mardi 25 octobre 2016

Third Lettuce Crop Begins Growing Aboard Station

NASA - Veggie Mission patch.

Oct. 25, 2016

ISS - International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA

Just as farmers on Earth are planting leafy greens for the fall growing season, astronauts aboard the International Space Station are planting their third on-orbit crop of red romaine lettuce.

Early this morning, NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough initiated the Veg-03 experiment, one of his first science assignments as a new crew member aboard the orbiting laboratory. As Kimbrough worked, members of the Veggie team watched from their consoles in the Experiment Monitoring Area located in Space Station Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A live video downlink from the orbiting laboratory allowed the scientists to remotely watch Kimbrough’s actions and ensure he did not encounter any challenges with the activity or hardware.

“Operations went great today! A little slower than expected, but all plant pillows were successfully primed for the first time in our Veg series,” said Nicole Dufour, NASA’s Veggie project manager. Plant pillows are small pouches already containing a growth medium, fertilizer and seeds; to start them growing, astronauts simply add a little water.

“We previously have had some hardware issues that prevented at least one pillow from each ‘grow out’ from being successfully primed, so we were very excited to achieve that milestone,” she added.

Image above: Veggie team members in monitor Veg-03 activation aboard the International Space Station via a live video downlink to the Experiment Monitoring Area located in Space Station Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Image Credit: NASA.

Astronauts on future long-duration space missions will need to be able to grow their own food to supplement their diets. Using the Veggie plant growth facility aboard the station, Veg-03 builds on the successes of previous studies, including Veg-01, which resulted in the first-ever on-orbit harvest and sampling of fresh produce during the summer of 2015. Techniques learned from Veggie crops will sow benefits on Earth and help NASA prepare for the Journey to Mars.

The Veg-03 crop will be the Veggie team’s first on-orbit attempt at a new, repetitive harvest technique termed ‘Cut-and-Come-Again’.

“Once the plants are approximately four weeks old, a selection of leaves can be harvested for a bit of fresh lettuce and possibly science samples. Meanwhile, some leaves are left intact along with the core of the plant, and will continue to grow and produce more leaves,” Dufour explained.

 Veggie Will Expand Fresh Food Production on Space Station. Image Credit: NASA

“We expect this will increase the on-orbit crop yield, as well as allow for more opportunities to supplement our astronauts’ diets with fresh, nutritious food from the same plants, which is an important goal of the ‘pick-and-eat’ food concept.”

Dufour reports the team is anxiously awaiting germination results, expected early next week.

Learn more about Veggie and Veg-03:

Journey to Mars:

International Space Station (ISS):

Space Station Research and Technology:

Kennedy Space Center:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Kennedy Space Center, by Anna Heiney.

Best regards,

Feeling the Rhythm

ISS - International Space Station logo.

Oct. 25, 2016

Many astronauts play instruments, and some have even made music in space. Few have danced in space, though, perhaps because crew members find it difficult to tap their toes when weightless. Or it could be that spending time in space throws off their rhythm – at least their circadian rhythm.

Our circadian rhythm, also called the body’s biological clock, coordinates daily variation of physiological functions such as sleep and alertness. Maintaining a circadian rhythm that is synchronized to our 24-hour day is important to health and well-being.

Image above: ESA Astronaut Alexander Gerst wearing a sensor for the experiment on Circadian Rhythms. Image Credit: NASA.

The Circadian Rhythms investigation examines whether long-term spaceflight throws off circadian rhythm in astronauts and the role of factors such as irregular light and dark cycles, microgravity induced changes in body composition, and reduced physical activity.

The body’s core temperature fluctuates during the day in accordance with its circadian rhythm and measuring those changes can show when a person’s body clock is out of whack. Investigators are using a noninvasive sensor placed on the forehead to track core body temperature of several different astronauts before flight, several times during their mission, and post-flight.

“If core body temperatures are altered in flight, this would indicate a de-synchronization of circadian rhythm,” said principal investigator Hanns-Christian Gunga of Universitätsmedizin Berlin in Germany. This research aboard the International Space Station is sponsored by the European Space Agency.

