Friday, March 27, 2015

Soyuz TMA-16M launches Scott Kelly to space station

TMA-16M launches! - Credit: NASA
And it begins. Scott Kelly, Mikhail Korniyenko and Gennady Padalka are on their way to the International Space Station. Launch was at 2:42 p.m. CDT, but it was 1:42 a.m. in Kazakhstan. 

The night sky was clear with the only light, besides the stars, was coming from the launchpad lights. As soon as the rocket engines ignited, night was no more. The Soyuz rocket began to rise, and soon, it was well on its way to orbit.

The crew is on a "fast track" to the station and will arrive in about six hours after four orbits, as opposed to a two day trek to the station.

How exactly does the Soyuz get to the station? The YouTube channel SmarterEveryday did a great interview with Scott Kelly, and Reid Wiseman to find out exactly that. You can watch the video below.

Docking is scheduled for 8:36 p.m. CDT tonight. They will dock to the space facing Poisk module.

Over the course of the yearlong mission, two major anniversaries will pass. The first is the 40th anniversary of the Apollo-Soyuz test project, the first joint mission between American and Russia (then the USSR). The second is the 15th anniversary of continuous crew operations at ISS.

To follow the research being done on ISS while Kelly is on orbit visit

To see what Kelly is tweeting, follow @stationCDRKelly.

Launch today, kelly patch history

Kelly, left, Padalka, middle, and Korniyenko looking
at their launch vehicle. - Credit: NASA
Today is the day! Scott Kelly and Mikhail Korniyenko will be launching to space for one year. Actually, to be more precise, it will be 342 days. Watch on NASA TV (coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. CDT) or follow #YearInSpace on twitter to keep up to date. 

The launch is scheduled at 2:42 p.m. with docking at the International Space Station scheduled for 8:36 p.m.

In the hours before the launch of Kelly, Korniyenko and Gennady Padalka on Soyuz TMA-16M, it might be worth to note that Kelly is the NASA astronaut with the most patches with his name on it for a mission. 

Kelly with his one year patch.
- Credit: NASA
In fact, in a story by Robert Pearlman of CollectSpace, Pearlman writes about a particular name patch that was supposed to launch to orbit back in late October 2014 aboard the Cygnus cargo capsule. The rocket carrying it exploded seconds after liftoff.

Apparently those patches survived unscathed, and Kelly will be taking them on his launch today as a memento of good luck.

Kelly has a number of other patches associated with him. In total, he has 11 patches with his name on it. This doesn't include honorary patches and patches that had to be changed. The person with the most space mission patches is Gennady Padalka, with 13 patches.

Read the CollectSpace article here.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Kelly launches soon, SpaceX too

Kelly and Korniyenko's one year mission patch.
- Credit: NASA
It is T minus 5 days till Scott Kelly, along with Mikhail Korniyenko and Gennady Padalka launch to the ISS. Kelly and Korniyenko will be staying aboard for a whole year before returning to earth in March of 2016.

Liftoff is scheduled for 27 March 2015 at 2:42 p.m. CDT in Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan aboard Soyuz TMA-16M. 

Kelly has been tweeting regularly about his preparations to launch, and he plans to continue tweeting regularly in space, something that has become common of most American astronauts.

"I'm thinking this is about to get real. #YearInSpace"
- Credit: @StationCDRKelly
The 51 year old Kelly has spent more than 180 days in space to date on two space shuttle missions and aboard the ISS on the expedition 25/26 crew increment. 

On this mission, NASA has the opportunity to compare how his body reacts to being in space for a year with his identical twin brother, Mark, who will stay on Earth.

Mark was also an astronaut and spent over 54 days in space on four shuttle missions. He is currently retired. 

The purpose of the year long mission is to better understand how the human body reacts to longer missions, such as a mission to mars, which will be on the order of 30 or more months long. One of the main focuses will be on the human eye. It has been found that microgravity effects astronauts' vision. It is believed to be caused by the swelling of tissue at the back of the eye due to fluid flow. This distorts the eye's shape. It can cause near sightedness and farsightedness.

A photo of a CRS-3 at the launch pad in April 2014.
- Credit: NASA
Two weeks after Kelly and crew launch to the station, SpaceX will be in the spotlight launching its next Dragon capsule to ISS.

SpX-6 or CRS-6 will launch on April 10 at 4:42 p.m. CDT. This comes after a delay with another Falcon 9 rocket that was to launch a European-built communications satellite for the government of Turkmenistan. SpaceX decided to flip the order of launches as to keep the flow going, and not cause large delays with the overall manifest.

This Falcon 9 rocket will have landing legs affixed to it's first stage and will attempt to land on the company's Automated Spaceport Drone Ship known as "Just Read The Instructions."

If the landing is successful, it will be the first time SpaceX has recovered a booster stage, and the first time a flown orbital class rocket has landed on an ocean going platform.

SpaceX intends to use the first recovered stage as a test article in New Mexico to determine hardware limits, such as how many times the stage can be reused.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Station trio comes home

TMA-14M above fog before landing. Credit: NASA
Three people fell back to earth on March 11, 2015 in their Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft after spending 167 days in space.

NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore, and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Yelena Serova undocked their Soyuz from the International Space Station earlier that day 

Yelena Serova was only the fourth Russian woman to fly in space.

Berry "Butch" Wilmore participated in three spacewalks to help prepare the space station for future commercial crew vehicles, as well as other various maintenance.

Their mission into space started off with a little concern, as one of the two solar panels of the Soyuz did not deploy. But upon docking, enough vibration caused the panel to shake open.

During landing procedures, there was a longer than normal communications blackout, which caused some to be concerned, but communications was eventually reestablished. 

Landing occurred in the southeast of Dzhezkazgan, but touchdown took extra time to confirm because of a low cloud deck with heavy fog.

The next crew to go to the station will launch abourd Soyuz TMA-16M on March 27, 2015 at 2:42 p.m. CDT. That crew will include Gannady Padalka on his fifth flight to space, as well as two crew members that will stay on ISS for a whole year.

Scott Kelly and Mikhail Korniyenkio, on their fourth and second flights respectively, will stay in space till March 2016.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Three spacewalks in eight days

Credit: NASA
Two astronauts conducted three spacewalks in eight days to prepare the outpost for module relocations and future commercial vehicles.

On Feb. 21, 2015, Barry Wilmore and Terry Virts put on space suits and left the Quest airlock for the first Extravehicular Activity of Expedition 42. Their goal was to reroute power and data cables from the stations forward docking port called Pressurized Mating Adapter Two. PMA-2 was the docking port that hosted the space shuttles during most of the construction period of the space station and hasn't been used since the space shuttle Atlantis undocked in July of 2011.

These cable reroutes are part of a bigger plan to add an International Docking Adapter to both PMA-2, and PMA-3. Later this year, astronauts will relocate the Leonardo Permanent Logistics Module. The PMM will be moved from its current location, below the Unity node, to the forward port of the Tranquility node. Additionally, PMA-3, currently at the port side of Tranquility, will be moved to the Nadir, or top part of Harmony.