Today’s Deep Space Extra

March 19th, 2020

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… NASA, SpaceX look to mid to late May to launch crewed test flight to the International Space Station (ISS). Apollo 15 Al Worden’s dies.

Human Space Exploration

NASA & SpaceX soldier on despite coronavirus, set May for launch of Demo-2 (3/19): NASA and SpaceX have set a launch date of no earlier than mid to late May for the launch of the Dragon 2 on a test mission to the International Space Station (ISS) with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley aboard to push the company closer to certification under the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. If the test flight goes well and SpaceX completes certification, the Dragon 2 will become eligible for the regularly scheduled transport of astronauts to and from the space station, something the U.S. has not been able to do since NASA’s shuttle fleet was retired in 2011.

Apollo astronaut Al Worden, who orbited the Moon, dies at 88 (3/18): Al Worden, the former Apollo astronaut who served as the command module pilot for Apollo 15 in 1971 passed away, family members announced on Wednesday. Worden was 88 and was a resident of the Houston suburb of League City. He passed away in a convalescent facility following a collapse at his home and treatment at the Texas Medical Center. Worden staffed the Apollo 15 command module, Endeavor, in lunar orbit while fellow NASA astronauts David Scott and Jim Irwin spent three days exploring the surface of the Moon. Worden conducted the first deep space spacewalk as the Apollo 15 crew made its way back to Earth.

Space Science

Comet Atlas is brightening faster than expected (3/18): Discovered in December 2019, comet ATLAS is on a course to pass within the orbit of Mercury on May 31. Already increasing in brightness, the comet could become one of the brightest of the objects of its kind in years, brighter than Venus and possibly bright enough to be spotted in daylight.

Other News

SpaceX claims some success in darkening Starlink satellites (3/18): Early Wednesday, marked the sixth launch by SpaceX of 60 Starlink low Earth orbit small communications satellites. The astronomy community has expressed concerns that the large number of satellites and their reflectivity are diminishing amateur as well as professional observations. The company has taken steps to reduce the reflectivity of the smallsats. Not all agree to how effective the efforts are.

Elon Musk says SpaceX will investigate Falcon 9 rocket engine anomaly before launching again (3/18): One of nine Merlin engines on the Falcon 9 rocket that launched the latest batch of Starlink satellites early Wednesday from Florida experienced an early shutdown. Though the launch was a success, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk vowed a thorough investigation before the company launches again. On its fifth flight, the Falcon 9 first stage failed an attempt to land on an off short drone ship for refurbishment.

Researchers seek to address space debris, a dire threat to satellites, space travel
Houston Chronicle (3/18): At Rice University, graduate student Hoik Jang is organizing efforts to help diminish Earth orbiting man made orbital debris with an experimental satellite slated for launch by NASA that would help to assess the influence sunlight imposes on the orbital track of debris in order to improve tracking accuracy in a bid to diminish spacecraft collisions and the generation of more debris.

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