Astronomy Cast Ep. 449: Robots in Space!

When you think of a robot, you’re probably imagining some kind of human-shaped machine. And until now, the robotic spacecraft we’ve sent out into space to help us explore the Solar System look nothing like that. But that vision of robots is coming back, thanks to a few new robots in development by NASA and […]

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SpaceX Dragon Arrives at Space Station with Tons of Earth and Human Science Experiments

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – A SpaceX Dragon supply ship jam packed with more than 2.5 tons of critical science gear, crew supplies and 40 mice successfully arrived this morning at the International Space Station (ISS) – where six humans from the US, Russia and France are living and working aboard.

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Looking for Canada’s Next Generation of Space Explorers

2007-08-11 - The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Astronaut Dave Williams performs a spacewalk during Shuttle Mission STS-118. Credit: © Canadian Space Agency/NASA

For decades, Canada has made many contributions to the field of space exploration. These include the development of sophisticated robotics, optics, participation in important research, and sending astronauts into space as part of NASA missions. And who can forget Chris Hadfield, Mr. “Space Oddity” himself? In addition to being the first Canadian to command the ISS, he is also known worldwide as the man who made space exploration fun and accessible through social media.

And in recent statement, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has announced that it is looking for new recruits to become the next generation of Canadian astronauts. With two positions available, they are looking for applicants who embody the best qualities of astronauts, which includes a background in science and technology, exceptional physical fitness, and a desire to advance the cause of space exploration.

As already noted, the Canadian Space Agency is known for its advancement of technology in space, particularly in terms of robotics. One of the best-known examples of this comes in the form of the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (aka. “the Canadarm“), a robotic arm that was introduced in 1981 and quickly became a regular part of the Space Shuttle Program.

It’s successor, the Canadarm2, was mounted on the International Space Station in 2001, and has since been augmented with the addition of the Dextre robotic hand – also of Canadian design and manufacture. In terms of optics, the CSA is renowned for the creation of the ISS’s Advanced Space Vision System (SVS). This computer vision system uses regular 2D cameras in the Space Shuttle Bay, on the Canadarm, or on the ISS itself – along with cooperative targets – to calculate the 3D position of an object.

Ordinarily, astronauts rely on cameras aboard the ISS (due to there being few viewing ports) to gauge the distance of objects in close proximity. However, conventional cameras do not allow for for stereoscopic vision (i.e. depth perception), and observation with the naked eye be problematic due to glare. This system was developed to address this issue, offering the ability to resolve depth and deal with illumination issues in space.

But arguably, Canada’s most enduring contribution to space exploration have come in the form of its astronauts. Long before Hadfield was garnering attention with his rousing rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity“, or performing “Is Someone Singing (ISS)” with The Barenaked Ladies and The Wexford Gleeks choir (via a video connection from the ISS), Canadians were venturing into space as part of several NASA missions.

Consider Marc Garneau, a retired military officer and engineer who became the first Canadian astronaut to go into space, taking part in three flights aboard NASA Space shuttles in 1984, 1996 and 2000. Garneau also served as the president of the Canadian Space Agency from 2001 to 2006 before retiring for active service and beginning a career in politics.

And how about Roberta Bondar? As Canada’s first female astronaut, she had the additional honor of designated as the Payload Specialist for the first International Microgravity Laboratory Mission (IML-1) in 1992. Bondar also flew on the NASA Space Shuttle Discovery during Mission STS-42 in 1992, during which she performed experiments in the Spacelab.

And then there’s Robert Thirsk, an engineer and physician who holds the Canadian records for the longest space flight (187 days 20 hours) and the most time spent in space (204 days 18 hours). All three individuals embodied the unique combination of academic proficiency, advanced training, personal achievement, and dedication that make up an astronaut.

And just like Hadfield, Bonard, Garneau and Thirsk have all retired on gone on to have distinguished careers as chancellors of academic institutions, politicians, philanthropists, noted authors and keynote speakers. All told, eight Canadians astronauts have taken part in sixteen space missions and been deeply involved in research and experiments conducted aboard the ISS.

Alas, every generation has to retire sooner or later. And having made their contributions and moved onto other paths, the CSA is looking for two particularly bright, young, highly-motivated and highly-skilled people to step up and take their place.

The recruitment campaign was announced this past Sunday, July 17th, by the Honourable Navdeep Bains. As the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, he is also the Minister  responsible for matters pertaining to the Canadian Space Agency. As part the agency’s fourth astronaut recruiting drive, he had this to say on the occasion:

“Our astronauts have been a source of national pride for our country. If you have aspired to go beyond our planet’s frontier, now is your chance to make this dream a reality. This class of Canadian astronauts will be part of a new generation of explorers to advance critical science and research aboard the International Space Station. Just like the astronauts before them, they will inspire young Canadians to view science and technology as accessible and interesting tools they can use to build their own adventures.”

Those who are selected will be based at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where they will provide support for space missions in progress, and prepare for future missions. Canadian astronauts also periodically return to Canada to participate in various activities and encourage young Canadians to pursue an education in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

The recruitment drive will be open from June 17th to August 15th, 2016, and the selected candidates are expected to be announced by next summer. This next class of Canadian astronaut candidates will start their training in August 2017 at the Johnson Space Center. The details can be found at the Canadian Space Agency‘s website, and all potential applicants are advised to read the campaign information kit before applying.

Alongside their efforts to find the next generation of astronauts, the Canadian government’s 2016 annual budget has also provided the CSA with up to $379 million dollars over the next eight years to extend Canada’s participation in the International Space Station on through to 2024. Gotta’ keep reaching for those stars, eh?

Further Reading: asc-csa.gc.ca

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SpaceX Resets CRS-6 Space Station Launch to April 13 with Booster Landing Attempt

The clock is ticking towards the next launch of a SpaceX cargo vessel to the International Space Station (ISS) hauling critical supplies to the six astronauts and cosmonauts serving aboard, that now includes the first ever ‘One-Year Mission’station crew comprising NASA’s Scott Kelly and Russia’s Mikhail Kornienko. The mission, dubbed SpaceX CRS-6 (Commercial Resupply Services-6) […]

CATS Out of The Bag, Crawling Around ISS for Science Down Below

“Robotic controllers let the CATS out of the bag!” So says NASA spokesman Dan Huot in a cool new NASA timelapse video showing in detail how CATS crawled around the space stations gangly exterior and clawed its way into its new home – topped off with a breathtaking view of our home planet that will […]