Category: earth

On Dec 5. 2019, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida carrying a Dragon cargo capsule filled with dozens of scientific experiments. Those experiments look at everything from malting barley in microgravity to the spread of fire.

Not only are the experiments helping us better understand life in space, they also are giving us a better picture of our planet and benefiting humanity back on Earth. 

📸 A Better Picture of Earth 🌏

Every material on the Earth’s surface – soil, rocks, vegetation, snow, ice and human-made objects – reflects a unique spectrum of light. The Hyperspectral Imager Suite (HISUI) takes advantage of this to identify specific materials in an image. It could be useful for tasks such as resource exploration and applications in agriculture, forestry and other environmental areas.

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🌱 Malting Barley in Microgravity 🌱

Many studies of plants in space focus on how they grow in microgravity. The Malting ABI Voyager Barley Seeds in Microgravity experiment is looking at a different aspect of plants in space: the malting process. Malting converts starches from grain into various sugars that can be used for brewing, distilling and food production. The study compares malt produced in space and on the ground for genetic and structural changes, and aims to identify ways to adapt it for nutritional use on spaceflights.

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🛰️ A First for Mexico 🛰️

AztechSat-1, the first satellite built by students in Mexico for launch from the space station, is smaller than a shoebox but represents a big step for its builders. Students from a multidisciplinary team at Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla in Puebla, Mexico, built the CubeSat. This investigation demonstrates communication within a satellite network in low-Earth orbit. Such communication could reduce the need for ground stations, lowering the cost and increasing the number of data downloads possible for satellite applications.

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🚀 Checking for Leaks 🚀

Nobody wants a spacecraft to spring a leak – but if it happens, the best thing you can do is locate and fix it, fast. That’s why we launched the first Robotic External Leak Locator (RELLin 2015. Operators can use RELL to quickly detect leaks outside of station and help engineers formulate a plan to resolve an issue. On this latest commercial resupply mission, we launched the Robotic Tool Stowage (RiTS), a docking station that allows the RELL units to be stored on the outside of space station, making it quicker and simpler to deploy the instruments.

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🔥 The Spread of Fire 🔥

Understanding how fire spreads in space is crucial for the safety of future astronauts and for controlling fire here on Earth. The Confined Combustion investigation examines the behavior of flame as it spreads in differently-shaped spaces in microgravity. Studying flames in microgravity gives researchers a chance to look at the underlying physics and basic principles of combustion by removing gravity from the equation.

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💪 Staying Strong 💪

Here on Earth you might be told to drink milk to grow up with strong bones, but in space, you need a bit more than that. Astronauts in space have to exercise for hours a day to prevent substantial bone and muscle loss. A new experiment, Rodent Research-19, is seeing if there is another way to prevent the loss by targeting signaling pathways in your body at the molecular level. The results could also support treatments for a wide range of conditions that cause muscle and bone loss back here on Earth.

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Want to learn about more investigations heading to the space station (or even ones currently under way)? Make sure to follow @ISS_Research on Twitter and Space Station Research and Technology News on Facebook. 

If you want to see the International Space Station with your own eyes, check out Spot the Station to see it pass over your town.

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Just like people here on Earth, astronauts get shipments too! But not in the typical sense. 8,200 pounds of cargo, including supplies and scientific experiments, is on its way to the International Space Station thanks to Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft. This ‘package’ launched out of Wallops Flight Facility on Nov. 2, 2019 at 9:59 a.m. EDT. The investigations aboard the rocket range from research into human control of robotics in space to reprocessing fibers for 3D printing. Get ready, because these new and exciting experiments are arriving soon!

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THE SEARCH FOR DARK MATTER

Stars, planets and their molecules only make up 15% of our universe. The rest is dark matter. However, no one has actually ever been able to see or study it. The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer -02 (AMS-02) has been searching for this substance since 2011. Northrop Grumman’s CRS-12 mission carries new parts for AMS-02 that will be added during a series of upcoming spacewalks so that the instrument can continue to help us shed light on this mystery.

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THE REMOTE EXPLORATION OF EARTH

Rovers operated by astronauts on the International Space Station will attempt to collect geological samples on Earth as part of an investigation called ANALOG-1. The samples, however, are not the important part of the study. Humans experience degraded sensorimotor functions in microgravity that could affect their operation of a robot. This study is designed to learn more about these issues, so that one day astronauts could use robots to perform research on planets they hope to walk on.

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WOAH, THAT’S RAD

The AstroRad Vest is pretty rad. So rad, in fact, that it was sent up on the launch of Northrop Grumman’s CRS-12 mission. This vest intends to protect astronauts from harmful radiation in space. While going about normal activity on the space station, astronauts will wear AstroRad and make note of things like comfort over long periods of time. This will help researchers on Earth finalize the best design for future long duration missions.

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EVEN ASTRONAUTS RECYCLE

The Made in Space Recycler (MIS) looks at how different materials on the International Space Station can be turned into filament used for 3D printing. This 3D printing is done right there in space, in the Additive Manufacturing Facility. Similar studies will be conducted on Earth so that comparisons can be made.  

