SpaceX Dragon Returns to Earth After Splashdown with Critical NASA Science

A SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 2:51 p.m. EDT today, May 11, with more than 3,700 pounds of NASA cargo, science and technology demonstration samples from the International Space Station.  Credit: NASA

A SpaceX cargo Dragon spacecraft loaded with nearly two tons of critical NASA science and technology experiments and equipment returned to Earth this afternoon, Wednesday, May 11, safely splashing down in the Pacific Ocean – and bringing about a successful conclusion to its mission to the International Space Station (ISS) that also brought aloft a new room for the resident crew.

Following a month long stay at the orbiting outpost, Dragon was released from the grip of the stations Canadian-built robotic arm at 9:19 a.m. EDT by European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Tim Peake.

After being detached from its berthing port at the Earth-facing port on the stations Harmony module by ground controllers, Peake commanded the snares at the terminus of the 57 foot long (19 meter long) Canadarm2 to open – as the station was soaring some 260 miles (418 kilometers) over the coast of Australia southwest of Adelaide.

Dragon backed away and soon departed after executing a series of departure burns and maneuvers to move beyond the 656-foot (200-meter) “keep out sphere” around the station.

“The Dragon spacecraft has served us well, and it’s good to see it departing full of science, and we wish it a safe recovery back to planet Earth,” Peake said.

Dragon fired its braking thrusters to initiate reentry back into the Earth’s atmosphere, and survived the scorching temperatures for the plummet back home.
A few hours after departing the ISS, Dragon splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 2:51 p.m. EDT today, about 261 miles southwest of Long Beach, California.

It was loaded with more than 3,700 pounds of NASA cargo, science and technology demonstration samples including a final batch of human research samples from former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly’s historic one-year mission that concluded in March.

“Thanks @SpaceX for getting our science safely back to Earth! Very important research,” tweeted Kelly soon after the ocean splashdown.

Among the study samples returned are those involving Biochemical Profile, Cardio Ox, Fluid Shifts, Microbiome, Salivary Markers and the Twins Study.

The goal of Kelly’s one-year mission was to support NASA’s plans for a human ‘Journey to mars’ in the 2030s. Now back on the ground Kelly continues to support the studies as a human guinea pig providing additional samples to learn how the human body adjusts to weightlessness, isolation, radiation and the stress of long-duration spaceflight.

Dragon was plucked from the ocean by ship and is now on its way to Long Beach, California.

“Some cargo will be removed and returned to NASA, and then be prepared for shipment to SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, for processing,” says NASA.

The Dragon CRS-8 cargo delivery mission began with a spectacular blastoff atop an upgraded version of the two stage SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, boasting over 1.5 million pounds of thrust on Friday, April 8 at 4:43 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The primary goal of the Falcon 9 launch was carrying the SpaceX Dragon CRS-8 cargo freighter to low Earth orbit on a commercial resupply delivery mission for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS).

Relive the launch via this video of the SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon CRS-8 liftoff from my video camera placed at the pad:

https://youtu.be/DDzRWoz_xFM

Video Caption: Spectacular blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying Dragon CRS-8 cargo freighter bound for the International Space Station (ISS) from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL at 4:43 p.m. EST on April 8, 2016. Up close movie captured by Mobius remote video camera placed at launch pad. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The SpaceX commercial cargo freighter was jam packed with more than three and a half tons of research experiments, essential crew supplies and a new experimental inflatable habitat for it deliver run.

After a two day orbital chase it reached the ISS and the gleeful multinational crew of six astronauts and cosmonauts on Sunday, April 10.

Expedition 47 crew members Jeff Williams and Tim Kopra of NASA, Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency) and cosmonauts Yuri Malenchenko, Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos are currently living aboard the orbiting laboratory.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post SpaceX Dragon Returns to Earth After Splashdown with Critical NASA Science appeared first on Universe Today.

Space Farmer Scott Kelly Harvests First ‘Space Zinnias’ Grown Aboard Space Station

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly harvested his space grown Zinnia’s on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, 2016 aboard the International Space Station.  Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly/@StationCDRKelly

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – Nearing the final days of his history making one-year-long sojourn in orbit, space farming NASA astronaut Scott Kelly harvested the first ever ‘Space Zinnias’ grown aboard the International Space Station (ISS) on a most appropriate day – Valentine’s Day, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016.

