The reason behind cosmonauts peeing on the bus that is taking them to space

The Expedition 56/57 involving a three-person crew took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome which is located in Kazakhstan on the early morning of June 6. While they were approaching the rocket, the team or at least to mention, the Russian cosmonaut, Sergey Prokopyev made an odd move. The move is believed to have taken place in the past as well. The bus that takes the crewmembers would stop; the male cosmonauts would come down from the bus and pee on the back right tire of their van. As far as the female crewmembers are concerned, they would splash urine from a cup onto the wheel of the bus.

If we delve into the history, we will get the answer of such a move. The cosmonauts try to pay tribute to the foremost human in space known as Yuri Gagarin. The cosmonaut who was about to take off from the same cosmodrome on April 12, 1961, went for the rocket for the scheduled takeoff and the rest was history.

Several others also pay tribute to Gagarin before the launching activities begin. They also pay a visit to the cosmonaut’s grave which is situated in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis in the city of Moscow. After arriving in Baikonur, they generally plant a tree in the same grove where Gagarin had planted his tree. They also pay a visit to his office which has been preserved since his death in the year of 1968.

The achievement of Gagarin is a benchmark in itself as far as Russian space history is concerned. His accomplishments and his commitments exhibit more of mythological vibes than it speaks of biographical facts. It is a big question to understand that is it possible for us to think in the same line for any popular American Astronaut, even Neil Armstrong, the first person who walked on the moon? 

Andrew Jenks who is a history professor at the California State University feels that there cannot be any comparison between Gagarin and any other American astronauts till now. Gagarin was a national hero, and he was a cosmonaut who could not stop smiling.

Jenks further added that unlike American astronauts, Russian space heroes had made a much wider sociological and political impact on the lives of the ordinary people. As such it is complicated to make a comparison between them.

NASA Probe to be launched in 2024 to Study the Protective Bubble of the Solar System

On picture above: size comparison of Ceres, Moon and Earth.

The NASA is all set to launch its probe better known as the interstellar and acceleration probe in the year 2024. With the mission, it plans to study how the solar wind interacts with the wind of all the other stars. The officials of the space agency said that it will help them study the bubble around the solar system.

The so-called bubble is called heliosphere. The sheath which is made by the sun itself is made of the solar magnetic field and charged solar particles. This heliosphere is supposedly protecting the earth and all the other heavenly bodies within the solar system from the radiations and harmful rays from the outer space. The agency plans to study this protective bubble around the solar system and how it functions.

But, easier said than done, this protective layer is not that easily penetrable. The Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe hopes to collect the particles that are fast moving and make their way through the bubble. The main mission of the probe will be to find out the exact way how this protective bubble works to keep all the harmful rays and radiation away from the solar system.

One of the officials of the agency said that the results of the mission will be evaluated to analyse as they are planning to send humans deep into space. During the statement, he also revealed that it is this boundary which protects the planet and that they wish to study it further.

The NASA chose the IMAP from a number of proposals which were submitted last year for its mission in the space. It will be launched from a gravitationally stable point called earth-sun Lagrange point 1, which is to be shot about 1.5 kilometres away from the planet towards the sun. The probe will be carrying ten scientific instruments to study the particles passing through the bubble. This will help the researchers understand how the rays penetrate the sheath and travel inside. 

The entire costing of the mission is about 492 million dollars. The IMAP will be the fifth mission in the solar-terrestrial probe’s program of NASA. The other four missions were initiated with collaboration with the European space agency and the Japan aerospace exploration agency. This mission will create an important milestone in the exploration of aspects of our solar system. 

Jupiter Mission Extended by NASA

NASA’s Jupiter mission probe, Juno has been studying the massive planet for the last two years. The 1 USD billion mission was supposed to end after July this year. The probe was supposed to crash into the clouds of Jupiter. However, NASA has decided to extend its lifetime till July 2021. 

The Juno probe mission has studied the planet and been sending brilliant records and data. Passing through the thick layers of cloud on the planet, it has sent back images of its massive storms, cloud bands etc. 

But like any other good thing, the mission by Juno also is nearing its end. The NASA planned to plunge it into the clouds of Jupiter to end its mission. The reason was very simple. It is believed that Jupiter’s moon, Europa may harbour alien life as it contains twice as much water as earth. If the probe accidentally falls on the moon, it might contaminate it. To avoid such circumstances, it was being ended deliberately.

But, for the sake of continuation of scientific works, the mission is being extended till July 2021. Scientific work regarding this will be continued until the year 2022.

This extension of the mission was necessary. This is because Juno has been unable to complete its mapping process due to some technical problems. it has specialised instruments with which it has been mapping the planet and measuring its gravitational field over the years. It was supposed to end this year. But, due to the technical problems, the mission has been extended.

