The first step on Mars planned for 2039

Astronaut — From the Moon to Mars and Beyond logo.

May 18, 2019

On December 11, 2017, US President Donald Trump signed a directive ordering NASA to prepare the return of astronauts to the moon, «followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations.»

The date fixed by NASA is 2024 for the Moon and 2033 for March, but among the experts and industrialists of the American space sector, the date of 2033 seems highly unlikely, unless a national effort Herculean, the magnitude of Apollo program in the 1960s.

This week, NASA boss Jim Bridenstine said: «The Moon is our test bed for our future mission to Mars at the seventh» People on Mars «conference in Washington. That’s why we go to the moon. «

Moon to Mars

Two days later, during a session at the same site devoted to surface operations on Mars, the head of the laboratory developing future space dwellings at Houston’s legendary Johnson Center explained that the problem was not technological.

«A lot of people want us to have an Apollo moment, a president get up like Kennedy and take the whole country behind him,» said Robert Howard. «With this impulse, we could go there in 2027. But I do not believe it. With our current approach, we will be lucky if we get there before 2037 «. «And if I was really pessimistic (…) I would say the 2060s,» he said.

Isolated humans

Everything remains to design, build, test and retest, rockets to vehicles through the method to grow salads.

The one-way trip will take six months at least, as opposed to three days for the moon. The whole mission could last two years, because Mars does not get close to the Earth until every 26 months: you have to sit on these windows.

It will be necessary to design protections for astronauts against solar and cosmic radiation for such a long time, said Julie Robinson, Chief Scientist for the International Space Station (ISS).

«A second problem is the feeding system,» she said. The concepts proposed so far «are not small enough to go to Mars». Not to mention the possibility of a medical emergency: the astronauts will have to learn how to manage any accident themselves, because the rescue will be too far away.

«One big topic is space suits,» said Jennifer Heldmann of NASA’s Ames Research Center. She recalls that the Apollo astronauts had complained a lot of gloves, too inflated and exhausting any manipulation.

New NASA Position to Focus on Moon’s Exploration, Mars and Worlds Beyond

In Houston, NASA is developing a new combination, the first in 40 years, called xEMU, but it will only be tested in the ISS in a few years. And Mars is not the moon. Dust will be a big problem. Apollo’s astronauts returned covered with lunar dust in their module. Blocking it will be crucial for those who will spend months or a year on the red planet.

The techniques of exploiting the resources of the Martian soil to extract the water, the oxygen and the fuels necessary for the humans do not exist yet — it should be tested on the Moon by the end of this decade.

Finally, there is the most fundamental question: how will some humans psychologically bear being confined and isolated for two years?

It will not be possible to communicate in real time with «mission control» in Houston: radio communications will take between 4 and 24 minutes between the two planets, one way. NASA is planning delayed communication exercises in the coming years in the ISS.

Artificial intelligence will also need to be developed to help and guide astronauts without ground intervention. One researcher studied in detail the feasibility of Mars landing in 2033, in a report for NASA in February. She declared the goal «unfeasible».

«It’s not just a budget issue,» said expert Bhavya Lal of the Science & Technology Policy Institute this week. «It’s a question of organizational capacity: how much can NASA do at the same time?» The most realistic date, according to her, is 2039.

Related article:

Sending American Astronauts to Moon in 2024: NASA Challenge Accepts

Related links:

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA):

Space Policy Directive-1:

Moon to Mars:

Images, Text, Credits: AFP/NASA/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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50 Years Ago: Apollo 10 to Sort Out the Unknowns

NASA — Apollo 10 Mission patch.

May 17, 2019

As Commander Thomas P. Stafford stated during a preflight press conference, Apollo 10 was planned to “sort out all the unknowns” to make the Moon landing possible. Stafford, Command Module Pilot (CMP) John W. Young, and Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Eugene A. Cernan, were strapped into their Command Module (CM) perched atop a Saturn V rocket and lifted off precisely on time at 12:49 PM EDT on May 18, 1969. Their launch was the first from Pad B at Kennedy Space Center’s (KSC) Launch Complex 39. Their mission was a dress rehearsal for the lunar landing mission, a goal President John F. Kennedy set for the nation eight years earlier. Among the spectators on hand to observe the historic launch were Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, and King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola of Belgium.

