Before the latest extravehicular mission to change batteries in the International Space Station on March 29, NASA was faced with a dilemma: they don’t have enough medium-sized spacesuits that would allow the historic first all-female spacewalk.
But the United States space agency isn’t going to make a new spacesuit in the near future. According to reports, NASA isn’t planning on changing the current ISS spacesuit configuration, a decision that drew major flaks from different relevant parties.
In a news conference held yesterday, April 2, to discuss the agency’s plans for another spacewalk scheduled on April 8, NASA confirmed that the number of medium-sized spacesuits would remain the same and the possibility of an all-female spacewalk would not happen by then. The spacewalk on April 8 will be the third of the most recent out of ISS excursions by astronauts from NASA.
That spacewalk will be conducted by NASA astronaut Anne McClain and Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques after crew assignment changes suggested by McClain after her first spacewalk on March 22.
The new crew assignment follows McClains suggestion that she is much more comfortable wearing a medium-sized torso rather than a large-sized one.
“After consulting with McClain and Hague following the first spacewalk, mission managers decided to adjust the assignments, due in part to spacesuit availability on the station,” NASA said in a statement signaling that the all-female spacewalk will happen some other time.
Stephanie Schierholz, a spokeswoman for NASA, said in an interview on Monday that there were already two medium-size hard upper torsos — “essentially the shirt of the spacesuit,” according to NASA — at the space station.
The problem stems from the fact that there is no available medium-sized space suit. It would take hours of crew labor — not to mention some additional risk — to fix that in time for Friday. Ms. McClain had thought she would be able to work in a large-size torso, but after her spacewalk last Friday, she wore a medium-size body and learned that it fit her better. The solution of NASA is to adjust the assignments and switch out the astronauts.
“I think a large part of that is reflected in the complement of the crew that we have on board and what their requirements are,” Kenny Todd, NASA’s manager for operations and integration of the space station, said during the news conference. “At some point in the future, if we deem that based on the crew complement it’s better to have things sized differently, then we’ll certainly try to do that from a strategic standpoint.”
The decision of NASA to cancel the would-be historical moment has earned flurry of outrage because of the missed opportunity to do a historical moment. Lawmakers slammed NASA chief Jim Bridenstine on the issue in separate hearings in recent days. Former senator and women’s rights advocate Hillary Clinton offered NASA sound advice: “Make another suit.”
Amid the controversy, NASA assured that both female astronauts would be able to do the spacewalk together in the future.
“When you have the option of just switching the people, the mission becomes more important than a cool milestone,” Ms. Schierholz said.
And they are right. They cannot risk one of their astronauts to pull off a “historic moment.”
In a briefing at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston last month, Ms. Lawrence, Ms. Kagey and Kenneth Todd, the station’s operations integration manager, said that officials did not immediately realize the significance of Friday’s ‘extravehicular activity (EVA)’ line up and what would it mean to women around the world.
It was only later when they discussed the details of the mission that they realized that it would have been the first scheduled spacewalk done by an all-women crew.
Ms. Schierholz said that while there is still no concrete plan for an all-female spacewalk in the future, she expressed its high likelihood because NASA astronauts have been diversifying in terms of gender.
“We’re sort of getting to the point of inevitability,” Ms. Schierholz said of an all-female EVA.
Nevertheless, the team behind the International Space Station mission will be supported by a team on the ground that includes some women in critical positions. Mary Lawrence is the flight director, and its lead officer is Jackie Kagey.
Artemis Mission To Send First American Woman To The Moon
On Apollo 11’s 50th anniversary, NASA announces that they will be sending the first woman to the moon in their upcoming come back to space in 2024. And like every historic event, it needs a name which NASA coined as Artemis.
Coincidentally, Apollo has a twin named Artemis and, more appropriately, she’s known as the Goddess of the Moon, among others according to Greek Mythology. So sending a female astronaut in this mission to the moon is a no-brainer at best.
“It turns out that Apollo had a twin sister, Artemis. She happens to be the goddess of the Moon. Our astronaut office is very diverse and highly qualified. I think it is very beautiful that 50 years after Apollo, the Artemis program will carry the next man — and the first woman — to the Moon,” said Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator.
Artemis, the feminine name, is a refreshing change in space exploration since all the names related to which are filled by men throughout history. Although the first moon landing was highly contributed by women, it’s high time that they get the attention and recognition of making NASA’s return all about the woman instead of the man.
Bridenstine notes that NASA’s Artemis mission is for the future generations and said that “I have an 11-year-old daughter, and I want her to be able to see herself in the same way that our current very diverse astronaut corps sees itself.”
