Daily Archives: November 2, 2019

Radiation Experiment, Cookie Oven and More Headed to Space Station on Cygnus Cargo Ship – Space.com

Posted: November 2, 2019 at 9:43 am

An Antares rocket is set to launch a bevy of crew supplies and scientific cargo to the International Space Station this upcoming weekend (Nov. 2) from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Perched atop the rocket will be a Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo spacecraft, and tucked inside will be approximately 8,200 lbs. (3,700 kilograms) of supplies and hardware. The craft will ferry supplies to support the crew on the space station as well as a variety of experiments and research equipment. These will support investigations in topics ranging from radiation mitigation to rover control to materials recycling.

The AstroRad vest undergoes a fit test at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida before launching to the space station.

(Image credit: Lockheed Martin Space)

One of the dangers of deep-space travel comes in the exposure to damaging radiation. Unpredictable space weather, in particular solar-particle events such as coronal mass ejections (or CMEs), can expose astronauts to enough radiation to potentially cause long-term adverse health effects. One experiment aboard the Cygnus, the AstroRad Vest, aims to help NASA mitigate those damaging effects.

The AstroRad vest is a garment designed to help shield astronauts from radiation while traveling in space. It is made out of HDPE (high-density polyethylene) and will be tested by the crew currently onboard the space station. Although the vest is designed for use farther out into space, the space station is the perfect environment to test whether astronauts wearing the AstroRad garment will be comfortable and able to carry out their daily activities in space. Astronauts will record data on how easy the vest is to put on and how it fits, as well as the range of motion it allows.

Related: Space Radiation Threat to Astronauts Explained (Infographic)

The Made in Space Recycler hardware is prepared for launch to the space station, where astronauts will use it to reprocess plastic into 3D printing filament.

(Image credit: Made In Space, Inc.)

Made In Space, a California-based company that specializes in off-world manufacturing, is also sending up an experiment that will test a new facet to their 3D printing abilities: recycling. The company that pioneered 3D printing in space will now attempt to recycle the plastic materials it prints by breaking them back down into polymers to be made into plastic filaments that can be used again. This will enable more tools to be printed without having to rely on material resupply shipments from Earth.

"The recycler is a facility that will break everything down and turn the used polymers back into feedstock," Michael Snyder, chief engineer at Made In Space, explained during a prelaunch science briefing on Oct. 17. "This way, we don't have to continually launch polymer and filament."

Snyder added that the company plans to analyze samples printed in space after these materials return to Earth, where they can be compared to samples printed on the ground.

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano will control this rover remotely in November to simulate remote control of future lunar rovers. In the experiment, known as ANALOG-1, he will use the rover and its arm to move rocks instead of cones.

(Image credit: ESA)

When astronauts land on the moon or Mars, they might be accompanied or preceded by robotic companions sent to help look for resources, build potential habitats and much more. Analog-1, an investigation spearheaded by the European Space Agency that is headed to the space station with this launch, will explore how humans can best operate and communicate with robots off world.

Astronauts onboard the space station, will investigate how well they can remotely by control a rover back on Earth. During this investigation, astronaut Luca Parmitano will maneuver a robotic arm to select, collect and store geologic samples with the help of communication with an Earth-based team. He will also navigate the rover along a specific path.

NASA added during the teleconference that this research will benefit the upcoming Artemis program and the Lunar Gateway, as astronauts will likely be controlling rovers on the lunar surface while in orbit around the moon.

(Image credit: Zero G Kitchen)

Also onboard Cygnus will be the Zero-G Oven, which astronauts will use to bake cookies in space for the first time. Who doesn't enjoy the aroma of fresh-baked cookies? On future long-duration space missions, such fresh-baked food could have psychological and physiological benefits for crewmembers, enabling them to prepare more-nutritious meals. In testing this oven, astronauts will examine heat-transfer properties and the process of baking food in microgravity. The device has a specially designed toaster-like shape with a top temperature of 685 degrees Fahrenheit (363.3 degrees Celsius).