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FASTER, CHEAPER ACCESS TO SPACE

A collaboration between Automobili Lamborghini and the Houston Methodist Research Institute will be using NanoRacks-Craig-X FTP  to test the performance of 3D-printed carbon fiber composites in the extreme environment of space. The study could lead to materials used both in space and on Earth. For example, the study may help improve the design of implantable devices for therapeutic drug delivery.

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DESSERT, FRESH FROM THE OVEN

Everyone enjoys the aroma of fresh-baked cookies, even astronauts. On future long-duration space missions, fresh-baked food could have psychological and physiological benefits for crew members, providing them with a greater variety of more nutritious meals. The Zero-G Oven experiment examines heat transfer properties and the process of baking food in microgravity.

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Want to learn about more investigations heading to the space station (or even ones currently under way)? Make sure to follow @ISS_Research on Twitter and Space Station Research and Technology News on Facebook. 

If you want to see the International Space Station with your own eyes, check out Spot the Station to see it pass over your town.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.

You are seeing the culmination of almost twenty years of rain and snow, all at once.

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For the first time, we have combined and remastered the satellite measurements from two of our precipitation spacecraft to create our most detailed picture of our planet’s rain and snowfall. This new record will help scientists better understand normal and extreme rain and snowfall around the world and how these weather events may change in a warming climate. 

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The Most Extreme Places on Earth

Using this new two-decade record, we can see the most extreme places on Earth. 

The wettest places on our planet occur over oceans. These extremely wet locations tend to be very concentrated and over small regions.

A region off the coast of Indonesia receives on average 279 inches of rain per year.

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An area off the coast of Colombia sees on average 360 inches of rain per year.

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The driest places on Earth are more widespread. Two of the driest places on Earth are also next to cold ocean waters. In these parts of the ocean, it rains as little as it does in the desert – they’re also known as ocean deserts! 

Just two thousand miles to the south of Colombia is one of the driest areas, the Atacama Desert in Chile that receives on average 0.64 inches of rain per year.

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Across the Atlantic Ocean, Namibia experiences on average 0.49 inches of rain a year and Egypt gets on average 0.04 inches of rain per year.

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Global Patterns

As we move from January to December, we can see the seasons shift across the world.

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During the summer in the Northern Hemisphere, massive monsoons move over India and Southeast Asia.

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We can also see dynamic swirling patterns in the Southern Ocean, which scientists consider one of our planet’s last great unknowns.

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Close-up Patterns

This new record also reveals typical patterns of rain and snow at different times of the day – a pattern known as the diurnal cycle. 

As the Sun heats up Earth’s surface during the day, rainfall occurs over land. In Florida, sea breezes from the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean feed the storms causing them to peak in the afternoon. At night, storms move over the ocean.

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In the winter months in the U.S. west coast, the coastal regions generally receive similar amounts of rain and snow throughout the day. Here, precipitation is driven less from the daily heating of the Sun and more from the Pacific Ocean bringing in atmospheric rivers – corridors of intense water vapor in the atmosphere.

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This new record marks a major milestone in the effort to generate a long-term record of rain and snow. Not only does this long record improve our understanding of rain and snow as our planet changes, but it is a vital tool for other agencies and researchers to understand and predict floods, landslides, disease outbreaks and agricultural production.

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Observing Earth from space can alter an astronauts’ cosmic perspective, a mental shift known as the “Overview Effect.” First coined by space writer Frank White in 1987, the Overview Effect is described as a feeling of awe for our home planet and a sense of responsibility for taking care of it.

See Earth from the vantage point of our astronauts in these perspective-changing views:

Floating Free in Space

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Astronaut Bruce McCandless II used his hands to control his movement above the Earth during the first-ever spacewalk that didn’t use restrictive tethers and umbilicals. Fellow crew members aboard the space shuttle Challenger captured this image on Feb. 7, 1984, through windows on the flight deck.

Of his famous spacewalk, McCandless wrote in 2015: “My wife [Bernice] was at mission control, and there was quite a bit of apprehension. I wanted to say something similar to Neil [Armstrong] when he landed on the moon, so I said, ‘It may have been a small step for Neil, but it’s a heck of a big leap for me.’ That loosened the tension a bit.”

Earth Reflections

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Astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson looks through a window in the Cupola of the International Space Station (ISS). A blue and white part of Earth and the blackness of space are visible through the windows. The image was a self-portrait using natural light.

In a preflight interview for Expedition 23/24, Dyson said: “hands down, the best part about it is being able to look at that view every day and during the time frame we’ll be up there, hopefully, we’ll have a big bay window and much more opportunity to observe this beautiful planet.”

Taking in the View

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As astronaut Nick Hague prepared to conclude his six-month stay aboard the ISS, he shared this photo saying: “Today is my last Monday living on this orbiting laboratory and I’m soaking up my final views. The @Space_Station is truly an engineering marvel. #MondayMotivation." 