“If we look at the history of Moon landings, it was tested pilots from the 1960s and 1970s, fighter pilots, and there were no opportunities for women back then. This program is going to enable a new generation of young girls like my daughter to see themselves in a way that maybe they wouldn’t otherwise see themselves,” he said at a Q&A after the announcement.
Moreover, according to The Verge, when asked about who gets to first step on the moon and if it gets to be a women, Bridenstine says that “the direction that we have right now is that the next man and the first woman will be Americans and that we will land on the south pole of the Moon in 2024. Beyond that we’ve not made any specific decisions, but I will tell you it’s something that we’re all interested in, and I think there’s a lot of young ladies all across the country, and in fact all around the world, that are wondering who that first woman is going to be.”
The announcement follows after the Artemis mission finally confirmed that the project has official funding from the government at $1.6 billion. However, both the administration and critics know that it would not be enough. That’s where partner commercial companies come in and pitch in a few favors to get that woman on the moon.
On the other hand, according to Bridenstine, there will be an estimate of about 11 launches for the entirety of the mission but most likely, women, more particularly, people won’t be able to lift off to space until the 10th when Artemis 2 will be able to fly a crewed launch that is set to orbit the moon.
Furthermore, Artemis 3 that is set to take the crew on the actual moon will first need the orbiting platform, Gateway developed and a lander to give astronauts the power and thrust to descend and ascend the moon.
The favors commercial companies will be giving to NASA will be in terms of deployment of materials to space and more importantly, developing the design and hardware for the Gateway and the lander.
As of the moment, there are eleven aerospace companies that will share more than $45 million in funds from NASA to design and test prototypes for the Artemis Moon missions. These companies include established names like Space X, Blue Origin, and Boeing among others.
“We’re keen to collect early industry feedback about our human landing system requirements, and the undefinitized contract action will help us do that,” Greg Chavers in a NASA press release. “This new approach doesn’t prescribe a specific design or number of elements for the human landing system. NASA needs the system to get our astronauts on the surface and return them home safely, and we’re leaving a lot of the specifics to our commercial partners.”
Here’s the full list of companies NASA granted to take on the responsibility:
- Aerojet Rocketdyne – Canoga Park, California
- One transfer vehicle study
- Blue Origin – Kent, Washington
- One descent element study, one transfer vehicle study, and one transfer vehicle prototype
- Boeing – Houston
- One descent element study, two descent element prototypes, one transfer vehicle study, one transfer vehicle prototype, one refueling element study, and one refueling element prototype
- Dynetics – Huntsville, Alabama
- One descent element study and five descent element prototypes
- Lockheed Martin – Littleton, Colorado
- One descent element study, four descent element prototypes, one transfer vehicle study, and one refueling element study
- Masten Space Systems – Mojave, California
- One descent element prototype
- Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems – Dulles, Virginia
- One descent element study, four descent element prototypes, one refueling element study, and one refueling element prototype
- OrbitBeyond – Edison, New Jersey
- Two refueling element prototypes
- Sierra Nevada Corporation, Louisville, Colorado and Madison, Wisconsin
- One descent element study, one descent element prototype, one transfer vehicle study, one transfer vehicle prototype, and one refueling element study
- SpaceX – Hawthorne, California
- One descent element study
- SSL – Palo Alto, California
- One refueling element study and one refueling element prototype
NASA: We Are Going To The Moon And Beyond
It has been 50 years since NASA has deployed its spacecraft from the American soil out to the moon’s surface due to costly effects of space exploration and shaky political decisions. But NASA announced this week that it has received its nod of approval from the Trump administration and will go full throttle to the moon up to its awaited launch in 2024.
“Our greatest achievements remain ahead of us. And as the chief appropriator for NASA, I will work with the President of the United States, the Vice President and Jim Bridenstine, to make certain NASA has the resources to land the first woman on the Moon and build lasting infrastructure to support missions to Mars and beyond,” Senator Jerry Moran, chairman of the CJS Appropriations Committee in the Senate — that’s the key committee that funds NASA said in a tweet.
Moreover, President Donald Trump also said in Tweet that it is willing to allocate a $1.6 billion budget on NASA’s mission back to Mars in a “BIG WAY.”
However, critics have expressed that with all the plans that NASA has announced so far, $1.6 billion might not be so big after all. Some claim that they need at least $8 billion to proceed.
In an exclusive interview with Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s current administrator, he stated that “[NASA] already [has] SLS, Orion, and the European Service Module well underway. Those are three of the biggest components to getting humans to the Moon, and we’re on the brink of being ready with those programs. When we talk about what we need, we’ve got to get the Gateway developed, and we need to get the landing systems developed.”
Moreover, he goes to explain that commercial partners will also be helping behind NASA’s ambitious mission of space exploration. Enthusiastic in a sense that they’re not only planning to land in the moon but also go farther into space like Mars and beyond.