The other reason is that Jupiter emits very powerful radiations which might harm the delicate instruments of Juno. To keep it out of harm’s way, the probe is kept in a separate elliptical orbit to avoid its radiations. After the discovery of some sticky engine valves, NASA decided to slow down its pace with which it orbits the planet.

Another project manager at the jet propulsion laboratory of NASA also said that they had thought of multiple ways to shorten the span of Juno orbiting the planet but they could not risk burning another main engine which would put the mission at risk.

The extension of the probe would prove very useful to find what lies inside the mysterious planet. This extension would allow Juno to finish mapping the planet mainly focused on its gravitational field.

If the probe stays active even after the extension period, NASA might continue to further extend its lifetime.

Brazil Begins Talks to Allow the US Government to Use the Alcantara Base

Brazil and the United States are set to complete a deal that started over 15 years ago. The United States in 2002 started a discussion with Brazil to allow US satellites to launch from the Alcantara Base in Brazil. The initial talks between the two government officials did not end well because the United States wanted to keep its technological secrets from Brazil.

Brazil also wanted to have more technological information of the US will launch from the country. They argued that if the US keeps the technological information to themselves, they would violate the sovereignty of Brazil. This disagreement led to an abrupt end of the discussion.

In new developments, Brazil’s foreign minister Aloysio Nunes announced after a meeting with the United States secretary of States Mike Pompeo on Monday that the two governments have resumed talks.

In the new developments, Aloysio Nunes stated that it is legitimate for the United States to defend its trade secrets. He also mentioned that they are discussing how the US can continue to defend its trade secrets without violating the sovereignty of Brazil. 

The Alcantara Base is located at the North NorthEastern part of Brazil. The base is situated in the Maranhao State. The launch base is situated at a place that makes its favorable for launch purposes. It is not far (160 miles) from the Equatorial line which means satellites can save fuel when they launch from this site. 

The base is the launching facaility of the Brazil Space Agency and the Brazil Air Force operates it.  Brazil began constructing the base in 1982. The country’s first launch was on February 21, 1990 and the base has only seen the launching of VLS and sounding rockets since its first launch 

America is not the only country that has expressed interest in launching from this site. Isreal, France, and Russia have also expressed their interest in the site. Earlier this year, three US space firms have expressed interest in launching from the base. 

US space giants, Lockheed Martin and Boeing want to use the base. Rocket manufacturer Vector would also like to use the base. 

In an interview, Jonathan McDowell, an anthrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center said it will be beneficial to use the base to launch large satellites into geosynchronous orbits since the base is lying idle. It is exceptionally advantageous since the satellites will launch from the equator. He estimated that launching from the Alcantara base will save up to 20% of fuel compared to launching from a location such as Florida. 

Garrett Reisman to resign

After serving SpaceX for more than seven years, the director of crew operations, Garrett Reisman has decided to leave his position. He has been offered a job at the University of Southern California to teach human spaceflight. Professor Garrett joined the University on Monday. However, he is still the consultant of SpaceX. He is always going to remain connected with rocket landing while serving as a professor and is very optimistic about the success of SpaceX in space exploration. He stated that his experience at a company as dynamic as SpaceX was exciting. He has done three spacewalks and was equally involved in the launch of Falcon Heavy rocket; and the first landing of a first-stage booster in December 2015. 

People call him crazy since he left NASA in 2011 and joined SpaceX for a senior role in the development of Dragon2 spacecraft. The same Dragon craft which is expected to be carrying humans to the International Space Station soon. Garrett has lived in space, visited the Atlantis spacecraft to assist for his final construction to offer an astronaut’s perspective to the company. He was the most critical person in building the bridge between NASA and SpaceX. The differences were many, but ultimately the collaboration would benefit the entire space industry. 

He mentioned that the differences are significant since a privately owned firm has quicker decision making attitude and SpaceX particularly is always up for trying different things. They are happy to see themselves try and fail and then find a solution, rather than waiting and procrastinating. NASA would serve as a mentor to safeguard human lives during these experimentations.  

While Garrett was still in SpaceX, the company was competing with Boeing to send the first private spacecraft carrying humans to space for the commercial crew program. Garrett is not the only person who left NASA and joined a private company. Chris Ferguson, one of his classmates (penguins-1998) too joined Boeing in 2011. Garrett firmly believes that SpaceX will be the first company to go into space. 

While NASA is building Orion and Blue Origin has eventual plans for launching an orbital vehicle, the United States is full of engineers working to design and fly a spacecraft to take humans and not the astronauts to the infinities of space. 

Reisman will continue to spend a day at SpaceX every week while spending rest of his time to teach human spaceflight to the students at USC. He shared his memories at California Institute of technology in the 1990s when there were no such opportunities for students to work on a crewed spacecraft.

