Today’s Deep Space Extra

December 12th, 2018

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… Russia examines its space partnership options. Cosmonaut space walkers track down mysterious damage to a Soyuz crew transport docked to the International Space Station (ISS). NASA’s Apollo 8 crew looks back to their historic 1968 Moon mission as its 50th anniversary approaches.

Human Space Exploration

Russia wants to extend U.S. space partnership, or it could turn to China

New York Times (12/11): Strained relations between the U.S. and Russia on multiple fronts, including tensions over possible U.S. election interference and Russian conflicts in Syria and the Ukraine, may be testing future cooperation in space between the two countries. Both bring a space legacy reaching back to the Cold War, but NASA’s oversight of the International Space Station (ISS) could come to an end by 2025 because of a White House initiative to transition U.S. human low Earth orbit activities to the private sector. Russia is assessing a shift in its partnerships to China or India if the strain becomes too much.

Nelson continues effort to extend Space Station (12/11): In remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate late Monday, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson urged continued efforts to extend NASA oversight of the International Space Station (ISS) until the end of the 2020s. The Trump White House has proposed a transition of human low Earth orbit activities on the Station to U.S. commercial oversight, or to a private sector alternative, by 2025. That’s too soon, according to Nelson, a Florida Democrat, who was defeated in a bid for a fourth term in early November. U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, who chairs the Senate’s Space Subcommittee has allied with Nelson in a bid to extend NASA oversight throughout the 2020s. NASA’s Russian, European, Japanese and Canadian partners must also agree to an extension beyond 2024.

Russian spacewalkers find the other side of the hole in Soyuz MS-09 (12/11): Cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Sergey Prokopyev embarked on a lengthy spacewalk outside the International Space Station (ISS) Tuesday for a first hand search for and documentation of the exterior damage to the Soyuz MS-09 crew transport capsule that exhibited a small air leak while docked to the Station’s Russian segment on August 29. The damage was repaired internally a day after, but the source of the damage remains under investigation. From the inside of the MS-09’s orbital compartment a drill hole seems apparent. The spacewalkers used a knife and others tools to expose the outside of the penetration and gather samples of the epoxy sealant that was used to plug the small hole from the inside on August 30. Astronauts are strapped into the Soyuz “descent module” as they launch and return to Earth. The orbital module is discarded after the Soyuz capsule carries out a deorbit maneuver.

Apollo 8 astronauts reflect on historic Moon voyage 50 years later

Time Magazine (12/10): The 50th anniversary of NASA’s inspiring Apollo 8 mission approaches as 2018 draws to a close. The first spaceflight in which humans orbited the Moon over Christmas in 1968 was carried out by Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders. Recently, the three former astronauts gathered in Chicago to recall the flight, a bright moment in an otherwise downer of a year.


Space Science

NASA’s InSight takes its first selfie

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (12/11): NASA’s Mars Insight, which successfully touched down on Mars on November 26, has extended its robot arm, taken images of itself and transmitted them back to Earth.

Mars rover Opportunity team ‘still holding onto a sliver of hope’ (12/11): NASA’s Opportunity rover reached the Martian surface in January 2004 for what was to be a 90 day mission. The rover, however, was active until June 10, when a global Martian dust storm interrupted the generation of solar power. Efforts continue to re-establish contact with Opportunity and will through at least January.

CNES lists Franco-Chinese space programme goals

Air & Cosmos International (12/11): The French space agency, CNES, has outlined a series of cooperative space objectives while working with China. They include planetary, Earth science and astrophysics missions as well as exchanges of space medical and climate science data.


Other News

Getting Vulcan up to speed: Part one of our interview with Tory Bruno

Coalition Members in the News – Boeing, Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance

Ars Technica (12/11): United Launch Alliance (ULA) President and CEO Tony Bruno explains the challenges and merits of the Boeing/Lockheed Martin joint venture’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket, which will replace the Atlas 5 that flew with the imported Russian RD-180 rocket engine to power its first stage. Vulcan will launch with the new domestic Blue Origin BE-4 first stage rocket engine. The inaugural flight of the new Vulcan launch vehicle under a U.S. Air Force contract is anticipated by 2021.

Virgin Galactic to attempt flight to space this week (12/11): Virgin Galactic plans a piloted, high altitude test flight of its winged Unity SpaceShipTwo suborbital spacecraft from the Mojave Air and Spaceport in California as soon as Wednesday. It would be the first for the company since July. Soon, the company hopes to begin long awaited suborbital passenger flights from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic says it is on the cusp of flying humans to space. But where does space begin?

Washington Post (12/11): At what altitude does an aviator reach space to log a spaceflight as an astronaut? The demarcation seems to range from 50 miles used by the U.S. Air Force and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and 62 miles, or 100 kilometers, a demarcation known as the von Karman line established by one of the founders of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Theodore von Karman.

NASA invites Stephen Curry to tour lunar lab after Moon landing comments

CNN (12/11): NASA has extended NBA All-Star Stephen Curry an invitation to visit after the Golden State Warriors’ star expressed doubts about the authenticity of the Apollo Moon landings. When the Warriors next play the Houston Rockets, Curry might wish to visit NASA’s Johnson Space Center for a firsthand look at the Moon rocks and other Apollo artifacts, said a space agency spokesman.

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