Researchers will correlate the temperature data with pre- and post-flight measures of melatonin, a hormone whose levels follow the classic circadian pattern.

“We want to investigate what happens with the circadian rhythm of body core temperature while orbiting the Earth 16 times a day,” said co-investigator Oliver Opatz. “What might be the impact on other physiological functions such as sleep and the immune system, for example? That would have significance for longer space travel, when this could cause illness.”

Image above: Thermolab control unit and sensors that are placed on the body. Image Credit: ESA.

This work and other studies on circadian rhythms, such as the Lighting Effects investigation, could help crews on future missions better adjust sleep, work, and physical activity to match their natural cycles, improving their productivity and health. Comparing results to the Mars500 sequestering experiment also could contribute to better design of future missions.

Understanding how circadian rhythms change in microgravity also has applications on Earth. It could, for example, help those with sleep, autonomic nervous system, and shift work-related disorders.

In addition, the sensor device has potential uses on Earth as a noninvasive way to measure body temperature in clinical settings.

“Measuring temperature with a device on the surface of the skin is much simpler than other methods. It doesn’t require specialized medical staff to take that measurement, and the patient accepts it readily as well,” said Opatz.

By helping astronauts keep their daily clocks in sync, this investigation could have them dancing through their missions.

Related links:

Music in space:

Circadian Rhythms investigation:

Lighting Effects investigation:


International Space Station (ISS):

Space Station Research and Technology:

European Space Agency (ESA):

NASA Johnson Space Center:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA Johnson Space Center/Melissa Gaskill/Kristine Rainey.


STEREO: 10 Years of Revolutionary Solar Views

NASA - STEREO Mission logo.

Oct. 25, 2016

Launched 10 years ago, on Oct. 25, 2006, the twin spacecraft of NASA’s STEREO mission – short for Solar and Terrestrial Relations Observatory – have given us unprecedented views of the sun, including the first-ever simultaneous view of the entire star at once. This kind of comprehensive data is key to understanding how the sun erupts with things like coronal mass ejections and energetic particles, as well as how those events move through space, sometimes impacting Earth and other worlds. Ten years ago, the twin STEREO spacecraft joined a fleet of NASA spacecraft monitoring the sun and its influence on Earth and space – and they provided a new and unique perspective.

STEREO Mission Turns 10

Video Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Genna Duberstein, producer.

The two STEREO observatories, called STEREO-A and STEREO-B – for Ahead and Behind, respectively – were sent out from Earth in opposite directions. Using gravitational assists from both the moon and Earth, the STEREO spacecraft were accelerated to Earth-escape velocities. STEREO-A was inserted into an orbit slightly smaller, and therefore faster, than Earth’s. For STEREO-B, the reverse happened: It was nudged into an orbit slightly larger than Earth’s so that it traveled around the sun more slowly, falling increasingly behind the Earth. As the spacecraft slowly fanned out away from the centerline between Earth and the sun – where every other sun-watching spacecraft is located – they revealed more and more new information about our closest star.

“STEREO gives us a much more thorough view of the sun, solar wind and solar activity,” said Terry Kucera, deputy project scientist for STEREO at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The view from the far side of the sun lets us record more events and get more complete pictures of each event.”

When observed through a solar telescope, the surface of the sun can be seen to be churning with near-constant activity, sometimes including the larger solar eruptions that can influence Earth, other worlds, and space itself. We call these changing conditions space weather. On Earth, space weather often manifests as auroras, or – in extreme cases – damage to satellites or stress on power grids.

Animation above: This composite view shows the sun as it appeared on Jan. 31, 2011, with simultaneous views from both of NASA’s STEREO spacecraft and NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. These three distinct viewpoints allowed scientists to capture almost the entire sun at once, with only a small gap in data. Animation Credits: NASA/Goddard/STEREO.

The prime STEREO mission was designed for two years of operations, observing the sun and the space environment around it, by which point the spacecraft would have traveled about 45 degrees (one-eighth of a circle each) away from Earth. This mission design was revolutionary, since our observations of the sun and conditions in space had previously been confined to views only from Earth's perspective. By providing us with different views of the sun simultaneously, STEREO helped scientists watch solar eruptions develop over time, and gave them multiple perspectives of how those eruptions propagate outward. The greater the separation of the two spacecraft from each other and from Earth, the more we learned about the sun and its influence on space – including multi-point views of one of the most powerful solar storms on record.