He and Expedition 60 and Soyuz commander Alexey Ovchinin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos​ completed a 203-day mission, spanning 3,248 orbits of Earth, and a journey of 80.8 million miles.

Earthrise

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On Dec. 24, 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders became the first humans to witness the Earth rising above the Moon’s surface. 

 Anders, photographing the Moon from the right-side window, caught sight of the view, and exclaimed: “Oh my God, look at that picture over there! There’s the Earth comin’ up. Wow, is that pretty!”

The Blue Marble

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Besides Earthrise, the Blue Marble is probably the most famous image of Earth that NASA has produced. Taken by the Apollo 17 crew on their way to the Moon in 1972, the Blue Marble and other NASA imagery of Earth has been credited by some with helping to fuel the environmental movement.

For more information on the Overview Effect, check out this episode of Houston We Have a Podcast

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After seven years of studying the radiation around Earth, the Van Allen Probes spacecraft have retired.

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Originally slated for a two-year mission, these two spacecraft studied Earth’s radiation belts — giant, donut-shaped clouds of particles surrounding Earth — for nearly seven years. The mission team used the last of their propellant this year to place the spacecraft into a lower orbit that will eventually decay, allowing the Van Allen Probes to re-enter and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

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Earth’s radiation belts exist because energized charged particles from the Sun and other sources in space become trapped in our planet’s huge magnetic field, creating vast regions around Earth that teem with radiation. This is one of the harshest environments in space — and the Van Allen Probes survived more than three times longer than planned orbiting through this intense region.

The shape, size and intensity of the radiation belts change, meaning that satellites — like those used for telecommunications and GPS — can be bombarded with a sudden influx of radiation. The Van Allen Probes shed new light on what invisible forces drive these changes — like waves of charged particles and electromagnetic fields driven by the Sun, called space weather. 

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Here are a few scientific highlights from the Van Allen Probes — from the early days of the mission to earlier this year:

  • The Van Allen belts were first discovered in 1958, and for decades, scientists thought there were only two concentric belts. But, days after the Van Allen Probes launched, scientists discovered that during times of intense solar activity, a third belt can form.
  • The belts are composed of charged particles and electromagnetic fields and can be energized by different types of plasma waves. One type, called electrostatic double layers, appear as short blips of enhanced electric field. During one observing period, Probe B saw 7,000 such blips repeatedly pass over the spacecraft in a single minute!
  • During big space weather storms, which are ultimately caused by activity on the Sun, ions — electrically charged atoms or molecules — can be pushed deep into Earth’s magnetosphere. These particles carry electromagnetic currents that circle around the planet and can dramatically distort Earth’s magnetic field.
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  • Across space, fluctuating electric and magnetic fields can create what are known as plasma waves. These waves intensify during space weather storms and can accelerate particles to incredible speeds. The Van Allen Probes found that one type of plasma wave known as hiss can contribute greatly to the loss of electrons from the belts.
  • The Van Allen belts are composed of electrons and ions with a range of energies. In 2015, research from the Van Allen Probes found that, unlike the outer belt, there were no electrons with energies greater than a million electron volts in the inner belt.
  • Plasma waves known as whistler chorus waves are also common in our near-Earth environment. These waves can travel parallel or at an angle to the local magnetic field. The Van Allen Probes demonstrated the two types of waves cannot be present simultaneously, resulting in greater radiation belt particle scattering in certain areas.
  • Very low frequency chorus waves, another variety of plasma waves, can pump up the energy of electrons to millions of electronvolts. During storm conditions, the Van Allen Probes found these waves can hugely increase the energy of particles in the belts in just a few hours.  
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  • Scientists often use computer simulation models to understand the physics behind certain phenomena. A model simulating particles in the Van Allen belts helped scientists understand how particles can be lost, replenished and trapped by Earth’s magnetic field.
  • The Van Allen Probes observed several cases of extremely energetic ions speeding toward Earth. Research found that these ions’ acceleration was connected to their electric charge and not to their mass.
  • The Sun emits faster and slower gusts of charged particles called the solar wind. Since the Sun rotates, these gusts — the fast wind — reach Earth periodically. Changes in these gusts cause the extent of the region of cold ionized gas around Earth — the plasmasphere — to shrink. Data from the Van Allen Probes showed that such changes in the plasmasphere fluctuated at the same rate as the solar rotation — every 27 days.

Though the mission has ended, scientists will use data from the Van Allen Probes for years to come. See the latest Van Allen Probes science at nasa.gov/vanallen.

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Astronaut out! Thank you for all the amazing questions.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

What's something you didn't know about being an astronaut before you actually became one? Do you have any words of advice for young astronauts?

What was your first thought when you first saw earth from space? And what realizations did you have?

As an astronaut who has been on a spacewalk before, what does the all-woman spacewalk mean to you?

How could your research in diseases help missions to the Moon, Mars and other places in our solar system?