Related: DoubleTree Offers Limited-Edition 'Cookies in Space' Tin Ahead of First Zero-G Bake

NASA's Rodent Habitat module.

(Image credit: NASA/Dominic Hart)

The upcoming flight is the first within the second phase of Northrop Grumman's contract with NASA for commercial-cargo delivery services. The Cygnus spacecraft is utilizing some shiny new upgrades it received prior to the last launch, including the ability to accommodate late-load payloads. This means the craft will be able to carry life sciences payloads, including a crew of rodents, to the space station.

The Rodent Research-14 experiment, an investigation into how microgravity disrupts the body's 12-hour circatidal clock, will explore how disruptions to daily light cycles affect human cells and organs by studying changes in rats. (Rats are one example of a model organism a non-human species that are used to help understand biological processes in our own species). During the pre-launch briefing, researchers explained that genes associated with 12-hour light and dark phases, or the 12-hour molecular clock, are also associated with the most common form of human liver disease, which contributes to insulin resistance and diabetes.

Understanding the 12-hour clock's role in influencing liver function could have major implications for maintaining human health. Researchers are hopeful, it was noted in the teleconference, that the results from this study could provide insights into liver disease and could lead to new treatments.

(Image credit: NASA)

Cygnus will also carry equipment that will support an experiment already onboard the space station: the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer - 02 (AMS-02), a scientific instrument affixed to the station's exterior that's designed to look for evidence of dark matter.

Roughly 15% of the universe is made up of "ordinary matter," or material we can see, while the rest consists of a mysterious substance called dark matter. Scientists cannot directly observe this enigmatic material, as it does not emit light or energy.

In 2011, the AMS-02 launched aboard the space shuttle Endeavour to scan the cosmos in search of dark matter. Three of the instrument's four cooling pumps have failed over the years, but because the aging instrument has served the scientific community so well, NASA wants to repair the AMS-02. The agency plans to conduct some on-orbit repairs through a series of spacewalks during which astronauts will cut and reconnect fluid lines in space for the first time.

During Thursday's briefing, researchers said that the planned repairs could give the valuable instrument as many as 10 more years of functionality.

Follow Amy Thompson on Twitter @astrogingersnap. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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Indian Space Station Likely to Accommodate Three Astronauts – The Weather Channel

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GSLV Mk-IIIthe launch vehicle that will launch Gaganyaan into the low-Earth orbit

The Indian Space Station, which the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) plans to establish between 2024 and 2026, is likely to have space to accommodate three astronauts. The space station programme is an extension of GaganyaanISROs human spaceflight mission.

According to a report in The Times of India, though the plan is in its nascent stage, initial designs of the space station suggest a 20-tonne modular abode, placed in the low-Earth orbit (LEO), approximately 120 to 140 kilometres away from the Earths surface.

The Indian Space Station, however, is largely dependent on the successful execution of Gaganyaan.

In the 2022 human spaceflight mission, ISRO plans to send three Indian astronauts to space, and then bring them back via the same crew module. Primarily a technology demonstrator mission, it will see the astronaut trio head into the Earths orbit to carry out scientific experiments for seven days. The GSLV Mk-III launch vehicle will be used to place the 7,800 kg Gaganyaan craft into the low-Earth orbit.

After the missions completion, the space agency will make use of Gaganyaans technology, including the orbital module, life-support system and human-rated launch vehicles, in the subsequent space station programme.

The International Space Station, photographed from the space shuttle Atlantis on July 19, 2011

For the past three years, ISRO has also been working on a new space docking technology that will allow the transfer of humans from one spacecraft to another, and the refueling of spacecrafts in space. The department of science has earmarked 10 crore for the project, and a docking experiment is likely to be conducted next year.

Back in June 2019, during the announcement of the space station project, ISRO chairman K Sivan had mentioned that the station will be set up in the next five to seven years, and that it wont be very big. However, its size remained unclear until now.

Sivan had also declared that ISRO fully intends to use its own space station, and not be a part of the International Space Station (ISS), which is jointly managed by the USA, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada. The ISS orbits at an average altitude of 400 kilometres.

