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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ever wanted to ask a NASA astronaut a question? Here’s your chance!
NASA astronaut Kate Rubins will be taking your questions in an Answer Time session on Thursday, October 17 from 12pm – 1pm ET here on NASA’s Tumblr! Find out what it’s like to live and work 254 miles above our planet’s surface. Make sure to ask your question now by visiting http://nasa.tumblr.com/ask!
Dr. Kate Rubins was selected in 2009 as one of nine members of the 20th NASA astronaut class. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Molecular Biology and a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology. During her first spaceflight from July – October 2016 as a member of the Expedition 49 and 50 crew, Dr. Rubins made history by becoming the first person to sequence DNA in space. She also worked on the Heart Cells Experiment which studied how heart muscle tissues contract, grow and change in microgravity. Before becoming a NASA astronaut, Dr. Rubins worked with some of the world’s most dangerous pathogens, heading 14 researchers studying viral diseases that primarily affect Central and West Africa.
Dr. Kate Rubins Fun Facts
Dr. Rubins and colleagues developed the first model of smallpox infection.
She conducted her undergraduate research on HIV-1 integration in the Infectious Diseases Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
She conducted research on filoviruses (Ebola and Marburg), Arenaviruses (Lassa Fever) and collaborative projects with the U.S. Army to develop therapies for Ebola and Lassa viruses.
She has logged 115 days in space and 12 hours and 46 minutes of spacewalk time.
She enjoys running, cycling, swimming, flying, scuba diving and reading.
Ever want to ask a real life astronaut a question? Here’s your chance!
We are kicking off Hispanic Heritage Month a little early this year, and astronaut Serena M. Auñón-Chancellor will be taking your questions in an Answer Time session on Thursday, September 12 from 12pm – 1pm ET here on NASA’s Tumblr! Find out what it’s like to be a NASA astronaut and learn more about her Cuban-American heritage. Make sure to ask your question now by visiting http://nasa.tumblr.com/ask!
Dr. Serena M. Auñón-Chancellor began working with NASA as a Flight Surgeon in 2006 and was later selected as a NASA astronaut in 2009. Her first flight was from Jun 6- Dec. 20, 2018 where she served as Flight Engineer on the International Space Station as a member of Expeditions 56 and 57. During these missions, the crew contributed to hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science – including investigations into a new cancer treatment!
She has a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from The George Washington University, Washington, D.C and a Doctorate of Medicine from The University of Texas – Health Science Center at Houston.
Dr. Auñón-Chancellor Fun Facts:
She spent 2 months in Antarctica from 2010 to 2011 searching for meteorites as part of the ANSMET expedition.
She served as an Aquanaut on the NEEMO 20 mission in the Aquarius underwater laboratory, which is used to prepare for living and working in space.
She logged 197 days in space during Expeditions 56 and 57.
August 26 is celebrated in the United States as Women’s Equality Day. On this day in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was signed into law and American women were granted the constitutional right to vote. The suffragists who fought hard for a woman’s right to vote opened up doors for trailblazers who have helped shape our story of spaceflight, research and discovery. On Women’s Equality Day, we celebrate women at NASA who have broken barriers, challenged stereotypes and paved the way for future generations. This list is by no means exhaustive.
These women were trailblazers at a time when most technical fields were dominated by white men. Janez Lawson (seen in this photo), was the first African American hired into a technical position at JPL. Having graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, she later went on to have a successful career as a chemical engineer.
Mathematician Katherine Johnson, whose life story was told in the book and film “Hidden Figures,” is 101 years old today! Coincidentally, Johnson’s birthday falls on August 26: which is appropriate, considering all the ways that she has stood for women’s equality at NASA and the country as a whole.
Morgan’s career at NASA spanned over 45 years, and she continued to break ceiling after ceiling for women involved with the space program. She excelled in many other roles, including deputy of Expendable Launch Vehicles, director of Payload Projects Management and director of Safety and Mission Assurance. She was one of the last two people who verified the space shuttle was ready to launch and the first woman at KSC to serve in an executive position, associate director of the center.
Oceola Hall worked in NASA’s Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity for over 25 years. She was NASA’s first agency-wide Federal Women’s program manager, from 1974 – 1978. Hall advanced opportunities for NASA women in science, engineering and administrative occupations. She was instrumental in initiating education programs for women, including the Simmons College Strategic Leadership for Women Program.
