News, Space, Space flight

The International Space Station is out of parking space

Space_X

At this very moment, the International Space Station has all its docking ports fully booked, as five manned and cargo spacecraft have occupied all available slots. Most expensive parking ticket ever The spacecrafts in question are: Soyuz TMA-12M, Soyuz TMA-13M, Cygnus 2, Progress 56, and ATV-5. The Soyuz crafts are tasked with ferrying the crew of Expedition 39/40 and 40/41 to and from Earth, while the other three are unmanned cargo vessels. Of these, Cygnus is most notable, not because of any technical achievement (it’s quite obsolete, if you ask me), but because it’s the only one owned by a private company. Cygnus is only the second space company, besides SpaceX, ever to…

Astrophysics, News, Physics, Space flight

NASA confirms “Impossible” propellant-free microwave thruster works

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Designs for a device called a “microwave thruster” were proposed in 2006. While the device was physically sound and followed the principles of relativity, it has been dismissed by researchers who claimed that such a functioning device would defy the law of conservation of momentum. A team from NASA set out to trial the device and see if it works; lo and behold – it did! Several years ago British scientist Roger Shawyer presented his EmDrive microwave thruster as an alternative to powering spacecrafts without propellant. Instead, it uses microwaves bouncing off a carefully tuned set of reflectors to achieve small amounts of force and therefore achieve propellant free thrust. Initially, the…

Alien life, Space, Space flight

Mars could become colonized by stowaway Earthling tiny space travelers

Electron micrographs of Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032 spores on aluminum before and after exposure to space conditions. [Reproduced with permission from P. Vaishampayan et al., Survival of Bacillus pumilus Spores for a Prolonged Period of Time in Real Space Conditions. Astrobiology Vol 12, No 5, 2012.] Image Credit: P. Vaishampayan, et al./Astrobiology

Whenever alien invasions are concerned, most people tend to image extraterrestrial spaceships landing on Earth, not the other way around. In reality, this alien invasion most likely will happen or already has happen in reverse, as Earth-based life forms could reach distant asteroids or planets, like Mars, hitching rides on human spaceship. To assess this possibility, NASA researchers published three studies that looked at the survival capability of microorganisms, particularly adapted to extreme conditions like those found in deep space travel. Surviving in space Contamination with Earth-based organisms is a huge concern for NASA and other space  programs investigating life harboring conditions on other worlds. The Curiosity rover, the most…

Space, Space flight

NASA to conduct unprecedented twin experiment: one twin will spend a year circling the Earth, while the other stays grounded

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It’s something that puzzled me for years now: consider a pair of identical twins; say, one gets a job as an astronaut and rockets into space. The other is also an astronaut, but he decides to skip this one and stay home. After a while, they reunite, but are they still identical? That’s exactly what NASA wants to find out! In March of 2015, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly will join cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko on a one-year mission to the International Space Station. Their lengthy mission is part of a study which will document the effects of long-term space flight on the human body. But here’s the cool part: Scott Kelly also…

News, Space flight

Developing Galactic Gas Stations

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Future lunar missions may be fueled by gas stations in space, according to a new plan developed by MIT engineers. A spacecraft might dock at a propellant depot, somewhere between the Earth and the Moon, and pick up some more fuel before heading on to the moon. The carry load is still a major problem for scientific expeditions. Basically, you need to carry so much big and heavy equipment; if you were to carry less fuel and refuel somewhere along the way, then ships would be able to carry more equipment, which would translate into better experiments and more scientific value. Over the last few decades, scientists have proposed various designs…

News, Space, Space flight

China’s rover on route for the moon and first lunar landing in 40 years

China’s lunar probe as seen against the limb of the Earth. (c) CCTV

In the early hours of December 2nd, China deployed its Chang’e-3 spacecraft on route for the moon after launching it via a  Long March 3B rocket from the Xichang launch centre in Sichuan. The spacecraft is expected to reach lunar orbit in about 4 days, if everything goes as planned. On 14 December, the probe is expected to touch base with the moon at Sinus Iridium and release a rover. If successful, this would be the first soft landing since the Soviet Luna-24 mission in 1976. This is the third spacecraft deployed by China to the moon, after previously  Chang’e 2 and  Chang’e 1 moon orbiters successfully entered lunar orbit. This time, instead of crashing the probes, Chinese scientists…

Space, Space flight

India launches space mission geared towards Mars

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India is a sort of economic paradox. Its general population is among the poorest in the world, yet it is still wealthy in many respects. It wouldn’t be a mistake to call India a space superpower, at least in the way the term gets tossed in the press. Attesting this fact is the country’s recently successful launch of its  Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) set for a 300 days travel towards the red planet. This is the culmination of the country’s 50 year-long space program. If successful, meaning if MON reaches Mars orbit, this would make India the fourth space program to achieve this feat, after US, Russia and Europe. As a fuel-saving alternative,…

Observations, Space, Space flight

Russian ICBM missile test in space catches ISS astronauts by surprise

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Right after World Space Week ended just last week –  an event that celebrates the anniversary of the signing of the Outer Space Treaty that prohibits the militarization of space – Russia made a test launch for one of its new types of intercontinental ballistic missiles; missiles capable of launching their nuclear warhead payload from outer space. The launch apparently caught astronauts from the International Space Station by surprise who were not aware of the launch. Astronaut Luca Parmitano tweeted this after he caught the unexpected missile trailing through the horizon as its upper stage disintegrated, leaving behind an orbital cloud. A missile launch seen from space: an unexpected surprise! pic.twitter.com/mbWI209ELv…

Space, Space flight

NASA will grow its own vegetables onboard the ISS

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Last year, an astronaut named Don Pettit started an unusual, but very poetic and insightful writing project on NASA’s website: “Diary of a Space Zucchini” detailed the life and ‘thoughts’ of a zucchini onboard the International Space Station (ISS). “I sprouted, thrust into this world without anyone consulting me,” wrote Pettit in the now-defunct blog. “I am utilitarian, hearty vegetative matter that can thrive under harsh conditions. I am zucchini — and I am in space.” It may seem whimsical, but it wasn’t just interesting and fun – it helped keep the astronauts sane. Now, NASA is turning its interest towards zucchinis once again, but in a different way –…

Space, Space flight

These people want to go to Mars – and never come back

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Ever since 2010, I’ve been telling you about a group of scientists and investors which wants to send people to Mars – on a one way trip, that is. But in early 2013, this took a huge step forward, materializing in the form of Mars One – a non-profit organization that plans to establish a permanent human colony on Mars by 2023. Since they started receiving applications, they’ve received over 165.000 of them – and that’s not really surprising, considering that they asked for people over 18, with a strong knowledge of English, and the only attributes required are adaptability, curiosity, ability to trust, creativity and resourcefulness. A few dozens…