Space stations are vital because they provide a unique laboratory setting with their exposure to space and the zero-gravity environment, which is extremely difficult to replicate here on Earth. The divergent behaviour of cells and chemicals in space helps scientists study their variant behaviours and applications.

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Astronauts to get oven for space station cookies | US | Journal Gazette – Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

Posted: at 9:42 am

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. Forget reheated, freeze-dried space grub. Astronauts are about to get a new test oven for baking chocolate chip cookies from scratch.

The next delivery of supplies for the International Space Station scheduled for liftoff this weekend includes the ZeroG Oven. Chocolate chip cookie dough is already up there, waiting to pop into this small electric oven designed for Zero Gravity.

As a tantalizing incentive, sample cookies baked just this week are also launching Saturday from Virginia on Northrop Grumman's Cygnus capsule, for the six station astronauts.

The experiment explores the possibility of making freshly baked goods for space travelers. With NASA eyeing trips to the moon and Mars, homemade food takes on heightened importance. What's in orbit now are essentially food warmers.

Run by a New York couple, ZeroG Kitchen aims to create a kitchen in space one appliance at a time, starting with the oven.

You're in space. I mean, you want to have the smell of cookies, said ZeroG Kitchen's Jordana Fichtenbaum, a social media specialist for hotels and restaurants.

Previous station crews have created their own pizzas using flatbread and warmed them in the galley. Astronauts have attempted other creative cuisine, mixing and heating chopped onions and garlic, for instance, and whipping up salads from station-grown greens. Results have been mixed.

Also collaborating on this first-of-its-kind space bake: Texas-based Nanoracks, which designed and built the oven and arranged the flight. The oven's maximum heat is 350 degrees, double the temperature of the U.S. and Russian food warmers aboard the space station.

Nanorack manager Mary Murphy anticipates a baking time of 15 to 20 minutes per cookie. The first cookie will be the real test; it could end up looking like a blob or a mini pancake in the absence of gravity. Three of the space-baked cookies will be returned to Earth for analysis.

Astronauts to get oven for space station cookies | US | Journal Gazette - Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

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Watch Astronauts Play Baseball on the International Space Station – Futurism

Posted: at 9:42 am

October 31st 19__Dan Robitzski__Filed Under: Off World

Astronauts on the International Space Station took a few minutes to play some zero-gravity baseball last week.

Thankfully, no windows were broken and no balls were lost in the neighbors yard during the stunt, which the New York Post reports was a promotion for the World Series. There was no room to run bases, but one pitch captured on video is a cool glimpse into how astronautscan blow off some steam on board the ISS.

The ISS crewmembers got their hands on a real baseball, but apparently had to replace a normal bat with a large flashlight, per the Post.

The pitch appears pretty slow whipping a fastball across a space station seems like a way to cause a catastrophe. But as Space.com reports, the astronauts were quick to take credit for throwing a 17,500 mph fastball the speed at which the International Space Station orbits Earth.

READ MORE: Astronauts play baseball aboard ISS to celebrate World Series [New York Post]

More on baseball: Baseball Coach Ejected For Fighting With Robot Umpire

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Want to watch? An Antares is set to launch Saturday from Wallops to the space station – Daily Press

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The Northrop Grumman Antares rocket is seen a few hours after arriving at launch Pad-0A, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019, at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Northrop Grummans 12th contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station will deliver about 8,200 pounds of science and research, crew supplies and vehicle hardware to the orbital laboratory and its crew. Launch is scheduled for 9:59 a.m. EDT Saturday, Nov. 2. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls) User Upload Caption: The Northrop Grumman Antares rocket is seen a few hours after arriving at launch Pad-0A, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019, at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. This is Northrop's 12th contracted cargo resupply mission with NASA to the International Space Station. Launch is set for 9:59 a.m. EDT Saturday, Nov. 2. - Original Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls - Original Source: NASA/Bill Ingalls (Bill Ingalls / HANDOUT)

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Gateway Foundation hopes to make space vacations a reality in near future – KZTV Action 10 News

Posted: at 9:42 am

SACRAMENTO, Cali. If youve ever wanted to experience life beyond the Earths atmosphere, you may get the chance in six years.