When those first six women joined the astronaut corps in 1978, they made up nearly 10 percent of the active astronaut corps. In the 40 years since that selection, NASA selected its first astronaut candidate class with equal numbers of women and men, and women now comprise 34 percent of the active astronauts at NASA.
"A couple of firsts here all make me smile,” Blackwell-Thompson said. “First launch director for the world’s most powerful rocket — that’s humbling. And I am honored to be the first female launch director at Kennedy Space Center. So many amazing women that have contributed to human space flight, and they blazed the trail for all of us.”
As we move forward as a space agency, embarking on future missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond, we reflect on the women who blazed the trail and broke glass ceilings. Without their perseverance and determination, we would not be where we are today.
There are some things only humans can do in space. The rest can be left to robots. To free up valuable time for astronauts living and working aboard the International Space Station, we’re sending three robotic helpers to the orbiting outpost. Developed and built at our Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, the cube-shaped Astrobee robots will each stay as busy as a bee flying around the space station and assisting crew with routine tasks like maintenance and tracking inventory. The robots will also help researchers on the ground carry out experiments, test new technologies and study human-robot interaction in space. Learning how robots can best work with humans in close proximity will be key for exploring the Moon and other destinations. Get to know more about our new robots headed to space:
The Astrobee robots were tested inside a special lab at our Ames Research Center where researchers created a mockup of the space station’s interior.
The flying robots are propelled by fans. They can move in any direction and turn on any axis in space.
Each robot is equipped with cameras and sensors for navigating inside the space station and avoiding obstacles.
Claw power! Astrobees have a robotic arm that can be attached for handling cargo or running experiments.
Astrobee is battery powered. When its battery runs low, the robot will autonomously navigate and dock to a power station to recharge.
The robots can operate in either fully automated mode or under remote control by astronauts or researchers on Earth.
Astrobee builds on the success of SPHERES, our first-generation robotic assistant that arrived at the space station in 2006.
Two of the three Astrobee robots are scheduled to launch to space this month from our Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia! Tune in to the launch at www.nasa.gov/live.
1. Why did the availability of spacesuit sizes affect the schedule?
Spacesuits are not “one size fits all.” We do our best to anticipate the spacesuit sizes each astronaut will need, based on the spacesuit size they wore in training on the ground, and in some cases astronauts train in multiple sizes.
McClain realized that the medium she wore during the March 22 spacewalk was a better fit for her in space. She had planned to wear a large during the March 29 spacewalk.
In a tweet, McClain explained: “This decision was based on my recommendation. Leaders must make tough calls, and I am fortunate to work with a team who trusts my judgement. We must never accept a risk that can instead be mitigated. Safety of the crew and execution of the mission come first.”
To provide each astronaut the best fitting spacesuit during their spacewalks, Koch will wear the medium torso on March 29, and McClain will wear it again on April 8.
3. How come you don’t have enough spacesuits in the right size?
We do have enough torsos. The spacesuit takes into account more than 80 different body measurements to be configured for each astronaut. The suit has three sizes of upper torso, eight sizes of adjustable elbows, over 65 sizes of gloves, two sizes of adjustable waists, five sizes of adjustable knees and a vast array of padding options for almost every part of the body.
In space, we have two medium hard upper torsos, two larges and two extra larges; however, one of the mediums and one of the extra larges are spares that would require 12 hours of crew time for configuration.
12 hours might not seem like a long time, but the space station is on a very busy operational schedule. An astronaut’s life in space is scheduled for activities in five minute increments. Their time is scheduled to conduct science experiments, maintain their spaceship and stay healthy (they exercise two hours a day to keep their bones and muscles strong!).
The teams don’t want to delay this spacewalk because two resupply spacecraft – Northrop Grumman Cygnus and SpaceX cargo Dragon – are scheduled to launch to the space station in the second half of April. That will keep the crew very busy for a while!
Configuring the spare medium also poses a risk: The intricate life support and controls system (in addition to the pressure garment components) must be moved, and then, after being reconfigured, must complete additional functional checks to ensure it all was reassembled correctly with no chance of leaks.
Nothing is more important than the safety of our crew!
4. Why has there not already been an all-female spacewalk?
NASA does not make assignments based on gender.
The first female space shuttle commander, the first female space station commander and the first female spacewalker were all chosen because they the right individuals for the job, not because they were women. It is not unusual to change spacewalk assignments as lessons are learned during operations in space.
