All-female Russian Crew Starts Moon Mission Test

Six Russian women have clambered into a mock spaceship to begin a unique experiment testing how an all-female crew would interact on a trip to the moon and back. For eight days, the female volunteers will live inside a wood-panelled suite of rooms at Moscow’s Institute of Biomedical Problems, renowned for its wacky research into the psychological and physical effects of space travel.

The institute in 2010 locked six male international volunteers in an isolation experiment lasting 520 days, to simulate a flight to Mars and back.

“Such a crew is taking part for the first time in a simulation experiment. It’s interesting for us to see what is special about the way a female crew communicates,” said Sergei Ponomaryov, the experiment’s supervisor.

“It will be particularly interesting in terms of psychology,” said the institute’s director Igor Ushakov. The volunteers include scientific researchers, a doctor and a psychologist. The test period simulates a flight to the moon and back, with the women carrying out 10 experiments covering psychology and human biology.

Read more at: AU News

Space Station Crew Celebrates 15 Years of Human Space Exploration in Low-Earth Orbit

All six members of the Expedition 45 crew aboard the International Space Station will participate in a news conference at 10 a.m. EST on Monday, Nov. 2 to mark the start of continuous work by humans aboard the space-based laboratory 15 years ago. The 30-minute news conference will air live on NASA Television and agency’s website.

Station Commander Scott Kelly and Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Flight Engineers Mikhail Kornienko, Oleg Kononenko and Sergey Volkov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Flight Engineer Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will take questions from U.S., Russian and Japanese media during the news conference.

Source: NASA

Asteroid Called ‘Spooky’ Will Buzz Earth on Halloween

A space rock bigger than a skyscraper will sail past Earth on Halloween, zipping by just beyond the moon. The asteroid won’t collide with our planet, but as a cosmic trick-or-treat it offers a rare chance to see a near miss.

Astronomers from NASA’s Near Earth Object Program first spotted the incoming asteroid on October 10, just three weeks before its closest approach. It was too small and faint to detect until it came within the range of large survey telescopes. Since then, scientists having been scrambling every night to keep an eye on the interloper, tracking its orbit as well as its shape and size.

Nicknamed Spooky , the asteroid (officially called 2015 TB145) is estimated to be about 950 to 2,100 feet wide (290 to 650 meters). Scientists won’t be sure of its exact size until they can do radar measurements—and the most accurate will be on Halloween, when it passes the closest. But even at the middle of that range, or 1,300 feet, Spooky will be about 32 times larger than the asteroid that burned up in spectacular fashion above Chelyabinsk, Siberia, in 2013.

Read more at: National Geographic

The International Code of Conduct: Comments on Changes in the Latest Draft and Post-mortem Thoughts

The latest draft of the International Code of Conduct (the Code), dated March 31, 2014, was intended to be the subject of negotiations at the United Nations in New York from July 27 to 31, 2015. The meeting consisted of representatives from over 100 countries by invitation of the European Union, but the intent to negotiate the latest draft of the Code was cut short by two procedural moves.1

The first procedural concern raised at the meeting pointed out negotiations of the Code had no UN mandate and could not be considered a UN event even though the meeting was held at UN Headquarters. Consequently, the EU had no legal standing to negotiate the text of the Code in the auspices of the UN, which required the Chair to reclassify the purpose of the meeting from a negotiation to a consultation. A second procedural impediment was raised by several delegations that a possible UN General Assembly mandate, which would allow negotiations for the Code to be held under the auspices of the UN, could not be restricted so as to prevent other countries to propose alternative texts of the Code for discussion.

Read more at: Space Review

Modern Mystery: Ancient Comet is Spewing Oxygen

The Rosetta spacecraft has detected molecular oxygen in the gas streaming off comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, a curious finding that has scientists rethinking the ingredients that were present in the early solar system.

What’s mystifying astronomers about the new find is why the oxygen wasn’t annihilated during the solar system’s formation. Molecular oxygen is extremely reactive with hydrogen, which was swirling in abundance as the sun and planets were created. Current solar system models suggest the molecular oxygen should have disappeared by the time 67P was created, about 4.6 billion years ago.

“It was a big surprise to actually detect the O2 [oxygen],” Andre Bieler, a research fellow at the University of Michigan who co-led the study, said in a media briefing held by the journal Nature, where the new research was published.

Read more at: Space.com

Orbital ATK Ramps Up Testing Ahead of 2016 Antares Return to Flight

The Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) at Pad-0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, has become a scene of increased activity with Orbital ATK engineers hard at work preparing their medium-class Antares booster with a much-anticipated return-to-flight.