“STEREO had unique perspectives of a powerful CME on July 2012, which was strong enough to cause serious disruptions if it had been Earth-directed,” said Joe Gurman, STEREO project scientist at Goddard. “We got a head-on look with STEREO-A, a side view with STEREO-B as well as observations by Earth-orbiting satellites.”

However, STEREO’s real windfall is the sheer amount of data collected. Both spacecraft functioned well for nearly eight years, yielding a treasure trove of data on solar events.

“Real science doesn’t come from just one event,” said Gurman. “The biggest advantage of STEREO is being able to validate our models of how CMEs move through space.”

Animation above: This animation shows the orbits of the two STEREO spacecraft from October 2006 to October 2016. Because of the twin probes’ unique positions in space, the STEREO mission has given scientists an unprecedented look at the sun, helping us to understand our home star. Animation Credits: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio.

STEREO-A continues to collect data. However, STEREO-B encountered an issue when the spacecraft approached a phase called superior conjunction – when the sun would stand between the spacecraft and Earth, blocking all communications. During testing in October 2014 to prepare for superior conjunction, contact with STEREO-B was lost. After nearly two years, on Aug. 21, 2016, mission operators managed to contact STEREO-B once again, and have been in touch intermittently since then. This contact has revealed new information about the spacecraft’s battery and charge state, its position in space, its speed and its spin – and mission operators continue to attempt recovery.

“The challenges for a successful recovery are many,” said Dan Ossing, the STEREO mission operations manager at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. “It’s an incremental process that continues to evolve, and could take months or even years. But we know enough of the spacecraft has survived to make these recovery attempts worthwhile. We just have to be patient.”

Though STEREO-A was silent for nearly four months because of superior conjunction, after contact was re-established it returned the data recorded on the sun’s far side, filling in this gap in the timeline of solar data. The STEREO-A spacecraft is now operating fully, maintaining this stream of information.

“It’s these long term measurements that are critical for understanding the sun,” said Gurman.

STEREO is the third mission in NASA's Solar Terrestrial Probes program, which is managed by NASA Goddard for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. It was built by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

Related Link

NASA’s STEREO website:

Animations (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, by Sarah Frazier/Rob Garner.


Next step towards a gravitational-wave observatory in space

ESA - LISA Pathfinder Mission patch.

25 October 2016

Merging black holes

Today, ESA has invited European scientists to propose concepts for the third large mission in its science programme, to study the gravitational Universe.

A spaceborne observatory of gravitational waves – ripples in the fabric of spacetime created by accelerating massive objects – was identified in 2013 as the goal for the third large mission (L3) in ESA’s Cosmic Vision plan.

A Gravitational Observatory Advisory Team was appointed in 2014, composed of independent experts. The team completed its final report earlier this year, further recommending ESA to pursue the mission having verified the feasibility of a multisatellite design with free-falling test masses linked over millions of kilometres by lasers.

Now, following the first detection of the elusive waves with ground-based experiments and the successful performance of ESA’s LISA Pathfinder mission, which demonstrated some of the key technologies needed to detect gravitational waves from space, the agency is inviting the scientific community to submit proposals for the first space mission to observe gravitational waves.

“Gravitational waves promise to open a new window for astronomy, revealing powerful phenomena across the Universe that are not accessible via observations of cosmic light,” says Alvaro Gimenez, ESA’s Director of Science.

Predicted a century ago by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, gravitational waves remained elusive until the first direct detection by the ground-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory and Virgo collaborations, made in September 2015 and announced earlier this year.

The signal originated from the coalescence of two black holes, each with some 30 times the mass of the Sun and about 1.3 billion light-years away. A second detection was made in December 2015 and announced in June, and revealed gravitational waves from another black hole merger, this time involving smaller objects with masses around 7 and 14 solar masses.

Meanwhile, the LISA Pathfinder mission was launched in December 2015 and started its scientific operations in March this year, testing some of the key technologies that can be used to build a space observatory of gravitational waves.