McClain became the 13th female spacewalker on March 22, and Koch will be the 14th this Friday – both coincidentally during Women’s History Month! Women also are filling two key roles in Mission Control: Mary Lawrence as the lead flight director and Jaclyn Kagey as the lead spacewalk officer.
5. When will the all-female spacewalk happen?
An all-female spacewalk is inevitable! As the percentage of women who have become astronauts increases, we look forward to celebrating the first spacewalk performed by two women! McClain, Koch (and Hague!) are all part of the first astronaut class that was 50 percent women, and five of the 11 members of the 2017 astronaut candidate class are also women.
The docking phase, in addition to the return and recovery of Crew Dragon, are critical to understanding the system’s ability to support crew flights.
A New Era in Human Spaceflight
Although the test is uncrewed, that doesn’t mean the Crew Dragon is empty. Along for the ride was Ripley, a lifelike test device outfitted with sensors to provide data about potential effects on future astronauts. (There is also a plush Earth doll strapped inside that can float in the microgravity!)
Astronauts on the International Space Station welcomed the Crew Dragon spacecraft in a ceremony onboard. NASA Astronaut Anne McClain from inside Crew Dragon said, “Welcome to a new era in human spaceflight.”
Inside the Dragon
For future operational missions, Crew Dragon will be able to launch as many as four crew members and carry more than 220 pounds of cargo. This will increase the number of astronauts who are able to live onboard the station, which will create more time for research in the unique microgravity environment.
SpaceX and NASA
Elon Musk, CEO and lead designer at SpaceX, expressed appreciation for NASA’s support: “SpaceX would not be here without NASA, without the incredible work that was done before SpaceX even started and without the support after SpaceX did start.”
Preparation for Demo-2
NASA and SpaceX will use data from Demo-1 to further prepare for Demo-2, the crewed flight test that will carry NASA astronauts and Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station. NASA will validate the performance of SpaceX’s systems before putting crew on board for the Demo-2 flight, currently targeted for July 2019.
The Crew Dragon is designed to stay docked to station for up to 210 days, although the spacecraft used for this flight test will remain docked to the space station for only five days, departing Friday, March 8. (We will be providing live coverage — don’t miss it!)
Demo-1: So What?
Demo-1 is a big deal because it demonstrates NASA and commercial companies working together to advance future space exploration! With Demo-1’s success, NASA and SpaceX will begin to prepare to safely fly astronauts to the orbital laboratory.
We’re going to talk about some of the amazing new things NICER is showing us about black holes. But first, let’s talk about black holes — how do they work, and where do they come from? There are two important types of black holes we’ll talk about here: stellar and supermassive. Stellar mass black holes are three to dozens of times as massive as our Sun while supermassive black holes can be billions of times as massive!
Stellar black holes begin with a bang — literally! They are one of the possible objects left over after a large star dies in a supernova explosion. Scientists think there are as many as a billion stellar mass black holes in our Milky Way galaxy alone!
Supermassive black holes have remained rather mysterious in comparison. Data suggest that supermassive black holes could be created when multiple black holes merge and make a bigger one. Or that these black holes formed during the early stages of galaxy formation, born when massive clouds of gas collapsed billions of years ago. There is very strong evidence that a supermassive black hole lies at the center of all large galaxies, as in our Milky Way.
Imagine an object 10 times more massive than the Sun squeezed into a sphere approximately the diameter of New York City — or cramming a billion trillion people into a car! These two examples give a sense of how incredibly compact and dense black holes can be.
Because so much stuff is squished into such a relatively small volume, a black hole’s gravity is strong enough that nothing — not even light — can escape from it. But if light can’t escape a dark fate when it encounters a black hole, how can we “see” black holes?
Scientists can’t observe black holes directly, because light can’t escape to bring us information about what’s going on inside them. Instead, they detect the presence of black holes indirectly — by looking for their effects on the cosmic objects around them. We see stars orbiting somethingmassive but invisible to our telescopes, or even disappearing entirely!
When a star approaches a black hole’s event horizon — the point of no return — it’s torn apart. A technical term for this is “spaghettification” — we’re not kidding! Cosmic objects that go through the process of spaghettification become vertically stretched and horizontally compressed into thin, long shapes like noodles.
