” he said.

Read more at: China.org

US General Accuses Russia of Covertly Building Anti-satellite Laser Weapons

A senior US military official has accused Russia of covertly running various programs to enhance its anti-satellite capabilities, including designing laser weapons to use in space, the Department of Defense press service said.

Speaking at the Stanford University in California, Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, who heads the U.S. Strategic Command, accused Russia and China of building weapons in the low earth orbit and in the geosynchronous orbit, as well as systems to manage them from the ground.

“In the not-too-distant future, they (Russia and China) will be able to use that capability to threaten every spacecraft we have in space. We have to prevent that, and the best way to prevent war is to be prepared for war. So the United States is going to do that, and we’re going to make sure that everybody knows we’re prepared for war,” he said.

Both Russia and China have repeatedly declared their commitment to the peaceful use of outer space and are members of the relevant United Nations Committee, COPUOS.

Read more at: TASS