A company has a goal to make space vacations a reality by 2025. Right now, The Gateway Foundation is developing the very first space hotel with artificial gravity.

So the Von Braun Space Station is going to be the first commercial space station with artificial gravity, said Tim Alatorre, a senior design architect with the company.

The Von Braun Rotating Space Station will basically be a space hotel for customers.

So, the station works like a bike tire, were going to have spokes coming out of the central hub. Thats where the spaceships will dock, zero gravity and then it rotates, said Alatorre. So, the rotation creates that artificial gravity on the perimeter this is where people will be living on the outside edge.

Although artificial gravity sounds like something out of science fiction, Alatorre says the science is sound. Designers will be using technology from the International Space Station.

NASA built the space station with just a few tools, one of them is the mechanical arm that we often see in the videos, said John Blinko, President of the Gateway Foundation. Its the arm that we want to adopt in our space construction and designs and schemes and so forth.

But all of this depends on Elon Musk and SpaceXs launch system.

SpaceX is developing the Super Heavy and the Starship platform. Our projections are showing the price of tickets is going to get lower as time goes on. So for right now, it could be cost prohibitive for some, but in a few short years, its going to be a common thing people do. As soon as Starship is ready to launch and is orbital, we want to be one of the first customers to launch into orbit.

In 2025, Alatorre says people will be able to vacation to space.

So, the space station is going to be a big draw to people, said Alatorre. Were going to have a hotel, restaurant, bar, gymnasium.

But its more than that. The foundation says its the first step to advancing beyond the atmosphere.

But big picture were trying to build out a space industry, said Alatorre. We want to have multiple stations in space space tourism going to the moon, going to Mars, going to other space stations. And just from a humanity standpoint, having hundreds of people being able to go up to space and look back on Earth and just know we are sharing this little blue marble. I think its going to have a profound impact on people.

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Biofilms in Space and the Risks to Equipment and Astronauts – SciTechDaily

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By David L. Chandler, Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyNovember 1, 2019

NASAs official mission patch for the upcoming space biofilms experiment, developed at MIT and the University of Colorado, which is scheduled to be sent to the International Space Station. Image courtesy of the researchers.

Researchers from MIT will be collaborating with colleagues at the University of Colorado at Boulder on an experiment scheduled to be sent to the International Space Station (ISS) on November 2, 2019. The experiment is looking for ways to address the formation of biofilms on surfaces within the space station. These hard-to-kill communities of bacteria or fungi can cause equipment malfunctions and make astronauts sick. MIT News asked professor of mechanical engineering Kripa Varanasi and doctoral student Samantha McBride to describe the planned experiments and their goals.

Q: For starters, tell us about the problem that this research aims to address.

Varanasi: Biofilms grow on surfaces in space stations, which initially was a surprise to me. Why would they grow in space? But its an issue that can jeopardize the key equipment space suits, water recycling units, radiators, navigation windows, and so on and can also lead to human illness. It therefore needs to be understood and characterized, especially for long-duration space missions.

In some of the early space station missions like Mir and Skylab, there were astronauts who were getting sick in space. I dont know if we can say for sure its due to these biofilms, but we do know that there have been equipment failures due to biofilm growth, such as clogged valves.

In the past there have been studies that show the biofilms actually grow and accumulate more in space than on Earth, which is kind of surprising. They grow thicker; they have different forms. The goal of this project is to study how biofilms grow in space. Why do they get all these different morphologies? Essentially, its the absence of gravity and probably other driving forces, convection for example.