Data collected during its first two months showed that it is indeed possible to eliminate external disturbances on test masses placed in freefall at the level of precision required to measure passing gravitational waves disturbing their motion.

LISA Pathfinder performance

While ground-based detectors are sensitive to gravitational waves with frequencies of around 100 Hz – or a hundred oscillation cycles per second – an observatory in space will be able to detect lower-frequency waves, from 1 Hz down to 0.1 mHz. Gravitational waves with different frequencies carry information about different events in the cosmos, much like astronomical observations in visible light are sensitive to stars in the main stages of their lives while X-ray observations can reveal the early phases of stellar life or the remnants of their demise.

In particular, low-frequency gravitational waves are linked to even more exotic cosmic objects than their higher-frequency counterparts: supermassive black holes, with masses of millions to billions of times that of the Sun, that sit at the centre of massive galaxies. The waves are released when two such black holes are coalescing during a merger of galaxies, or when a smaller compact object, like a neutron star or a stellar-mass black hole, spirals towards a supermassive black hole.

Observing the oscillations in the fabric of spacetime produced by these powerful events will provide an opportunity to study how galaxies have formed and evolved over the lifetime of the Universe, and to test Einstein’s general relativity in its strong regime.

Concepts for ESA’s L3 mission will have to address the exploration of the Universe with low-frequency gravitational waves, complementing the observations performed on the ground to fully exploit the new field of gravitational astronomy. The planned launch date for the mission is 2034.

Lessons learned from LISA Pathfinder will be crucial to developing this mission, but much new technology will also be needed to extend the single-satellite design to multiple satellites. For example, lasers much more powerful than those used on LISA Pathfinder, as well as highly stable telescopes, will be necessary to link the freely falling masses over millions of kilometres.

LISA Pathfinder in space

Large missions in ESA’s Science Programme are ESA-led, but also allow for international collaboration. The first large-class mission is Juice, the JUpiter ICy moons Explorer, planned for launch in 2022, and the second is Athena, the Advanced Telescope for High-ENergy Astrophysics, an X-ray observatory to investigate the hot and energetic Universe, with a planned launch date in 2028.

Letters of intent for ESA’s new gravitational-wave space observatory must be submitted by 15 November, and the deadline for the full proposal is 16 January 2017. The selection is expected to take place in the first half of 2017, with a preliminary internal study phase planned for later in the year.

More information:

Related articles:

What is gravity?:

Gravitational waves: ‘dents’ in spacetime:

ESA - LISA Pathfinder:

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/ATG medialab; data: ESA/LISA Pathfinder Collaboration/C.Carreau/Luigi Colangeli/Markus Bauer.

Best regards,

lundi 24 octobre 2016

Space Station Crew Gets Special Delivery from Virginia

NASA - Wallops Flight Facility logo.

Oct. 24, 2016

This week, astronauts are unloading more than 5,000 pounds of cargo and crew supplies from the Cygnus spacecraft to support dozens of science and research investigations. However, this shipment has special significance. This shipment arrived via an Antares rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.

Rocket launches to the International Space Station from Virginia are back. Teams from Orbital ATK, Virginia Space and NASA have worked diligently to bring about the launch following an Antares launch failure in October 2014.  Since that date, repairs and upgrades to the launch pad have been completed and the Antares rocket has been upgraded.

Image above: The Orbital ATK Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft onboard, launches at 7:45 p.m. EDT from Pad-0A, Monday, October 17, 2016, at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Image Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

"I'm extremely proud of the combined NASA, Orbital ATK and Virginia Space team for their tenacity in restoring a medium-lift launch capability at Wallops," said Bill Wrobel, Wallops Flight Facility director. "Antares returned to flight brilliantly, and we are looking forward to many more flights in the months and years to come."

In addition, Wallops Flight Facility is responsible for public safety, tracking, telemetry, communications and institutional support, and spent countless hours to make sure that the range was ready to support the launch.

"Watching the Antares rocket launch Cygnus into orbit from our home port at Wallops Island was a culmination of nearly two years of hard work by our employees, suppliers and our NASA partners," said Frank Culbertson, Orbital ATK Space System Group President. "Congratulations to everyone who contributed to the job well done."