Images above: Up: Apollo 10 crew of (left to right) Cernan, Young, and Stafford pose in front of their Saturn V rocket at Launch Pad 39B. Middle: Apollo 10 crew patch. Down: Launch of Apollo 10. Images Credit: NASA.

Three and a half miles away, in the Launch Control Center’s Firing Room 3, controllers had monitored the countdown and the first few seconds of the liftoff. As the rocket cleared the launch tower, Mission Control at the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC), now the Johnson Space Center in Houston, took over monitoring the flight. There, three teams of controllers working in eight-hour shifts watched over all aspects of the mission until splashdown. Flight Directors Glynn S. Lunney and Gerald D. Griffin led the first shift, Milton L. Windler the second, and M.P. “Pete” Frank the third. The capsule communicator, or Capcom, the astronaut in Mission Control who spoke directly with the crew, during the launch was Charles M. Duke. The other Capcoms during the mission were Joe H. Engle, Jack R. Lousma, and Bruce McCandless. Apollo 10 backup CMP Donn F. Eisele and backup LMP Edgar D. Mitchell also briefly took over Capcom duties during the mission.

Images above: Up: Apollo 10 astronauts (front to back) Stafford, Young, and Cernan preparing to leave the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building on their way to the launch pad. Down Mission Control in Houston during the first day of the Apollo 10 mission: seated in foreground left to right are Flight Directors Lunney and Griffin. Images Credit: NASA.

The three stages of the Saturn V placed the Apollo 10 spacecraft, at 98,273 pounds the heaviest ever launched, into a temporary parking orbit around the Earth, still attached to its S-IVB third stage. Two and a half hours later, after the ground and crew verified that all systems aboard the spacecraft were functioning normally, Duke called up, “10, you’re go for TLI,” the Trans-Lunar Injection. The S-IVB fired for 5 minutes and 43 seconds, adding more than 7,000 miles per hour to the spacecraft’s velocity, enough to send Apollo 10 toward the Moon. The engine burn was so precise that it exceeded the expected velocity increase by a mere 0.4 mile per hour! With such a precise flight path, only one of the planned four midcourse corrections were needed.

Images above: Up: The crew broadcast live color television images of Snoopy during the Transposition and Docking Maneuver. Down: View of the Earth during a live color TV broadcast. Images Credit: NASA.

To facilitate communications when the two spacecraft were flying independently, the crew designated their CM Charlie Brown and the Lunar Module (LM) Snoopy, after characters in the Peanuts© comic strip by Charles M. Schulz. Thirty minutes after the TLI burn, the crew separated Charlie Brown from the S-IVB, with Snoopy still snuggled atop the third stage. Young guided Charlie Brown about 150 feet away, turned the spacecraft around, then flew it to dock with Snoopy, completing the transposition and docking maneuver. Viewers received the first color TV images from space, of the S-IVB and Snoopy as Young brought Charlie Brown in for the docking. Duke exclaimed, “It’s looking great!  The resolution is fantastic!” This first color TV transmission lasted 22 minutes, and resumed about 30 minutes later as springs ejected Snoopy, firmly docked with Charlie Brown, from the S-IVB, with Stafford exclaiming, “Snoopy’s coming out of the doghouse.” By this time, Apollo 10 was more than 13,000 miles away from Earth, but its velocity was decreasing as the home planet’s gravity inexorably tugged at the spacecraft.

Images above: Color television views of (Up to Down) Stafford, Cernan, and Young, during one of the broadcasts on the first mission day. Images Credits: NASA/Apollo 10 Crew.

