Biomedicine and Physics Research During Crew Departure Preps Today

ISS — Expedition 59 Mission patch.

June 18, 2019

Biomedicine and physics topped the research schedule aboard the International Space Station today. The Expedition 59 crew also checked out U.S. spacesuits while preparing a Russian crew ship for return to Earth next week.

NASA is preparing for human missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond. The astronauts aboard the orbiting lab are helping scientists keep crews healthy and engineers design safer, more advanced spacecraft.

Image above: NASA astronaut Christina Koch works on the Capillary Structures experiment studying how to manage fluid and gas mixtures for more reliable life support systems in space. Image Credit: NASA.

Astronauts Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques started Tuesday morning collecting blood, urine and body swab samples for the Standard Measures study. They stowed the samples in a science freezer for later analysis to help doctors understand how humans respond to microgravity.

The Genes In Space-6 (GIS-6) experiment had another run today inside Europe’s Columbus laboratory module. Christina Koch of NASA set up the Biomolecule Sequencer to sequence DNA samples during the morning. The DNA research seeks to understand how space radiation mutates DNA and assesses the molecular level repair process.

She and Saint-Jacques also took turns resizing U.S. spacesuits and swapping out components. Mission managers are planning more spacewalks later this year for battery and science hardware maintenance.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credits: ISS-EarthCam / ISS-HD Live/NASA

Flight Engineer Nick Hague spent most of Tuesday running the Capillary Structures study to observe how fluid and gas mixtures behave inside structures designed for microgravity. Today’s operations demonstrated fluid flows with potential applications for advanced life support systems in space.

Commander Oleg Kononenko continues inventorying gear and trash for packing inside the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft. He will complete a 204-day mission with McClain and Saint-Jacques when they parachute to a landing in Kazakhstan on June 24 scheduled for 10:48 p.m. EDT (June 25 8:48 a.m. Kazakh time).

Related links:

Expedition 59:

Standard Measures:

Genes In Space-6 (GIS-6):

Columbus laboratory module:

Biomolecule Sequencer:

Capillary Structures:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.

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Hubble Sets Sights on an Explosive Galaxy

NASA — Hubble Space Telescope patch.

June 18, 2019

When massive stars die at the end of their short lives, they light up the cosmos with bright, explosive bursts of light and material known as supernovae. A supernova event is incredibly energetic and intensely luminous — so much so that it forms what looks like an especially bright new star that slowly fades away over time.

These exploding stars glow so incredibly brightly when they first form that they can be spotted from afar using telescopes such as the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The subject of this image, a spiral galaxy named NGC 4051 — about 45 million light-years from Earth — has hosted multiple supernovae in past years. The first was spotted in 1983 (SN 1983I), the second in 2003 (SN 2003ie), and the most recent in 2010 (SN 2010br). These explosive events were seen scattered throughout the center and spiral arms of NGC 4051.

SN 1983I and SN 2010br were both categorized as Type Ic supernovae. This type of supernova is produced by the core collapse of a massive star that has lost its outer layer of hydrogen and helium, either via winds or by mass transfer to a companion star. Because of this, Type Ic — and also Type Ib — supernovae are sometimes referred to as stripped core-collapse supernovae.

NGC 4501 sits in the southern part of a cluster of galaxies known as the Ursa Major I Cluster. This cluster is especially rich in spirals such as NGC 4051, and is a subset of the larger Virgo Supercluster, which also houses the Milky Way.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

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Text Credits: ESA (European Space Agency)/NASA/Rob Garner/Image, Animation, Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA, D. Crenshaw and O. Fox.

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NASA Reflects on Legacy of LRO as Moon-Orbiting Mission Reaches 10-Year Anniversary

NASA — Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) patch.

June 18, 2019

5:32 p.m. Eastern Time on June 18, 2019, marks 10 years since the launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). Its contributions to the fields of lunar science and exploration are unmatched: it has provided the largest volume of data ever collected by a planetary science mission.

The diverse suite of instruments aboard LRO include a laser altimeter that fires pulses of light about 28 times per second, creating one of the most accurate topographic maps of any celestial body. LRO measured the coldest known temperatures in the solar system at the Moon’s poles. Observations of tectonic features across the lunar surface indicated the Moon’s gradual shrinkage — LRO showed us not a dead but rather a dynamic and intriguing Moon.