At present, the Dulles, Virginia-based firm is on track to carry out a series of tests that will culminate in a newly redesigned “enhanced” version of the Antares booster heading to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2016.

Before they do so, Orbital ATK must successfully complete several major milestones. First up is a pad hot-fire test. This should serve to validate if the NPO Energomash RD-181 rocket engines can effectively be used with pad-0A in its current configuration.

Along with an updated rocket (now designated Antares 2) and a refurbished launch pad, the Cygnus cargo module is also getting some upgrades. The new launch vehicle can carry an additional payload and the Cygnus has been outfitted as a bigger, bolder version of its former self. New circular solar panels will provide more power to the spacecraft.

The longer (by some three feet) pressurized cargo area can now hold 7,700 pounds (3,500 kilograms) of cargo. As noted by SpaceFlight Now’s Stephen Clark, this is a marked increase from the 4,400 pounds (2,000 kilograms) that prior versions of the freighter could send aloft.

Read more at: Spaceflight Insider

The Puzzle of Planetary Protection

The recent announcement by NASA confirming the presence of liquid water on Mars pulls planetary protection into the spotlight and is causing some serious head-scratching in the scientific community.

On the one hand, having existing liquid water on the Red Planet is a cause for wonder, excitement, and a strong desire to investigate it in a great deal more depth to look for the possibility of life. On the other hand, there is the dilemma of protecting a potential biosphere from contamination from Earthly bugs. As keen as the Curiosity mission team is to take advantage of the rover to have a much closer look atrecurring slope lineae (RSL), the rover itself is just not clean enough.

“There will be heated discussions in the next weeks and months about what Curiosity will be allowed to do and whether it can go anywhere near the RSLs,” said Andrew Coates of University College London’s Mullard space science laboratory. “Curiosity now has the chance, for example, to do some closer up, but still remote, measurements, using the ChemCam instrument with lasers, to look at composition. I understand there is increasing pressure from the science side to allow that, given this new discovery.”

Read more at: Technology.org

The International Space Station is Home to Potentially Dangerous Bacteria

There’s a little known, dirty story about the International Space Station (ISS): It’s filled with bacteria and fungi. A new study has found compelling evidence that microorganisms from human skin are present throughout the station, and some of the bugs could cause serious harm to astronauts.

NASA and its partner agencies go to extraordinary measures to reduce the likelihood that microbes will sneak a ride to ISS, requiring that payloads move through “clean rooms,” which are outfitted with high-powered air filtration systems and thoroughly mopped and scrubbed with disinfectants. But then ISS itself serves as a home to six microbe-filled humans who stay in orbit for as long as 6 months each and routinely shed skin cells when they exercise, comb their hair, eat, and do other activities that potentially can contaminate their isolated “built environment.”

Read more at: Science Magazine

Virtual Reality System to Fly in Space Brings Non-Astronauts Aboard ISS

For the first time ever, a virtual reality recording system will be flown in space. The project, announced by Deep Space Industries (DSI), will use a spherical video capture system to create a virtual reality float-through tour of the International Space Station’s science lab.

Feeding into the exciting growth of VR systems created by Oculus Rift, Sony, and Samsung, this project, initiated by DSI, is a cooperative effort with Thrillbox, and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), managers of the ISS U.S.

National Laboratory. This innovative partnership will allow, for the first time, anyone with a VR headset to have a fully immersive astronaut experience aboard the International Space Station. Additionally, CASIS will use the spherical video to familiarize potential researchers with the scientific facilities on the ISS National Lab.

Read more at: Space Daily

NASA Calls for American Industry Ideas on ARM Spacecraft Development

NASA, through its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, has issued a call to American industry for innovative ideas on how the agency could obtain a core advanced solar electric propulsion-based spacecraft to support the Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission (ARRM).

Part of NASA’s overall Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), this mission will use a number of important technologies to prepare for an early human exploration mission in deep space — specifically, the area around the moon known as cislunar space. The robotic mission also will provide the first large-scale asteroid samples on which to conduct research and analysis for better understanding of the composition and nature of these primordial planetary bodies, leading to future use of in-situ resources from asteroids. The mission both uses and expands NASA’s ability to detect, characterize and mitigate the threat these space rocks pose to our home planet. The highest priority of ARM is to affordably demonstrate and prove new capabilities needed for future human missions to Mars.

“We’re eager to hear from American companies on their ideas for a spacecraft design that could accommodate our advanced solar electric propulsion requirements and robotic technologies,” said NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot. “We’re also interested in what sorts of innovative commercial, international and academic partnerships opportunities might be practical and help reduce overall mission costs while still demonstrating the technologies we need for our journey to Mars.”