We also want to think about remediation approaches. How could you solve this problem? In our current collaboration with Luis Zea at UC Boulder, we are looking at biofilm growth on engineered substrates in the presence and absence of gravity. We make different surfaces for these biofilms to grow on, and we apply some of our technologies developed in this lab, including liquid impregnated surfaces [LIS] and superhydrophobic nanotextured surfaces, and we looked at how biofilms grow on them. We found that after a years worth of experiments, here on Earth, the LIS surfaces did really well: There was no biofilm growth, compared to many other state of the art substrates.

Q: So what will you be looking for in this new experiment to be flown on the ISS?

McBride: There are signs indicating that bacteria might actually increase their virulence in space, and so astronauts are more likely to get sick. This is interesting because usually when you think of bacteria, youre thinking of something thats so small that gravity shouldnt play that big a role.

Professor Cynthia Collins group at RPI [Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute] did a previous experiment on the ISS showing that when you have normal gravity, the bacteria are able to move around and form these mushroom-like shapes, versus in microgravity mobile bacteria form this kind of canopy shape of biofilm. So basically, theyre not as constrained any more and they can start to grow outward in this unusual morphology.

Our current work is a collaboration with UC Boulder and Luis Zea as the principal investigator. So now instead of just looking at how bacteria respond to microgravity versus gravity on Earth, were also looking at how they grow on different engineered substrates. And also, more fundamentally, we can see why bacteria biofilms form the way that they do on Earth, just by taking away that one variable of having the gravity.

There are two different experiments, one with bacterial biofilms and one with fungal biofilms. Zea and his group have been growing these organisms in a test media in the presence of those surfaces, and then characterizing them by the biofilm mass, the thickness, morphology, and then the gene expression. These samples will now be sent to the space station to see how they grow there.

Q: So based on the earlier tests, what are you expecting to see when the samples come back to Earth after two months?

Varanasi: What weve found so far is that, interestingly, a great deal of biomass grows on superhydrophobic surfaces, which is usually thought to be antifouling. In contrast, on the liquid-impregnated surfaces, the technology behind Liquiglide, there was basically no biomass growth. This produced the same result as the negative control, where there were no bacteria.

We also did some control tests to confirm that the oil used on the liquid impregnated surfaces is not biocidal. So were not just killing the bacteria, theyre actually just not adhering to the substrate, and theyre not growing there.

McBride: For the LIS surfaces, well be looking at whether biofilms form on them or not. I think both results would be really interesting. If biofilms grow on these surfaces in space, but not on the ground, I think thats going to tell us something very interesting about the behavior of these organisms. And of course, if biofilms dont form and the surfaces prevent formation like they do on the ground, then thats also great, because now we have a mechanism to prevent biofilm formation on some of the equipment in the space station.

So we would be happy with either result, but if the LIS does perform as well as it did on the ground, I think its going to have a huge impact on future missions in terms of preventing biofilms and not getting people sick.

Fundamentally, from a science point of view, we want to understand the growth of these films and understand all of the biomechanical, biophysical, and biochemical mechanisms behind the growth. By adding the surface morphology, texture, and other properties like the liquid-impregnated surfaces, we may see new phenomena in the growth and evolution of these films, and maybe actually come up with a solution to fix the problem.

Varanasi: And then that can lead to designing new equipment or even space suits that have these features. So thats where I think we would like to learn from this and then propose solutions.

Reference: Design of a spaceflight biofilm experiment by Luis Zea, Zeena Nisar, Phil Rubin, Marta Corteso, Jiaqi Luo, Samantha A. McBride, Ralf Moeller, David Klaus, Daniel Mller, Kripa K.Varanasi, FrankMuecklich and LouisStodieck, 23 April 2018, Acta Astronautica.DOI: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2018.04.039

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International Space Station getting first oven for out-of-this-world cookies – WISHTV.com

Posted: at 9:42 am

(WISH) Houston, theres been a breakthrough in the baking situation from space.

For the first time, chocolate chip cookies will be made out of this world.

Sure, astronauts have been able to get their hands on Tang and freeze-dried ice cream in the past, but a warm, fresh baked cookie was never on the menu until now.

A company called Zero G Kitchen has developed a special oven that will be shot into space on Saturday.

