Today’s Deep Space Extra

November 18th, 2019

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… An assessment from NASA’s Inspector General cautions it could be the summer of 2020 before Commercial Crew Program partners Boeing and SpaceX achieve certifications of their astronaut launch vehicles. The first in a series of four planned spacewalks outside the International Space Station (ISS) successfully begins an upgrade of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), a cosmic ray observatory.

Human Space Exploration

Inspector General report says NASA risks losing access to the ISS in 2020
Coalition Member in the News – Boeing (11/15): A NASA Inspector General’s assessment of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program initiative looks to the summer of 2020 as the soonest program partners Boeing and SpaceX will achieve certification of the CST-100 Starliner and Crew Dragon to begin transporting astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). Since the shuttle program’s retirement in 2011, NASA has turned to Russia for the purchase of Soyuz seats for the transportation. However, the last of NASA’s Soyuz seats will be used to launch astronaut Chris Cassidy to the Space Station in April along with two cosmonauts. Normally, staffed by six to seven astronauts, the number of Station crew is expected to drop to three through October — if Boeing and SpaceX encounter additional development difficulties. Meanwhile, NASA is discussing the purchase of additional Soyuz seats with Russia. 

Spacewalkers begin “open heart surgery” to repair costly cosmic ray detector
CBS News (11/15): European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Luca Parmitano and NASA astronaut Drew Morgan worked ahead of schedule during a spacewalk on Friday to begin a series of spacewalks intended to overhaul a failing thermal control system on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS). The AMS was attached to the solar power truss of the Space Station in May 2011 to study cosmic rays in an effort to reach a deeper understanding of dark matter and search for anti-matter.

Zero gravity made some astronauts’ blood flow backwards 
New Scientist (11/15): A KBR led study of blood flow among 11 astronauts assigned to the International Space Station (ISS) shows that clots can form in the left internal jugular vein, vessels that move blood out of the head of humans as they lay down. When upright in gravity, the vessels collapse to prevent too much blood from flowing out of the head. In two of the nine men and two women astronauts studied with ultrasound scans, their flow was backwards, seemingly because of the absence of gravity. In five of the astronaut subjects, the flow was stagnant and among one of the five was a worrisome clot. Out of concern, scans were made of astronauts that had returned to Earth, and another small clot was observed. The concern is the possibility of a clot moving to the lungs. The clots were detected in one female and one male astronaut. Discussions over countermeasures are underway.

Can we genetically engineer humans to survive missions to Mars? (11/8): Will we one day combine tardigrade DNA with our cells to go to Mars? Chris Mason, a geneticist and associate professor of physiology and biophysics at Weill Cornell University in New York, has investigated the genetic effects of spaceflight and how humans might overcome these challenges to expand our species farther into the solar system. One of the (strangest) ways that we might protect future astronauts on missions to places like Mars, Mason said, might involve the DNA of tardigrades, tiny micro-animals that can survive the most extreme conditions, even the vacuum of space!

China plans to complete space station construction around 2022: expert
Xinhuanet of China (11/17): The construction of China’s planned space station, home to three astronauts, should be complete in 2022 and could be enlarged if desired, according to Zhou Jianping, chief designer of the nation’s human space program. The station is to serve as a platform to develop technologies for long term space flight and to conduct science experiments.

Space Science

The Mars 2020 rover will visit the perfect spot to find signs of life, new studies show
Washington Post (11/16): On some sunny day next summer, in front of a crowd at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), a rocket carrying NASA’s next, best hope at finding life on Mars will launch into the sky. Seven months later, the car-sized Mars 2020 rover will touch down near Jezero Crater, a dried-up lake in Mars’ northern hemisphere. With its six wheels and suite of high-tech instruments, it will scour the surrounding rocks for evidence that alien microbes once lived on the Red Planet.

Op Eds

‘Get back to the Moon and forget the orbiting Space Station’
Politico (11/15): Physicist and former NASA Skylab astronaut Ed Gibson, speaking at Space Vision 2019 hosted by Arizona State University, urged NASA to forego the assembly of a lunar orbiting, human tended Gateway as part of a strategy to return human explorers to the surface of the Moon in 2024. “I know we are very limited in our budget, and I want to see things happen quickly. I think the best place is a facility right there on the moon itself,” said Gibson as part of an interview.

Launching commercial space industry takes team effort (11/13): The FAA, best known for regulating U.S. air space, is on a worthy quest to both improve safety in the commercial space sector and back regulatory reforms to encourage more business, writes Frank LoBiondo, former chair of the U.S. House Transportation Committee’s subcommittee on aviation and 12 term member of congress.

Other New

As SpaceX launches 60 Starlink satellites, scientists see threat to ‘astronomy itself’
New York Times (11/11): Various companies are pressing ahead with plans for internet service from space, which has prompted astronomers to voice concerns about the impact on research from telescopes on Earth. SpaceX launched one of its reusable rockets from Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying 60 satellites into space at once. It was the second payload of Starlink, its planned constellation of tens of thousands of orbiting transmitters to beam internet service across the globe.

U.S. Space Command eager to hand over space traffic duties to Commerce Department (11/17): Experts in military space operations at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, are working with the Department of Commerce to ease a transition of space traffic management responsibilities called for by the White House Space Policy Directive 3, of June 2018. It’s not clear yet when the transition to Commerce will take place. Maj. Gen. Stephen Whiting provided the update at a Mitchell Institute event on Capitol Hill.

Major Space Related Activities for the Week

Major space related activities for the week of November 17-23, 2019 (11/17):  November 21 is the expiration of a federal budget Continuing Resolution (CR). In Washington the expectation is that the House, Senate and White House will come together on an extension through at least December 20 which could have a negative impact on efforts to accelerate a human return to the Moon in 2024. On Monday, NASA is to name additional companies cleared to provide commercial launch services to the surface of the Moon as part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program initiative. The annual SpaceCom conference meets Wednesday and Thursday in Houston. On Friday, International Space Station (ISS) astronauts Luca Parmitano, of Italy, and Drew Morgan, of NASA, conduct the second of four spacewalks to overhaul the thermal control system on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), an multinational cosmic ray observatory.

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