10 Years at the Moon

Video above: This video highlights some notable facts and accomplishments of the LRO mission over the past decade, all of which are paving the way forward for reestablishing a human presence on the Moon with the newly-announced Artemis program. Video Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

LRO’s original mission duration was supposed to be one to two years, not 10. “We’ve just submitted our fourth extended mission proposal,” said Noah Petro, project scientist of LRO at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “With the national focus on the Moon as part of NASA’s Moon to Mars strategy, the data from LRO has been instrumental in Artemis planning and the mission will continue to be a major player going forward in finding more landing sites for humans and robotic explorers. The work that we’re doing is meaningful to the science community, to NASA and to the world.”

The Allure of the Moon

In the months leading up to its launch, LRO received submissions of over a million names as part of an initiative to involve the public in NASA’s return to the Moon. The names, encoded on a microchip, launched with LRO. “It gave people a sense of not just belonging but also of being part of a mission,” Petro said.

Why does Earth’s largest satellite have such a widespread impact upon human imaginations? Beyond the invaluable science and data that LRO gave and continues to give to benefit the onward march of scientific advancement, LRO personifies the investigation of all that is utterly extraordinary about the Moon.

As part of NASA’s 60th anniversary celebration last year, the National Symphony Orchestra played Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” at the Kennedy Center in Washington set to projections of digital images of a lunar day. Science visualizer Ernie Wright, also of Goddard, created this breathtaking view of the Moon’s landscape entirely with LRO data.

Image above: Illustration of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

The stunning video produced a palpable reaction among those who were at the live performance. “People came up to me during the intermission and asked if I was the photographer,” Wright said. “They didn’t understand completely what I’d made, but they had an emotional reaction to the visual and the way it was combined with the music.”

Wright has been fascinated by the Moon since he saw, live on television, the first humans to step foot on the Moon with the Apollo 11 mission. His connection to the Moon persevered for decades. “I feel especially lucky to be specifically involved with LRO and with data rendering of the Moon because the lunar landing was my first memory of a major space event,” he said. A return to the Moon could inspire a new generation of people motivated, like Ernie Wright, by their specific lunar connection.

LRO’s Figurative Shortening of the Lunar Distance

LRO is a major source of information about the moon for NASA. “When they want someone to talk about the Moon, they call the LRO team,” Petro said. “LRO’s continuation is a direct result of NASA’s interest in the Moon.”

NASA is obviously not the only entity with an interest in the Moon — yet one particular factor seems to shape humanity’s fascination.

“The Moon is very accessible,” said Molly Wasser, planetary science and LRO digital media lead from Goddard. “Anyone can see it, no matter where you are — from the brightest cities to the most remote communities. It’s a way to introduce children to space since little kids can see it and observe it changing over time. There’s something very romantic about it. Everyone loves the Moon.”

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). Animation Credit: NASA

The rise of social media over the span of LRO’s lifetime further satiates the public desire for lunar information, but images get the most attention. Having collected over a petabyte (one billion megabytes) of data, LRO has millions of photos of stark geological features lit sharply by unfiltered sunlight. “That content gets the most traction,” Wasser said.

The Moon is visible and it is the largest object in Earth’s night sky. “The Moon has that immediacy,” Petro said. “There’s a connection that people can have which puts it at the forefront of our consciousness.” Even if they are unaware of the mission, LRO brings the Moon to humans in detail precise enough to see the sites of previous lunar missions — a feat beyond impossible for the naked eye.

Apollo, LRO and Artemis

The Moon’s scientific value is not to be understated. The history of the solar system’s evolution is almost indelibly pounded into the lunar surface, providing data over billions of years that mirrors Earth’s history. The Moon exists without the protective effects of an atmosphere or the erasure of geological history as rocks cycle through the processes of plate tectonics.

“We use the Moon as a template for understanding how any solid object in the solar system formed, and by extension, solid objects anywhere in the universe,” Petro said. “There’s an important reason why we study the Moon — it’s not only the Moon for the Moon’s sake. It’s an extension of the Earth.”

Observation of the Moon long predates LRO and Apollo. “So many people don’t notice it or think anything of it,” Petro said. “But the Moon is a part of our consciousness.” The Moon, however, isn’t merely ingrained into cultural memory: it is also part of humanity’s future.

NASA recently announced its commitment to return to the Moon by 2024 with the Artemis program. Named for the mythological Greek Moon goddess and twin of Apollo, Artemis carries humanity back to our largest satellite — this time, for good — before we launch to Mars and to the unexplored beyond.

Related links:

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO):



Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Karl Hille/Goddard Space Flight Center, by Tamsyn Brann.

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