After enduring an unexpected series of trial and tribulations – including a fearsome attack of ‘space mold’ – Kelly summoned his inner ‘Mark Watney’ and brought the Zinnia’s to life, blossoming in full color and drenched in natural sunlight. See photo above.

He spent weeks lovingly nursing the near dead plants back to health and proudly displayed the fruits of his blooming labor through the windows of the domed Cupola, jutting out from the orbiting outpost and dramatically back dropped by the blue waters of Earth and the blackness of space.

“Nursed the #SpaceFlowers all the way to today and now all that remains are memories,” tweeted NASA astronaut and Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly on Feb 14, 2016. “Happy #Valentines Day!”

The zinnias are thus contributing invaluable experience to scientists and astronauts learning how to grow plants and food in microgravity during future deep space human expeditions planned for NASA’s “Journey to Mars” initiative.

The experimental Space Zinnias are truly an important part of NASA’s ongoing crop research activities and are being grown in the stations Veggie plant growth facility.

But it wasn’t always looking so rosy for the zinnias. Just before Christmas, Kelly found that these same Zinnias were suffering from a serious case of space blight when he discovered traces of mold on the flowers growing inside Veggie – as reported here.

Kelly asked to be given decision making power and was assigned as an “autonomous gardener,” Gioia Massa, NASA Kennedy payload scientist for Veggie, explained to Universe Today during a visit to the Veggie ground control experiment facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.

Ever since then, the zinnias have been on the rebound.

“I think we’ve learned a lot about doing this kind of experiment. We’re being farmers in space,” Kelly explained before the harvest.

“I was extra motivated to bring the plants back to life. I’m going to harvest them on Valentine’s Day.”

Meanwhile back on Earth, scientists harvested the counterpart ‘ground truth’ Zinnia’s being grown at Veggie ground control in the Space Station Processing Facility at KSC on Feb. 11, the same way they are being grown and harvested on the ISS.

The team will compare and contrast the results of the ground and space grown zinnias in designing future space farming experiments.

Kelly’s space farming success comes just in the nick of time, as he is now less than two weeks away from the culmination of his ‘1 Year in Space’ mission aboard the ISS.

Kelly is the first American to spend a year in space.

And he comprises one half of the first ever ‘1 Year ISS crew’ – along with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko.

Kelly and Kornienko serve as human guinea pigs for studying the effects of long term spaceflight in zero gravity on the human body that will aid planning for sending people on years long expeditions to Mars.

The dynamic duo and their four co-orbiting international crewmates are conducting hundreds of experiments aimed at paving the path for the eventual multi-year expeditions to the Red Planet.

NASA’s agency wide goal is to send humans on a ‘Journey to Mars’ during the 2030s.

The experimental space zinnias are normally bathed with red, green and blue LED lighting in the Veggie growth chamber. Kelly decided to occasionally nurture the plants further with some all natural sunlight from our life giving sun.

The Veggie experiment is comprised of “pillows” holding the Zinnia flower seedlings that provide nutrients to the plants root system inside the experimental and low-cost illuminated growth chamber.

The “Veggie” plant growth system is housed inside the European Space Agency’s Columbus laboratory located at the end of the US section of the ISS.

Veggie-01 was delivered to the ISS by the SpaceX-3 Dragon cargo resupply mission launched in April 2014, Massa told me.

The Veggie pillow sets contained the zinnia seeds and as well as romaine lettuce that was successfully grown in Veggie earlier in 2015, by Kelly and his crewmates.

Tomatoes will be the next crop grown inside Veggie, according to Massa.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post Space Farmer Scott Kelly Harvests First ‘Space Zinnias’ Grown Aboard Space Station appeared first on Universe Today.

First Space Zinnia Blooms and Catches Sun’s Rays on Space Station

Photo of first ever blooming space Zinnia flower grown onboard the International Space Station's Veggie facility moved to catch the sun’s rays through the windows of the Cupola backdropped by Earth.  Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly/@StationCDRKelly

The first Zinnia flower to bloom in space is dramatically catching the sun’s rays like we have never seen before – through the windows of the Cupola on the International Space Station (ISS) while simultaneously providing a splash of soothing color, nature and reminders of home to the multinational crew living and working on the orbital science laboratory.

