Archive for November, 2015

Pilot Kelly Latimer Credit: Virgin Galactic

Pilot Kelly Latimer
Credit: Virgin Galactic

 

Virgin Galactic announced today the appointment of female pilot, Kelly Latimer, as part of the company’s commercial operations team.

Latimer is a former combat veteran and retired US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and joins Virgin Galactic with extensive experience with heavy aircraft and as an experimental test pilot for NASA, Boeing, and the US Air Force.

“I have wanted to go to space ever since I can remember doing anything,” Latimer said in a Virgin Galactic press statement. “Flying is the tip of the iceberg: some the most meaningful work for me will be joining Virgin Galactic’s team with their incredible experience and organization to complete the vehicles’ design and test and setting up operations before the first flight. I’m thrilled that my test pilot experience has led me to Virgin Galactic and look forward to making access to space for everybody a reality,” she said.

Upcoming return to flight

Latimer was the first female research test pilot hired by NASA’s Dryden (now Armstrong) Flight Research Center. She conducted experimental flight test and test support on the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) 747SP, T-38, C-17, 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, BE200 and T-34 for various NASA research projects.

Latimer has logged more than 6,000 flight hours and more than 1,000 hours in test flight in over 30 aircraft.

Virgin Galactic’s Senior Vice President of Operations Mike Moses added that Latimer’s heavy aircraft and test pilot experience “make her well-suited for our upcoming return to flight. We look forward to Kelly’s contributions in what is sure to be a busy and exciting year ahead.”

In October 2014, there was an in-flight loss of VSS Enterprise, a SpaceShipTwo test mishap that killed co-pilot Michael Alsbury and seriously injured pilot Peter Siebold.

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo is shown making a rocket-powered test flight on Jan. 10, 2014. Credit: MarsScientific.com/Clay Center Observatory

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo is shown making a rocket-powered test flight on Jan. 10, 2014.
Credit: MarsScientific.com/Clay Center Observatory

Passenger manifest

Virgin Galactic is the world’s first commercial spaceline.

Founded by Sir Richard Branson and owned by the Virgin Group and Aabar Investments PJS, Virgin Galactic’s suborbital passenger list totals 700 men and women from over 50 countries—greater than the total number of humans who have ever been to space—all having reserved places to fly on Virgin Galactic’s reusable space launch system.

That system consists of carrier aircraft, WhiteKnightTwo and spacecraft, SpaceShipTwo.

SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo are manufactured and tested in Mojave, California, by its manufacturing wing, The Spaceship Company.

Spaceflight operations will be based at Spaceport America in New Mexico, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport.

Credit: Bob Sauls/XP4D M. Wade Holler Director, Digital Content and Media Strategy Explore Mars, Inc. Used with permission.

Credit:
Bob Sauls/XP4D
M. Wade Holler
Director, Digital Content and Media Strategy
Explore Mars, Inc.
Used with permission.

Explore Mars, Inc. has produced the first annual Humans to Mars Report (H2MR).

This report provides updates on challenges, plus progress in areas such as mission architecture design and development, scientific discoveries, policy, public perception, international cooperation and competition, and new private capabilities.

Analytical tool

As noted in the report’s introduction, authored by Chris Carberry, Chief Executive Officer of the group, and its President, Artemis Westenberg:

“We can expect new players to emerge and political, economic, and international variables to impact the trajectory of the pathway to Mars; still, it will be far easier to chart our path to Mars if there is an independent annual analysis of progress, challenges, and developments. The Humans to Mars Report will serve as this analytical tool.”

Mars myth

Phobos with the red planet Mars in the background. Credit: M. Wade Holler Director, Digital Content and Media Strategy Explore Mars, Inc. Used with permission

Phobos with the red planet Mars in the background.
Credit: M. Wade Holler
Director, Digital Content and Media Strategy
Explore Mars, Inc.
Used with permission

Among the report’s many recommendations:

— Dispel the $1 trillion myth: Human missions to Mars should only cost a fraction of this amount.

— Better story telling: NASA and the space community need to better explain a clear path to Mars and how current programs will advance that path.

This well written and useful report is enriched by a look forward over the next five years, as well as a detailed look at key elements to humans on Mars architecture. Lastly, a section examines public perception of Mars exploration and what factors influence that perception.

Credit: M. Wade Holler Director, Digital Content and Media Strategy Explore Mars, Inc. Used with permission

Credit: M. Wade Holler
Director, Digital Content and Media Strategy
Explore Mars, Inc.
Used with permission

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resources

To access this informative report, go to:

http://www.exploremars.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/HumansToMarsReport_i.pdf

While there, take a look at other items offered at:

http://www.exploremars.org/

Artwork: David Egge

Artwork: David Egge

Going up? Attention space elevator button pushers!

A feature-length documentary called Sky Line is being released this month, an impressive view that follows a group of scientists and entrepreneurs as egos collide in an attempt to reach for the stars.