Scientists can also look for accretion disks when searching for black holes. These disks are relatively flat sheets of gas and dust that surround a cosmic object such as a star or black hole. The material in the disk swirls around and around, until it falls into the black hole. And because of the friction created by the constant movement, the material becomes super hot and emits light, including X-rays.
At last — light! Different wavelengths of light coming from accretion disks are something we can see with our instruments. This reveals important information about black holes, even though we can’t see them directly.
So what has NICER helped us learn about black holes? One of the objects this instrument has studied during its time aboard the International Space Station is the ever-so-forgettably-named black hole GRS 1915+105, which lies nearly 36,000 light-years — or 200 million billion miles — away, in the direction of the constellation Aquila.
Scientists have found disk winds — fast streams of gas created by heat or pressure — near this black hole. Disk winds are pretty peculiar, and we still have a lot of questions about them. Where do they come from? And do they change the shape of the accretion disk?
It’s been difficult to answer these questions, but NICER is more sensitive than previous missions designed to return similar science data. Plus NICER often looks at GRS 1915+105 so it can see changes over time.
NICER’s observations of GRS 1915+105 have provided astronomers a prime example of disk wind patterns, allowing scientists to construct models that can help us better understand how accretion disks and their outflows around black holes work.
NICER has also collected data on a stellar mass black hole with another long name — MAXI J1535-571 (we can call it J1535 for short) — adding to information provided by NuSTAR, Chandra, and MAXI. Even though these are all X-ray detectors, their observations tell us something slightly different about J1535, complementing each other’s data!
This rapidly spinning black hole is part of a binary system, slurping material off its partner, a star. A thin halo of hot gas above the disk illuminates the accretion disk and causes it to glow in X-ray light, which reveals still more information about the shape, temperature, and even the chemical content of the disk. And it turns out that J1535’s disk may be warped!
Image courtesy of NRAO/AUI and Artist: John Kagaya (Hoshi No Techou)
NICER primarily studies neutron stars — it’s in the name! These are lighter-weight relatives of black holes that can be formed when stars explode. But NICER is also changing what we know about many types of X-ray sources. Thanks to NICER’s efforts, we are one step closer to a complete picture of black holes. And hey, that’s pretty nice!
You know that colorful crystal garden you grew as a kid?
Yeah, we do that in space now.
Chemical Gardens, a new investigation aboard the International Space Station takes a classic science experiment to space with the hope of improving our understanding of gravity’s impact on their structural formation.
Here on Earth, chemical gardens are most often used to teach students about things like chemical reactions.
Chemical gardens form when dissolvable metal salts are placed in an aqueous solution containing anions such as silicate, borate, phosphate, or carbonate.
Only 97 people have served as flight directors, or are in training to do so, in the 50-plus years of human spaceflight. That’s fewer than the over 300 astronauts! We talked with the new class about their upcoming transitions, how to keep calm in stressful situations, the importance of human spaceflight and how to best learn from past mistakes. Here’s what they had to say…
Allison is from Lancaster, Ohio and received a BS in Aerospace Engineering from Purdue University. She wanted to work at NASA for as long as she can remember. “I was four-and-a-half when Challenger happened,” she said. “It was my first childhood memory.” Something in her clicked that day. “After, when people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said an astronaut.”
By high school a slight fear of heights, a propensity for motion sickness and an aptitude for engineering shifted her goal a bit. She didn’t want to be an astronaut. “I wanted to train astronauts,” she said. Allison has most recently worked as at our Neutral Buoyancy Lab managing the daily operations of the 40-ft-deep pool the astronauts use for spacewalk training! She admits she’ll miss “the smell of chlorine each day. Coming to work at one of the world’s largest pools and training astronauts is an incredible job,” she says. But she’s excited to be back in mission control, where in a previous role she guided astronauts through spacewalks.
She’s had to make some tough calls over the years. So we asked her if she had any tips for when something… isn’t going as planned. She said, “It’s so easy to think the sky is falling. Take a second to take a deep breath, and then you’ll realize it’s not as bad as you thought.”
Adi is from Chicago, Illinois and graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign with a BS in Aerospace Engineering. He joined us in 2008 as a member of the very first group of flight controllers that specialize in data handling and communications and tracking systems aboard the space station.
Most recently he served as the group lead in the Avionics Trainee group, which he loved. “I was managing newer folks just coming to NASA from college and getting to become flight controllers,” he said. “I will miss getting to mentor them from day one.” But he’s excited to start his new role alongside some familiar faces already in mission control. “It’s a great group of people,” he said of his fellow 2018 flight director class. “The six of us, we mesh well together, and we are all from very diverse backgrounds.”