NASA astronaut and Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly is proudly sharing stunning new photos showing off his space grown Zinnias – which bloomed for the first time on Jan. 16, all thanks to his experienced green thumb.

The most breathtaking view, seen above, shows the newly blooming Zinnia soaking up sunlight inside the seven windowed Cupola – backdropped by our beautiful Earth and one of the stations huge power generating solar arrays. The domed Cupola is the astronauts favorite place on station.

“Yes, there are other life forms in space!” Kelly tweeted in glee over the weekend with a magnificent series of photos of the fruits of his space gardening labor.

“How does your garden grow? Here’s how my #spaceflower came to bloom,” Kelly noted.

The six humans aboard the ISS are now sharing the orbiting outpost with the experimental Zinnias being grown in the stations Veggie plant growth facility.

Whereas the Zinnia plants are normally bathed with red, green and blue LED lighting in the chamber, Kelly decided to further nurture the plants with some all natural sunlight from our life giving sun.

The Veggie experiment is comprised of “pillows” holding the Zinnia flower seedlings that provide nutrients to the plants root system inside the experimental and low-cost illuminated growth chamber.

Kelly is clearly relishing his new role as “Veggie commander” of the now thriving Zinnias by following in the fictional footsteps of botanist Mark Watney in “The Martian” and deciding on his own how best to care for the plants.

But it almost wasn’t to be. Only a few weeks ago, these same Zinnias were suffering from a serious case of space blight when he discovered traces of mold just before Christmas – as reported here.

“Our plants aren’t looking too good. Would be a problem on Mars,” tweeted Kelly.

“I’m going to have to channel my inner Mark Watney.”

So Kelly set about to save the Zinnias from a potential near death experience.

The survival of the Zinnias is a direct result of Kelly requesting permission to take personal change of caring for the plants without having to constantly ask Mission Control for instruction and direction.

The Zinnias have been on the rebound ever since and the proof is in the blooming.

The “Veggie” plant growth system is housed inside the European Space Agency’s Columbus laboratory located at the end of the US section of the ISS.

Veggie-01 was delivered to the ISS by the SpaceX-3 Dragon cargo resupply mission launched in April 2014, carrying the pillow sets containing the romaine lettuce and zinnia seeds.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post First Space Zinnia Blooms and Catches Sun’s Rays on Space Station appeared first on Universe Today.

Space Zinnias Rebound from Space Blight on Space Station

Space Zinnias growing inside the International Space Station's Veggie facility are on the rebound! Credit: NASA/Scott Kelly/@StationCDRKelly

Zinnia plants growing aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have staged a dramatic New Year’s comeback from a potential near death experience over the Christmas holidays, when traces of mold were discovered.

And it’s all thanks to the experienced green thumb of Space Station Commander Scott Kelly, channeling his “inner Mark Watney!”

After suffering from a serious case of space blight on the space station, the ‘Space Zinnia’s’ growing inside the orbiting outposts Veggie facility are now on the comeback trail from space bound trials and tribulations.

“Some of my space flowers are on the rebound!” tweeted Kelly, in an ISS Weekend Update to space enthusiasts and horticulturalists worldwide.

“No longer looking sad!”

Earlier this year, the ISS crew had already proven they could successfully grow, cultivate and eat space grown romaine lettuce they gleefully harvested from Veggie – as reported here.

Kelly, along with newly arrived British astronaut Tim Peake, had started growing the Zinnia flowers in December in the Veggie experimental facility as part of the Veg-01 investigation.

Veggie is comprised of “pillows” holding the Zinnia flower seedlings that provide nutrients to the root system inside an experimental low-cost growth chamber that provides lighting for the plants.

The purpose is to grow plants in the growth chamber in space and comparing their progress to plants grown on Earth as “ground truth” counterparts.
At first the space station Zinnias made great progress, sprouting healthily into larger plants with bigger leaves than those growing on Earth.

“These plants appear larger than their ground-based counterparts and scientists expect buds to form on the larger plants soon,” researchers reported in mid-December 2015.

But over the Christmas holidays, Kelly discovered the mold infestation snapped the photo below of the dire looking Zinnia plants.

“Our plants aren’t looking too good. Would be a problem on Mars,” tweeted Kelly.