The film, which centers on the real-life building of the once fantastical space elevator concept, will debut at DOC NYC 2015 – America’s largest documentary festival — and will be released on all major On Demand platforms on November 20th, 2015.

Historical note

In his 22nd century-set 1979 novel, The Fountains of Paradise, science fact/fiction writer, Arthur C. Clarke imagined an elevator connecting Earth with an orbiting satellite, eliminating the need for costly and environmentally destructive rockets. While scientists have considered such a project, they have been hampered by the lack of sufficiently advanced technology… until now.

Courtesy: Sky Line

Courtesy: Sky Line

“At its heart, Sky Line is a movie about chasing your dreams, and this was one of ours,” says director Miguel Drake-McLaughlin. “What drives a person to devote his life to pursuits that may take generations to achieve? We set out to answer that question when we first went to Seattle to begin filming the folks involved in the Space Elevator Conference. We didn’t have much of a plan, but we knew everyone had a story – and we found the people that became the backbone of this film.”

For several years, Drake-McLaughlin adds, the documentarians would revisit these eccentric and brilliant characters, resulting in Sky Line.

On demand platforms

With a running time of 74 minutes, Sky Line will be available on all major On Demand platforms, including Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, and Xbox, beginning on November 20th, 2015.

Sky Line is co-directed by Miguel Drake-Mclaughlin and Jonny Leahan, and executive produced by Robert Wood. The distribution deal was negotiated by Sam Scupp of FilmBuff – an award-winning full-service distribution company, with a focus on delivering high quality, compelling film and video to targeted audiences.

For a Sky Line trailer, go to:

https://vimeo.com/142159382

For detailed information on the documentary, go to:

www.spaceelevator.net

International Space Station. Credit: NASA

International Space Station.
Credit: NASA

 

In outer space everyone should hear you wash your hands!

It turns out that the International Space Station (ISS) is a factory for churning out microbes that make for an unhealthy work place.

The results of a new study provide “strong evidence” that specific human skin-associated microorganisms make a substantial contribution to the ISS microbiome – which is not the case in Earth-based cleanrooms.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, a flight engineer for Expedition 43 and a member of the one-year crew, is seen here inside the ISS Unity module. Credit: NASA

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, a flight engineer for Expedition 43 and a member of the one-year crew, is seen here inside the ISS Unity module.
Credit: NASA

Furthermore, the data gathered demonstrate the value of measuring viable cell diversity and population size at any sampling site. This research can be utilized to spot sites on the ISS that can be targeted for more stringent cleaning. Lastly, the new results permit comparisons with other built sites and facilitate future improvements on the ISS that will ensure astronaut health.

Filter and cleaner bag debris

The particulate samples analyzed during this study were gleaned from an ISS HEPA filter, as well as vacuum cleaner bag debris.

The ISS environmental control system includes a distributed ventilation system that contains HEPA filter elements to remove suspended particulate matter from the cabin atmosphere and protect humidity control and air purification equipment from debris accumulation and biofouling.

Flying on a vacuum cleaner. Every Saturday, ISS astronauts vacuum the filters and clean all surfaces. Credit: ESA/NASA

Flying on a vacuum cleaner. Every Saturday, ISS astronauts vacuum the filters and clean all surfaces.
Credit: ESA/NASA

The new assessment — Microbiomes of the dust particles collected from the International Space Station and Spacecraft Assembly Facilities — explores the environmental microbiome of the ISS as a closed environment.

The work has been published in the scientific journal, Microbiome, led by Aleksandra Checinska of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group in Pasadena, California.

 

Microbial ecology

Key highlights of the research:

— As long-duration human missions are planned in the future, detection of human pathogens and possible mitigation practices must be developed. In addition, understanding of the ISS microbiome could facilitate the necessary maintenance of this closed habitat and thereby assist in preventing degradation of its components by some microorganisms.

— This study is the first to analyze samples from the ISS air and surface using traditional and state-of-the-art molecular techniques and assays to measure the abundance of microorganisms (i.e., live and dead cells).

— The microbial diversity of the ISS was compared with samples from JPL spacecraft assembly facility cleanrooms, which also represent closed and environmentally controlled built ecosystems.

— The safety and health of spaceflight crewmembers are of the highest importance for current and future missions. Individuals living and/or working in built environments are often susceptible to health issues associated with microorganisms. Moreover, the microbial ecology of ISS remains largely unknown, as study efforts have been mostly focused on microbiological surveillance using cultivation procedures.

Skin shedding

Credit: Checinska et al. Microbiome 2015 3:50 doi:10.1186/s40168-015-0116-3

Credit: Checinska et al. Microbiome 2015 3:50 doi:10.1186/s40168-015-0116-3

As noted in the research, it has previously been observed that a high level of visible dust was found in the ISS Node 3 cabin, to the extent it was sticking to the walls. Flight surgeons indicated that this had been reported not just in Node 3 but also throughout the U.S. on-orbit segment and expressed a concern for crew health. Dust on the ISS is expected, with humans being major contributors (via skin shedding, eating, exercising, etc.). Other sources such as on-orbit maintenance activities can release dust from sources such as payloads and systems, clothing, and visiting vehicles.