As someone who has spent most of his career supporting human spaceflight and cargo missions from mission control, we asked him why human spaceflight is so important. He had a practical take. “It allows us to solve problems we didn’t know we had,” he said. “For example, when we went to the moon, we had to solve all kinds of problems on how to keep humans alive for long-duration flights in space which directly impacts how we live on the ground. All of the new technology we develop for living in space, we also use on the ground.”
Marcos is from Caguas, Puerto Rico and earned a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Puerto Rico and an MS in Aerospace Engineering from Purdue University. Spanish is his first language; English is his second.
The first time he came to the Continental US was on a trip to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida as a kid! “I always knew I wanted to work for NASA,” he said. “And I knew I wanted to be an engineer because I liked to break things to try to figure out how they worked.” He joined us in 2010 as an intern in a robotics laboratory working on conceptual designs for an experimental, autonomous land rover. He later transitioned to the space station flight control team, where he has led various projects, including major software transitions, spacewalks and commercial cargo missions!
He shares his new coworkers’ thoughts on the practical aspects of human spaceflight and believes it’s an expression of our “drive to explore” and our “innate need to know the world and the universe better.” But for him, “It’s more about answering the fundamental questions of where we come from and where we’re headed.”
Pooja graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a BS in Aerospace Engineering. She began at NASA in 2007 as a flight controller responsible for the motion control system of the International Space Station. She currently works as a Capsule Communicator, talking with the astronauts on the space station, and on integration with the Boeing Starliner commercial crew spacecraft.
She has a two-year-old daughter, and she’s passionate about motherhood, art, fashion, baking, international travel and, of course, her timing as a new flight director! “Not only have we been doing International Space Station operations continuously, and we will continue to do that, but we are about to launch U.S. crewed vehicles off of U.S. soil for the first time since the space shuttle in 2011. Exploration is ramping up and taking us back to the moon!” she said.” “By the time we get certified, a lot of the things we will get to do will be next-gen.”
We asked her if she had any advice for aspiring flight directors who might want to support such missions down the road. “Work hard every day,” she said. “Every day is an interview. And get a mentor. Or multiple mentors. Having mentorship while you progress through your career is very important, and they really help guide you in the right direction.”
Paul was born in Manhasset, NY, and has a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Louisiana Tech University, a Master’s of Military Operational Arts and Science from Air University, and an MS in Astronautical Engineering from the University of Southern California. He began his career as an officer in the United States Air Force in 1996 and authored the Air Force’s certification guide detailing the process through which new industry launch vehicles (including SpaceX’s Falcon 9) gain approval to launch Department of Defense (DoD) payloads.
As a self-described “Star Wars kid,” he has always loved space and, of course, NASA! After retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel in 2016, Paul joined Johnson Space Center as the Deputy Director of the DoD Space Test Program Human Spaceflight Payloads Office. He’s had a rich career in some pretty high-stakes roles. We asked him for advice on handling stress and recovering from life’s occasional setbacks. “For me, it’s about taking a deep breath, focusing on the data and trying not to what if too much,” he said. “Realize that mistakes are going to happen. Be mentally prepared to know that at some point it’s going to happen—you’re going to have to do that self-reflection to understand what you could’ve done better and how you’ll fix it in the future. That constant process of evaluation and self-reflection will help you get through it.”
Rebecca is from Princeton, Kentucky and has a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Kentucky and an MS in Systems Engineering from the University of Houston, Clear Lake. She joined us in 2007 as a flight controller responsible for maintenance, repairs and hardware installations aboard the space station.
Since then, she’s worked as a capsule communicator for the space station and commercial crew programs and on training astronauts. She’s dedicated her career to human spaceflight and has a special appreciation for the program’s long-term benefits. “As our human race advances and we change our planet in lots of different ways, we may eventually need to get off of it,” she said. “There’s no way to do that until we explore a way to do it safely and effectively for mass numbers of people. And to do that, you have to start with one person.” We asked her if there are any misconceptions about flight directors. She responded, “While they are often steely-eyed missile men and women, and they can be rough around the edges, they are also very good mentors and teachers. They’re very much engaged in bringing up the next generation of flight controllers for NASA.”
Congrats to these folks on leading the future of human spaceflight!