Now comes nuclear-powered batteries in Space

How long does your phone battery last? A day or two or less than that? Be it the rechargeable battery at your home or office, and no battery can last a hundred years. But this nuclear battery can power a spacecraft for more than a hundred years. Unlike the conventional cells used in autonomous electrical devices, which require chemical reactions to transfer electrons or charged particles, nuclear batteries are a source of continuous and lasting power.

This battery has been designed by Russian researchers, which uses Nicol-63 isotope and diamond diode to create 3,300 milliwatt-hours of power per gram. If the battery could be used for commercial purposes, it will prove to be revolutionary. Nuclear batteries have been invented earlier too. In 1913, Henry Moseley came up with a first version which was later updated in 1953 when beta decay was used to convert the energy into electricity by Paul Rappaport. The semiconducting materials and beta decay paved the path to creating the nuclear-powered cell we are talking about now. 

These cells will not only help in space but on earth too. We have pacemakers to help people live longer but of the battery dies, so does the human. These batteries, however, have not been developed for health products. The replaceable and rechargeable chemical batteries get drained out very quickly. This is a big problem and rules out all the advantages of such cells. 

Betavoltaic cells are better as compared to galvanic cells since their life is much longer. Radioactive isotopes can have experience up to several hundred years. But on other aspects – density, power, etc.- they are inferior to later. 

Vladimir Blank, the team leader and director of the Technological Institute for Superhard and Novel Carbon Materials (TISNCM) is striving hard to improve the cell furthermore, at least up to tenfold. The prototype developed has 200 diamond converters along with nickel-63 and layers of Nickel foil. This would be quite challenging economically too, said MIPT since high-quality diamond substrates are not very cheap and on such a massive level, they can be an enormous barrier. However, the battery is ready for the test, and everyone is waiting to see what is coming next. Everybody is optimistic and wants to perform even better. They are trying to increase the voltage and battery output and enhance the surface area of the converter by increasing the number of nickel-63 atoms per converter. 

 

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What exactly is SpaceX?

Elon Musk’s space company, launching Falcon 9 rockets and aspiring to establish colonies on Mars, is a big name in the space industry, but what is cooking between SpaceX and NASA? 

The company was founded in the year 2002 with the idea of purchasing a Russian rocket and send it to Mars carrying mice and plants. But the meeting at Moscow didn’t go per the plan, and he ended up building missiles for himself.  

Musk wished to reach Mars by 2010, lest he knew it would take him six years to get one rocket into the orbit. Falcon 1 was the first in the row sent to space in 2008 and the one which set the grounds for the launch of a nine-engine version called Falcon 9 in 2010. Falcon 9 is an orbital rocket having two stages which allow it to launch satellites for special projects. It has sent more than 50 satellites including US Air Force’s super-secret space plane. Falcon can not only send payloads into orbit but then come back to earth/sea after the mission. Falcon 9 speaks of the glory of SpaceX, but that’s not all it has to offer.

Dragon craft has been carrying cargo to the International Space Station on a commercial basis and may be used to send humans by 2019. Other than that falcon heavy caught everybody’s attention when it was launched as the most potent rocket constituting of three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together. 

SpaceX has commenced the preparation of an even bigger rocket named BFR (Big Falcon Rocket) to be sent to Mars. This BFR is developed to serve as the ferry for Musk’s Mars Mission.

At the International Aeronautical Congress Meetings, Must shared his plans for sending BFR to Mars- the red planet. His primary interest is not in building infrastructure but offering space transportation. However, SpaceX is not limited to carry loads but to bring the universe to us. They plan to design a massive constellation of broadband satellites (about12,000). This would make the dream of the high-speed internet become a reality for areas where due to lack of physical infrastructure, internet services were either absent or very poor.

SpaceX has eyed upon Mars and is devising plans to send tourists around the moon. Projects like Hyperloop transit and Musk’s next big idea – the Boring Company-which aims are digging out tunnels on the surface of Mars, are all set to become the next revolution. Musk also has plans for regulating space traffic while still on earth.

 

Instead of Space Force create a Space Guard, few argued

A “Space Force” should be developed within the defense department was the topic of debate recently between the White House and Congress. As some believes that it will be more beneficial if an organization is developed which is quite similar to Coast Guard.

On May 27, in a panel discussion, it was suggested by experts and some government officials that it is possible that “Space Guard” can serve as a useful tool for dealing with space security-related issues.

Greg Autry, a professor who has also served on NASA transition said that: We have to identify how we can simply implement compliance along with the laws which we have to pass on on-orbit. A solution to resolve this issue can be space guard model.

In present scenario, there is no single agency or department which is alone managing U.S interests in space. Several efforts which were made recently like SPD-2 can help, but alone it is also not sufficient. Said George Nield, who earlier worked with Federal Aviation Administration. He said most appropriate and feasible solution can be developing Space Guard which is modeled at Coast Guard. The only mission he has is to ensure the good safety of space and also adopt all necessary measure in order to preserve the environment of space.

