Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Latest Space Updates!

I haven't done a round up in a while of interesting things happening in space and now seems like a good time as there have been a lot of exciting things happening in the last month!  Let's start off with this week's successful launch of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket!  The sixth dragon capsule is headed for the ISS and will berth with the station on Friday morning bringing with it over 4,000 lbs of food and supplies for the astronauts onboard.  This was also SpaceX's second attempt to land the first stage of the Falcon 9 on a barge in order to reuse it in the future.  You'll recall that the first failed attempt back in January created a spectacularly addictive video of the first stage of the rocket ricocheting off the barge.  This time the video isn't quite as amazing as it does look like the first stage lands successfully on the barge after a precarious tipping motion just seconds before touching down.  According to Elon Musk of SpaceX, though, the rocket hit too hard and wound up falling over just moments after the publicly released video cuts out. Go figure.  Still, SpaceX is working hard to improve the technology and cut costs on future rocket missions, which is always admirable!
Speaking of the astronauts who need the supplies from the SpaceX Dragon capsule, there are currently two special astronauts on board the ISS as of March 27. NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russia cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko are going to be the first ISS crew members to live in the orbiting outpost for nearly a full year.  Typical ISS missions are only about 6 months long for an astronaut or cosmonaut due to the health issues that could develop during longer duration spaceflight.  I took a class about this when I was getting my masters degree in FL and it is amazing how fast certain aspects of the body react to a microgravity environment.  One of the more obvious effects is the lack of gravity lessens blood flow to the legs leading to muscle atrophy.  Not to mention longer term radiation exposure.  But NASA's medical community doesn't fully understand all of the effects of long term spaceflight.  Scott Kelly's identical twin brother (and also a former astronaut) Mark Kelly will also be performing some of the same medical experiments on Earth for comparison.  These studies will allow for humans to travel to Mars and beyond in the future!  You can read more about the latest updates on the One Year Mission here.
It doesn't appear to be much to look at, but this is actually a VERY cool picture!  After nine years of hurtling through space on a 3 billion mile journey, NASA's New Horizon's spacecraft is finally getting close enough to it's destination of Pluto to snap a photo!  This is the New Horizon's first color photograph taken of Pluto and it's moon Charon.  The craft is still a whopping 71 million miles away from the dwarf planet (still a little depressed that Pluto got demoted...), but it will make it's closest approach to Pluto in a mere 3 months as it is traveling at an impressive speed of 746,000 miles per day!  Keep in mind that the diameter of Pluto is only about the width of half of the continental United States and Charon is only about the size of Texas, so getting a picture like this from 71 million miles away is pretty cool - just imagine what the close ups will look like in July! 
And finally, United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin responsible for all Delta and Atlas rocket launches, unveiled its new, next generation rocket this week - the Vulcan!  Stemming partially from SpaceX's bold space-saving technology to reuse their first stage as well as the recent issues involving the US ban of Russian made rockets, ULA's new rocket design will boast reuseable components, multiple configurations to allow customization for various medium and heavy lift payloads, and American made rockets.  It has been about 20 years since there has been any major re-design of our workhorse rockets, so the new technology will certainly be welcome.  Vulcan's maiden launch is currently slated for 2019 and ULA is anticipating the rockets will cost about $50 million less than a current Atlas mission.

Exciting stuff!  Hopefully the good news and innovation will continue!

No comments:

Post a Comment