Just this year, a commercial company, Space X has successfully launched and landed an American-made and from American soil spacecraft named Dragon to the ISS for the first time since the NASA space shuttles retired.
In retrospect, commercial companies are helping pave the way for NASA to accomplish its mission of returning to space; alongside recent innovations in space travel developed through the years.
The 2024 mission, coined Artemis, will potentially have up to 11 launches that include hardware deployment, testing, and actual human launches in the next five years. Commercial companies will also be playing a large part in doing the deployment and testing of NASA’s hardware and plans.
Primarily, NASA has SLS or the Space Launch System well underway. The SLS is an American space shuttle intended to thrust rockets into space from Americal soil. According to NASA, SLS is set to be the most powerful rocket in existence with a total thrust greater than that of Saturn V.
SLS follows the cancellation of the Constellation Program and is to replace the retired Space Shuttle. The Constellation Program, which included Ares I, for heavy cargo deployment, and Ares V, for crew launches. SLS brings both concepts into one rocket that would carry both payload and crew in a single launch.
Secondly, the SLS will also be carrying a brand new crew capsule called Orion that will be equipped with the European Service Module and will shelter the crew as they lift off from the Earth until the moon’s orbit. Orion is reported to be also well into development.
Based on NASA’s plans, Orion will be able to dock in an orbiting platform called Gateway. It will function as a resting point or a transition platform for NASA crew as they descend into the moon through another lander. Both Gateway and Orion are still set to be developed by partner commercial companies as the mission proceeds in the coming years.
On the topic of Gateway, the orbiting platform which will likely resemble the ISS but rather than orbiting the Earth it will be specifically set to orbit the moon where future landers will be stored to give astronauts the power and thrust needed to descend and ascend the moon. Moreover, it can also be used as a resting point when NASA decides to push farther into deeper space like Mars.
There are a lot of things to look forward as NASA thrusts into space in the next five years but there are also a lot of questions that await answers as we have yet to see how plans turn into eventualities but one thing’s for sure: they are all going to be exciting as how all of this could impact human society.
Space X Launches First 60 Starlink Satellites Tonight
Elon Musk’s ambitious project of providing global Internet is launching off tonight. If weather conditions permit, Space X will launch Falcon 9 to orbit at 7:30 PM PT and 10:30 PM ET over Cape Canaveral, Florida. You can watch along via Space X’s live stream.
The launch was first scheduled to take off Wednesday night, but due to the rough winds in the upper atmosphere, the lift-off was delayed for one day, according to the SpaceX webcast host.
Space X’s Falcon 9 will be carrying the first 60 Starlink satellites that will compose the Starlink constellation which will beam the Internet from space to all the regions of the Earth.
However, 60 satellites wouldn’t be enough to make the idea of global internet an acceptable reality. According to Musk, they will launch a total of 11,940 Starlink satellites in low Earth orbit between now and the mid-2020s as part of Space X’s demonstration of the technology.
To put it into perspective, SpaceX will need “6 more launches of 60” satellites per launch to get “minor coverage” for the internet network, and a dozen launches, or 720 satellites, are needed “for moderate” coverage.” So we could expect about a dozen more launches from now until next year from Space X.
The problem that Space X is facing about their satellite delivery is more on the satellite’s mass rather than its weight. Each Starlink satellite weighs about 500 lbs each adding up to around 30,000 lbs of payload. The Falcon 9 can carry upwards 50,000 lbs but the current design prevents Space X from lugging more satellites at a time.
The satellite design has a “flat-panel design featuring multiple high-throughput antennas and a single solar array,” Musk says. In a tweet by Musk, we can see in the photos attached that the satellites are put in a “tight fit.”
However, the hurdle that the Starlink project needs to overcome is whether or not the production design they have developed for the satellites would show promise as it would greatly affect how Space X will move forward.
Primarily, Musk still needs to see if the deployment mechanisms of their solar panels will work effectively. As a precaution, they have two different sets of deployment mechanisms ready. Moreover, from the previous tests (Tintin a and Tintin B), they also made changes with the thrusters as well as phased array antennas that will await results as they get fully tested in space.
On the other hand, the satellites will also be deployed at a much lower orbit than what the team had expected. Even much lower than their test demonstrations back in February 2018.
Musk himself said in a tweet that a lot could go wrong in the first leg of this technology. There are a lot of things to consider and making tech intended for space is not an affordable venture. Other than, making sure that their satellites will work, they also have to keep investors happy with results. He also said during a teleconference “This is very hard. There is a lot of new technology, so it’s possible that some of these satellites may not work. There’s a small possibility that all of these satellites will not work.”
You can watch the livestream 15 minutes before liftoff here:
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