Until this mission, astronauts were only able to reheat their food in space, there was no actual baking.

But when the new oven is installed on the International Space Station, it will be the first appliance for a kitchen of the future.

No one is yet sure what cooking will be like in zero gravity, but theyll soon find out.

CNN Newsource contributed to this report.

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Off-Earth Manufacturing Could Help Astronauts Explore the Moon and Mars – Space.com

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WASHINGTON Made In Space's new satellite-construction robot could herald a new generation of autonomous machines working on the moon and perhaps even Mars.

At the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) here on Oct. 25, representatives from NASA and the California-based company Made In Space talked about the forthcoming opportunities for in-space manufacturing, which they say will reduce the costs and complications of shipping stuff around the solar system.

One of the big advantages of in-space manufacturing is that it allows the construction of components that are too big to fit atop a rocket, as well as fragile structures that cannot survive the rigors of launch, said Justin Kugler, Made In Space's vice president of advanced programs and concepts. He said designers can thus optimize for "the design and service life of a satellite, as opposed to surviving those first 15 minutes to get out of [Earth's] gravity well and the atmosphere."

Related: 3D Printing in Space: A Photo Gallery

One of the first major tests of this technology will be Archinaut One, a spacecraft Made In Space is developing with the help of $73.7 million in NASA funding. Archinaut One, which is expected to launch as soon as 2022, will 3D-print two 32-foot-long (10 meters) beams in Earth orbit, one on either side of the spacecraft. These beams will then unfurl solar arrays that can generate five times more power than traditional panels used by similar-size spacecraft, NASA officials said in July.

During the IAC presentation, Kugler said that Archinaut One will do more with less, because the craft will overcome traditional small-satellite power constraints. Made In Space will even use the opportunity to test a broadband-radio frequency instrument from Northrop Grumman, he added.

"This is not just a technology demonstration but a functional demonstration of end-to-end capability," Kugler added.

In-space manufacturing is already happening on the International Space Station, said Raymond Clinton, the associate director of the science and technology office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.

Facilities aboard the orbiting lab today include two 3D printers built by Made In Space, as well as plastics printers. This work takes place on the U.S. National Laboratory managed by NanoRacks, a company that assists other entities in getting experiments or equipment to space.

As NASA pushes to return humans to the moon in 2024, the agency anticipates growing the capability to do manufacturing on the lunar surface. NASA's lunar surface innovation initiative calls for a series of demonstration missions through the 2020s that will eventually help the agency and its partners prepare for a human mission to Mars. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has said that the agency aims to launch this next giant leap to the Red Planet in 2033 or 2035.

"This is how we see in-space manufacturing moving forward," Clinton said. "And as the agency has said, we are going to the surface of the moon to demonstrate the technologies we will need when we go to Mars. That is the next step."

NASA is already planning for lunar manufacturing through the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, which has selected nine companies for possible future missions; more may be on the way after a selection process that closed a few weeks ago.

At first, the tech will be tested on Earth. NASA is engaging in a drill "down selection" for future CLPS missions, Clinton said, as well as producing high-fidelity lunar regolith (soil) simulant to help missions prepare for the dust on the lunar surface. Missions that will help enable astronauts to "live off of the land" on the moon by exploiting lunar resourcesshould come in the mid-2020s, including extractions of consumables (such as water) from the regolith.

Made In Space's Kevin DiMarzio called the forthcoming decade a "new era" in in-space manufacturing not only because of the moon-to-Mars goals, but also because in-space manufacturing will make space exploration cheaper for both robotic and human missions.

"It's increasing the capability of the density of what we can send to space," explained DiMarzio, the company's vice president of business development, "[which means] sending more stuff that can do more things in a cost-efficient package."

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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This Virtual Reality SpaceBuzz Bus Lets You Feel What It’s Like to See Earth from Above – Space.com

Posted: at 9:42 am

WASHINGTON My spacecraft flew through the shadow of the moon and into orbital sunrise, and there it was: Earth hovering as a blue marble in the blackness of space.