Part of the new research was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with NASA. This new work is expected to facilitate future studies to determine how stable the ISS environment is over time.

For an Open Access look at this research, wash your hands and then go to:

http://www.microbiomejournal.com/content/3/1/50

  This image was taken by Curiosity's Right B Navcam on November 3, 2015, Sol 1153.   Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


This image was taken by Curiosity’s Right B Navcam on November 3, 2015, Sol 1153.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

An issue with the Deep Space Network curtailed some Curiosity rover activity. In addition, the intentional “safe mode” status of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has meant less exchange between Earth and the Mars robot.

“Still, even with limited data we were able to put together a good plan,” notes Ryan Anderson, a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Recent planning “was a bit challenging,” Anderson reports, “because we only got a few Navcam images down to show us possible science targets, which limited our choices for ChemCam observations.”

Sand dunes ahead

On Sol 1155, the Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) was to observe the targets “Thermopolis” and “Pinckney” to get measurements of the typical bedrock and typical soil or sand in the area, plus a long-distance image of one of the sand dunes that the rover is approaching, Anderson adds.

Also, on tap, the rover’s Mastcam was set to take documentation images of those two ChemCam targets and the distant sand dune, plus a 13×3 mosaic of a nearby outcrop.

Following those duties, Curiosity was slated to drive and take standard post-drive images.

Looking for clouds

On Sol 1156, Anderson notes, several environmental and atmospheric measurements, including a couple Mastcam observations to measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere were on the books, as was making Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) observations, and a Navcam movie to look for clouds.

Lastly, the Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) also has a post-drive image of the ground under the rover.

“The weekend plan,” Anderson concludes, “looks like it will be focused on contact science, but we should be able to fit some ChemCam in there too!”

As always, projected dates of planned rover activities are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

Upcoming call for more NASA astronauts. Credit: NASA

Upcoming call for more NASA astronauts.
Credit: NASA

For all you wannabe astronauts, keep an eye out for NASA’s next call for space explorers!

The agency will accept applications from Dec. 14 through mid-February and expects to announce candidates selected in mid-2017. From pilots and engineers, to scientists and medical doctors, NASA selects qualified astronaut candidates from a diverse pool of U.S. citizens with a wide variety of backgrounds.

NASA has noted: “The next class of astronauts may fly on any of four different U.S. vessels during their careers: the International Space Station, two commercial crew spacecraft currently in development by U.S. companies, and NASA’s Orion deep-space exploration vehicle.”

To date, NASA has selected more than 300 astronauts to fly on missions to explore space. Today, there are 47 astronauts in the active astronaut corps, and more will be needed to crew future missions to the space station and destinations in deep space.

For more information about a career as a NASA astronaut, and application requirements, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/astronauts

Applications for consideration as a NASA Astronaut will be accepted at:

http://www.usajobs.gov

This image was taken by Navcam: Left B onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 1151, November 1, 2015 Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This image was taken by Navcam: Left B onboard NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 1151, November 1, 2015
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now in Sol 1152 with the robot focused on analyzing its new surroundings after a drive of some 105 feet (32 meters).

That drive on Sol 1148 last week put the rover “in range of some interesting rocks,” reports Ryan Anderson, a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Anderson is a member of the ChemCam team on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL).

The recent plan for Sol 1150 called for use of Curiosity’s Mastcam to take an 8×4 mosaic of some interesting layered rocks, Anderson explains. That was to be followed by ChemCam and Mastcam observations of the targets “Dunkirk” and “Duperow”.

After the remote sensing is done, Anderson adds, on tap are three Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) measurements to be made, checking the abundance of chemical elements in rocks and soils of targets “Exshaw”, “Ellis Canyon”, and “Ennis”.

 This map shows the route driven by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity through the 1151 Martian day, or sol, of the rover's mission on Mars (November, 02, 2015). Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up. From Sol 1148 to Sol 1151, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 25.74 feet (7.85 meters). The base image from the map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE) in NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona


This map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 1151 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (November, 02, 2015).
Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up. From Sol 1148 to Sol 1151, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 25.74 feet (7.85 meters).
The base image from the map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE) in NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

On Sol 1151, the rover’s Mastcam is slated to take an 18×2 mosaic of the “Carlile” area and a 9×2 mosaic of the “East Glacier” target.

This is to be followed by ChemCam observations of Ennis and Exshaw and the accompanying Mastcam documentation images. ChemCam fires a laser and analyze the elemental composition of vaporized materials from Martian rocks and soils.

In the afternoon on Sol 1151, the plan called for a short drive to the southeast which should provide data to allow a longer drive in the next plan.

Finally, on Sol 1152, the plan is to do Navcam, Mastcam, and ChemCam atmospheric observations, plus some ChemCam focus tests, Anderson notes.

Planned Curiosity activities are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.