Nield also mentioned that, this space guard will serve in civilian department and defense department both for peace time and war time respectively. It will be having good existing capabilities as well as new capabilities. This time we have aimed to contribute with a more efficient job. We want to do better than what other agencies and departments are doing at present. Also, we are looking forward to address new responsibilities like rescue, inspection and more, which are not being addressed and handled currently.

Though this idea of creating a Space Guard is not a new thing, it’s just it got attention recently. Prior to this, this matter was not taken seriously, said Michael Laine.  He also added that at present there is no panelist for space security responsibilities. And if Air Force thinks the existing state is okay then they are not right in it as they are not fundamentally sound and well equipped to deal with conditions of the new environment. 

Some changes are mandatory in order to cope up with the new environment.  A new change can be motivating and exciting as well. .” Said George Nield.

 

Astronauts will look for these while aboard

NASA astronauts are working very hard to get the commercial crew program on track. They are leaving no stones unturned to design as well as develop the private spaceships and also the spacesuits and even taking part in the training operations as well. The primary objective of all these activities is to ensure the fact that astronauts who will go to space soon will have all the safety measures to combat any problems. In the year of 2014, NASA selected two of its most trusted contractors to take astronauts to the International Space Station and bring them back. One of them is SpaceX which received an order worth of $ 2.6 billion and the other one being Boeing which won a contract value worth of $ 4.2 billion.

Boeing has decided to test its first uncrewed flight mission in its CST-100 Starliner capsule. SpaceX, on the other hand, is supposed to schedule its first uncrewed mission in its human-rated Dragon Capsule. Both of the test flights are expected to be conducted in the latter part of this year. After that NASA, as well as these companies, have the target to initiate the crewed missions in the year of 2019 or by latest in the year of 2020.

However, currently, a joint inspection team is working to on the different aspects of the crewed missions. The team is also focusing on imparting detailed training to the astronauts in respect of the spaceflights and its different functioning. According to the NASA astronaut, Suni Williams, whenever some critical aspects of the commercial crew program are discussed, the whole team assembles to get an in-depth analysis of the testing parameters so that everyone is aware of the safety precautions during the practical testing issues.

Some of the activities that were done while conducting the training program with Boeing were assessing the human factors, different workloads, different uses and also various issues relating to manual piloting. Similarly, with the SpaceX team, the training programs that were conducted include spacesuit fit, multiple displays and development and at the same time imparting designing briefs.

Both the companies, Boeing and SpaceX, will have to ensure that their safety measurements are as per the rules laid down by NASA. The companies will even get feedback from the astronauts during the uncrewed testing flight missions. This is so because the persons on the ISS will work on the spacecraft both before and after the capsules reach the orbiting position.

Back to the moon – the letter that says it all

Eric W. Stallmer, the President of Commercial Spaceflight Federation, wrote a letter to NASA’s administrator Jim Bridenstine addressing the need of democratizing America’s most significant space enterprise. This letter appeared on 14th of May in the Space News Magazine. Eric congratulated Jim on becoming NASA’s 13th administrator and discussed the minute details he needs to look after to enjoy being in the top hierarchy of the world’s most iconic space research agency. He mentioned that NASA has varied areas of research and as the leader, your partnership has reached the next level. Now to maintain sustainable commercial ecosystem, you should maintain healthy business relations with the U.S. commercial space industry. He assertively stated that now we must emphasize on returning to the moon, as it is the soft target we long forgot. Moon is within our reach and a convenient escape to save earth from the forecasted annihilation. He told Jim about following fundamentals: 

Your team constitutes of the finest scientists across the globe. They are hardworking, passionate and above all professional. Nasa has been rated the best place to work consecutively for six years. You need to be dexterous in your leadership and management while working with them.

The people of America think highly of NASA, and you have to ensure their faith remains the support you need.

The funds will keep flowing as long as the work speaks of its glory and people believe in what you say. For the financial year 2018, you have $20.7 billion, and for 2019, $810 million is inside the vault to be utilized for the development of this magnificent organization.

Eric also narrated the infinite possibilities and exciting future with unique opportunities at NASA. He mentioned that president Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and the National Space Council are huge supporters of NASA and would do everything in their power to accommodate NASA with the best possible facilities. Eric mentioned that the American space industry was increasing and at such a pace, these innovations will be out-competing the world. To make this a routine, Jim needed to involve commercial space companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin to increase the number of reusable orbit launch vehicles that NASA has. 

Eric also wrote that the Space commerce being a new field altogether needed attention. From investors, media or familiar people, from  Starman to Mannequin Skywalker or the latest concepts for space stations; a new generation of young researchers is all set to build and launch experiments under the guidance of experts, and Jim has to prepare them to start space missions. NASA has begun democratization and citizens should soon get the space enterprise they always dreamt of, Eric stated.