The Antares launch from Wallops also was a boost to the local economy with the influx of those wishing to see the launch, national and international media reporting on the mission, and Orbital ATK, NASA and Virginia Space members coming to the Shore to support the flight.

This positive impact to the local economy was definitely seen in the Town of Chincoteague, the location of the town closest to Wallops with a variety of restaurants and lodging facilities.

Cygnus capture by Canadamr2. Image Credit: NASA.

“We are delighted to see the Antares program return to flight. Increased calls to the chamber office in the last couple of weeks in anticipation of the October 17 launch verify that folks were excited to watch the next re-supply mission leave from Wallops Flight Facility,“ said Evelyn Shotwell, executive director of the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce..

The spectacular night launch has been the talk of the town as visitors and team members continue celebrate the successful launch. The light from the rocket’s engine flames spreads across Wallops Island and reflected over the surrounding water and marsh as the Antares rocket rose from the launch pad. Spectators continue to trade stories of how they stood in awe at the view and felt the rumble as the rocket flew toward space.

“This influx of visitors are a vital component of our shoulder season economy and the year round work force of government contractors stimulates restaurant, lodging, and recreational businesses in Chincoteague and the surrounding area.” Shotwell said.
The launch of the Antares rocket is not a one-time event, and preparations are already underway for the next Antares launch in the first quarter of 2017.

Related links:

Wallops Flight Facility:


Commercial Resupply:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Wallops Flight Facility/Keith Koehler.

Best regards,

Fluid Fantasy

NASA - Cassini International logo.

Oct. 24, 2016

Saturn's clouds are full of raw beauty, but they also represent a playground for a branch of physics called fluid dynamics, which seeks to understand the motion of gases and liquids.

Saturn's lack of a solid planetary surface (as on Earth, Mars or Venus) means that its atmosphere is free to flow around the planet essentially without obstruction. This is one factor that generates Saturn's pattern of alternating belts and zones -- one of the main features of its dynamic atmosphere. Winds in the belts blow at speeds different from those in the adjacent zones, leading to the formation of vortices along the boundaries between the two. And vigorous convection occasionally leads to storms and waves.

Saturn's innermost rings are just visible at the bottom and in the upper left corner.

This view is centered on clouds at 25 degrees north latitude on Saturn. The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on July 20, 2016 using a spectral filter which preferentially admits wavelengths of near-infrared light centered at 728 nanometers.

The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 752,000 miles (1.21 million kilometers) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 6 degrees. Image scale is 45 miles (72 kilometers) per pixel.

The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit and The Cassini imaging team homepage is at and ESA's website

Image, Text, Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/Tony Greicius.


dimanche 23 octobre 2016

Cygnus Attached to Station’s Unity Module

Orbital ATK - Antares / Cygnus OA-5 Mission logo.

October 23, 2016

U.S. Commercial Cargo Ship Arrives at the Space Station. Video: NASA TV

Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft was berthed to the Unity module of the International Space Station at 10:53 a.m. EDT. The Expedition 49 crew will begin unloading approximately 5,000 pounds of science investigations, food and supplies when the hatch between the newly arrived spacecraft and the Unity module of the space station is opened. The spacecraft is scheduled to spend a little more than a month attached to the station.

Image above: Today’s installation of the Orbital ATK Cygnus resupply ship makes four spaceships attached to the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Expedition 49 Flight Engineers Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Kate Rubins of NASA successfully captured Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft with the station’s robotic arm at 7:28 a.m. EDT. NASA TV coverage of operations to install Cygnus to the space station’s Unity module begins at 9 a.m.

Image above: The Cygnus resupply ship slowly approaches the space station before the Canadarm2 reaches out and grapples it. Image Credit: NASA TV.

Orbital ATK’s Cygnus was launched on the company’s Antares rocket Monday, Oct 17, from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Cygnus will remain attached to Unity until a planned departure in November sends the spacecraft toward a destructive re-entry in Earth’s atmosphere.

For more information about newly arrived science investigations aboard the Cygnus, visit:

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.

Best regards,