“I’m going to have to channel my inner Mark Watney.”

Kelly is now on the home stretch of his “1-Year-Long” mission aboard the ISS aimed at paving the way for multi-year expeditions to the Red Planet.

In essence Kelly’s efforts are directly contributing towards turning the realistic science fiction exploits of NASA astronaut Mark Watney in “The Martian” – played by Matt Damon – into science fact for NASA’s future astronauts on a “Journey to Mars.”
Learning to grow edible food is a key task that future astronauts will have to master to enable voyages to the Red Planet and back.

After assessing the “sad” situation, Mission Control in Houston asked Kelly to take action by collecting some samples for later analysis on Earth and. more urgently, increasing the Veggie facilities fan speed to cut down on the high humidity that’s likely the “root cause” of the mold infestation.

“The experiment (Veg-01) team has been monitoring signs of high humidity within the Veggie compartment, and had planned to turn up the interior fan to dry out the environment. The larger plant leaves had become wet due to the formation of droplets – known as guttation – and as a result, created conditions for mold growth,” NASA reported.

So, Kelly trimmed and dried the leaves after Christmas. He double bagged the leaf samples and stored them into the stations ultra low temperature freezer, named MELFI (Minus Eighty Degree Celsius Laboratory Freezer for ISS). They will be returned to Earth later this year aboard a SpaceX cargo Dragon for eventual analysis by researchers.
Tomato plants will be grown inside Veggie at a future date.

“ Understanding how flowering plants grow in microgravity can be applied to growing other edible flowering plants, such as tomatoes,” says NASA.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post Space Zinnias Rebound from Space Blight on Space Station appeared first on Universe Today.

Gorgeous Views of Earth from Space Ring in New Year 2016 From the Space Station and Beyond

#HappyNewYear! NOAA’s GOES East satellite captured this image of our home on the first day of #2016.   Credit: NOAA

Happy New Year 2016 from the International Space Station (ISS) and Beyond!

Behold Earth ! Courtesy of our Human and Robotic emissaries to the High Frontier we can ring in the New Year by reveling in gorgeous new views of our beautiful Home Planet taken from the space station and beyond.

The Americas come to life in the Happy New Year image (above) captured by NOAA’s GOES East satellite “of our home on the first day of #2016.”

And the six person multinational crew of Expedition 46, led by Station Commander Scott Kelly of NASA sends hearty greetings and spectacular imagery to all Earthlings while soaring some 250 miles (400 kilometers) above us all.

“Happy New Year to all the people of Planet Earth,” wished Kelly in a special New Year’s 2016 video message beamed down from the massive orbiting science complex.

Kelly was accompanied in the short video by two of his fellow Expeditions 46 crewmembers with well wishes for into the inhabitants of Earth: Flight Engineer Tim Kopra of NASA and Flight Engineer Tim Peake of the European Space Agency.

https://youtu.be/9SY7ojOx6mo

Video Caption: Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly of NASA, Flight Engineer Tim Kopra of NASA and Flight Engineer Tim Peake of the European Space Agency wished the people of Earth a Happy New Year. Credit: NASA/ESA

Kelly is now three quarters of the way through his year-long mission on the ISS. Kelly comprises one half of the first ever ‘1 Year ISS crew’ – along with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko.

Indeed New Years Day marked Day 280 for Kelly aboard the ISS and he snapped the photo of Earth below to celebrate the occasion of passing of 2015 into 2016.

“We’d like to say what a privilege it is to serve on board the International Space Station. And how grateful we are for all the teams on the ground that support our flying in space, and the science that’s on board,” Kopra added.

Kopra and Peake just arrived at the station barely two weeks ago following a flawless launch on Dec. 15 in their Russian Soyuz TMA-19M capsule from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Along with six time Russian space flyer Yuri Malenchenko they are begining a six-month mission aboard the complex.

“I’d like to wish everyone down on our beautiful planet Earth a very happy New Year, and a fantastic 2016,” said Tim Peake, the first British astronaut to journey to the ISS.

Here’s stunning view of an Aleutian island volcano blowing off some steam taken today, Jan. 2, by Scott Kelly.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post Gorgeous Views of Earth from Space Ring in New Year 2016 From the Space Station and Beyond appeared first on Universe Today.

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