I began to think of the immortal words of astronomer Carl Sagan: "That's here. That's home. That's us. On it [is] everyone you love, everyone you know." And to my delight, my commander, Dutch astronaut Andr Kuipers, began to quote Sagan, almost word for word.

I wasn't really in space, of course. That would be an incredible opportunity, but for now, this is the next best thing. I experienced the "overview effect" of seeing Earth as a whole planet last week here at the International Astronautical Congress, where Dutch nonprofit SpaceBuzz toured a minibus outfitted with a virtual reality show hosted by an avatar of Kuipers.

Related: Earth Pictures: Iconic Images of Earth from Space

An interior view of the SpaceBuzz cabin, where children and adults can experience space travel as a virtual reality show.

(Image credit: SpaceBuzz/Remko de Waal)

SpaceBuzz's story starts with Wubbo Ockels, the first Dutch astronaut in space, on shuttle mission STS-61A in 1985. On his deathbed in 2014, Ockels said: "If I could transfer the experience I had in space then that would change your life on Earth," according to SpaceBuzz board member Zoran van Gessel.

"That is the overview effect," van Gessel said. "It's obviously too expensive to send people in space by the billions, but with 3D virtual technology, we can mimic that."

Thousands of Dutch children have already experienced this virtual reality show, but their journey doesn't begin by strapping on the virtual reality helmets. Rather, it starts in the classroom. They undergo a mini "astronaut training school," where they, sometimes with the help of adults, pass basic tests about what it would be like to live in space.

Dutch astronaut Andr Kuipers (center) with children, outside the SpaceBuzz "spacecraft." Thousands of kids have experienced the virtual reality show so far.

(Image credit: SpaceBuzz/Remko de Waal)

Then comes the fun part for these 10- to 12-year-olds, who are very familiar with 3D apps and games. They sit in the chairs of the SpaceBuzz bus, grab their headsets and find themselves immediately inside a spacecraft. Kuipers' avatar guides them through launching into space. They "fly" around the world, witnessing sights such as shimmering auroras and fishing boats on the sea. Occasionally, space hardware including the International Space Station floats by. The journey culminates with a jaunt to the moon, where Earth appears dramatically different from so far away.

SpaceBuzz wants to expose children to STEM (space, technology, engineering and math) topics, although the nonprofit says whatever path these kids choose is just fine. "We want to make sure that children respond to the whole space experience in their own way," van Gessel said, acknowledging that some kids may want to go into different fields while still remembering the experience of space.

The SpaceBuzz "spacecraft" has toured the Netherlands and the United States; it made stops in Houston and Washington, D.C., in October.

(Image credit: SpaceBuzz/Remko de Waal)

The SpaceBuzz bus is the first of its type, supported by a group of private individuals (including the Kuipers family). SpaceBuzz representatives said the proof of concept has been so successful that the company plans to build a second bus and extend the experience online to bring it to more children. Future iterations of the virtual reality experience could include interactive elements, allowing children to ask and answer questions about space during their mission.

In addition to benefiting children, the venture uses 3D technology to essentially replicate in-demand astronauts like Kuipers. "We learned afterwards that Andr, being the only Dutch astronaut alive, gets hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of requests year after year to explain to children about space, but obviously he can't do it. It's not workable," van Gessel said.

Children and adults alike get to experience the "overview effect" the emotions upon seeing Earth as a blue marble from space while taking part in the virtual reality show run by SpaceBuzz.

(Image credit: SpaceBuzz/Remko de Waal)

SpaceBuzz recently showcased its technology at a gathering of astronauts, the Association of Space Explorers, in Houston, where space flyers, including Catherine "Cady" Coleman and Chris Hadfield, got to experience the show for themselves.

"We can share it with any country, or any astronaut, or any organization, that is willing to support our goal to share the overview effect with as many children as possible," van Gessel said. "But what we've learned is, it also works on adults," he added with a grin.

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This Virtual Reality SpaceBuzz Bus Lets You Feel What It's Like to See Earth from Above - Space.com

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