Source: NASA

Men on the Moon: Russia Hopes to Launch Manned Lunar Mission in 2029

Russia says it will launch a manned mission to the Moon in 2029, according to the Russian space agency, Roscosmos. A spacecraft for the venture is currently being built. Its maiden flight is expected to take place in 2021. Vladimir Solntsev, head of Roscomsos Energia, made the announcement on Tuesday, saying, “A manned flight to the moon and lunar landing is planned for 2029.”

The spacecraft, specially designed to carry out missions to the moon, is being built in Moscow. Its first scheduled flight is due to take place in 2021, Sputnik reports. The subsequent plan will be for the spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station in 2023 and then send an unmanned mission to the Moon in 2025.

Two weeks ago, the European Space Agency (ESA) said it was interested in joining Russia’s ambitious plan to colonize the Moon, by providing key technical expertise for a planned mission in 2020.

Read more at: RT

If Humans Goto Mars, Where is the Best Place to Land?

In The Martian, a stranded astronaut has to survive a hostile Red Planet. This week, scientists will hold the first workshop to identify sites on Mars where astronauts might actually land one day.

Arguments may turn fierce when the workshop starts today as to which of the more than 50 sites under analysis might be the best real estate for life on the distant world — say, an underground home in the subterranean caves of Hebrus Valles, or a base near one-time hot springs in Gusev Crater that might have possessed life. And a number of scientists going to the meeting hope to go to Mars someday themselves.

“I’m picking landing sites that I may be visiting in the future,” says planetary scientist Zachary Gallegos of the University of New Mexico, one of the final 100 candidates for the Mars One mission, a proposed one-way trip to Mars.

Read more at: Popsci

NASA Completes Critical Design Review for Space Launch System

For the first time in almost 40 years, a NASA human-rated rocket has completed all steps needed to clear a critical design review (CDR). The agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) is the first vehicle designed to meet the challenges of the journey to Mars and the first exploration class rocket since the Saturn V.

SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built and, with the agency’s Orion spacecraft, will launch America into a new era of exploration to destinations beyond Earth’s orbit. The CDR provided a final look at the design and development of the integrated launch vehicle before full-scale fabrication begins.

“We’ve nailed down the design of SLS, we’ve successfully completed the first round of testing of the rocket’s engines and boosters, and all the major components for the first flight are now in production,” said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator of NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Division.

Read more at: Space Daily

How to Spot the USAF’s ‘Mini-Shuttle’

Step outside on any clear night at dusk during twilight hours and watch the sky for a few minutes, and you’ll notice swiftly moving “stars,” sentinels of our modern Space Age.

Some are regular satellites. (Folks at public star parties are always amazed to see satellites with their own eyes!) But most of what you’re seeing are actually discarded boosters in low-Earth orbit, and more than a few are clandestine spy satellites.

One of the more intriguing missions to track from your backyard is the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B. The USAF owns two X-37B spacecraft, and the current Orbital Test Vehicle 4 (OTV-4) mission is the fourth overall for the program. Launched from Cape Canaveral on May 20, 2015, OTV-4 orbits Earth once every 91 minutes in a 196-mile (315-km) altitude orbit. Its orbit is inclined 38° from Earth’s equator, ensuring that the craft is visible from latitude 45° north to 45° south.

As with a majority of classified U.S. Department of Defense missions, NORAD doesn’t publicly publish the orbital parameters for the X-37B. (The launch was broadcast live, however.) Once launched, tracking the mini space plane becomes the pursuit of dedicated satellite-watchers worldwide.

Read more at: Sky and Telescope

U.S. Should Lead the World away from a Space War

On January 11, 2007, with no warning, China’s military fired a ballistic missile at one of the country’s weather satellites and blew it to bits. China’s first test of an antisatellite weapon made a mess: tens of thousands of metal shards now litter low-Earth orbit, where the International Space Station, other crewed missions and about half of all operational satellites fly.

Other superpowers have been exploring space-based weaponry. In October 2014 the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle–3 returned from a mission where some analysts believe it was testing technologies for hypersonic missiles—weapons capable of hitting any target on Earth within an hour—and, possibly, techniques for repairing or disabling satellites. Russia has tested three satellites in recent years that may be able to intercept other orbiting spacecraft to eavesdrop on or physically sabotage them.

This militarization of space is a dangerous course. A small skirmish above our planet could knock out global communications, and the orbiting hazards could lock off access to space for generations. Worse, attacks on satellites could quickly escalate into war on the ground. World powers need to act now to declare space a demilitarized zone.

Read more at: Scientific American