Less than an hour after separating from the S-IVB, Apollo 10 fired its Service Propulsion System (SPS) engine for about three seconds to separate from the spent rocket stage. The S-IVB fired its remaining fuel to send it past the Moon three days later and on into solar orbit. The crew then treated television viewers to another color broadcast by showing them the home planet from about 25,000 miles away. The broadcast ended after about 13 minutes as the crew settled down for some housekeeping. And before their first sleep period in space, the crew treated viewers on the ground with another 24-minute TV transmission, first of the home planet and then some views of themselves in the cabin. Capcom McCandless commented, “It’s really great. The colors are fantastic.” After the transmission they finally took off the spacesuits they had been wearing since several hours before launch. After eating dinner, the next task for them was to place their spacecraft in the Passive Thermal Control (PTC) attitude, during which it rotated slowly about its longitudinal axis to even out the extreme temperatures in space, making three rotations every hour. For this reason, the attitude is often referred to as barbecue mode.

Images above: Up: View of Mission Control during one of the TV broadcasts from Apollo 10. Middle: Capcoms (left to right) Duke, McCandless, and Engle conferring during the mission. Down: Barbara Cernan (right) in the Mission Control viewing room, accompanied by Flight Director Lunney. Images Credit: NASA.

For the next two days, the mission continued relatively event free. The crew conducted six more TV broadcasts showing the ground views of the ever-shrinking Earth and more interior shots of the crew. By some estimates, more than a billion people watched at least some of the Apollo 10 broadcasts. The crew completed the only mid-course correction needed, a seven-second firing of the SPS engine that adjusted the trajectory for the proper altitude above the Moon for the Lunar Orbit Insertion (LOI) burn. Along the way, the astronauts were able to sight the discarded S-IVB stage, about 4,000 miles away, travelling in a roughly parallel path that took it past the Moon and into solar orbit. About 62 hours after launch, they crossed into the Moon’s gravitational sphere of influence and their speed began to increase. At 72 hours 55 minutes and still about 9,000 miles from the Moon, Apollo 10 passed into the darkness of the lunar shadow. The only external light came from Earthshine, sunlight reflected from the Earth, and bright enough to illuminate their LM Snoopy. Less than three hours later, Apollo 10 passed behind the Moon and communications with Earth was cut off. The LOI burn, the firing of the SPS engine to put Apollo 10 into lunar orbit, would take place seven minutes later but behind the Moon, and only the three astronauts would know if the burn was successful until the spacecraft reappeared and communications with Earth was reestablished.

Related links:

Apollo 10:

NASA History:

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JSC/John Uri.

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Multitude of Space Biology Research as Crew Looks to Next Spacewalk

ISS — Expedition 59 Mission patch.

May 17, 2019

Four Expedition 59 astronauts spent Friday investigating a multitude of space biology phenomena while two cosmonauts continued preparing for an upcoming spacewalk. International Space Station hardware is also ready for return to Earth inside the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship.

The crew is exploring how space impacts a variety of microscopic physiological processes today to get humans ready to go to the Moon in 2024. DNA, pathogens and microalgae as well as their benefits and risks to astronauts are just some of the microbiological systems scientists are studying in space.

Image above: The Canadarm2 robotic arm with its robotic hand, also known as Dextre, attached for fine-tuned robotics work extends across the frame as the International Space Station orbited 256 miles above the Atlantic Ocean. The SpaceX Dragon resupply ship is pictured at right berthed to the Harmony module. Image Credit: NASA.

The Bio-Analyzer is a new device from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) being tested aboard the space station for its ability to process and analyze biological samples quickly. CSA astronaut David Saint-Jacques added his blood samples to the biomedical device today so doctors could check his biomarkers from the ground.

NASA astronaut Christina Koch studied a pair of yeast strains today using the miniPCR hardware for the Genes In Space-6 study. The experiment is exploring how space radiation damages DNA and how the cell repair mechanism works in microgravity. Koch later tended to plants grown inside the Veggie PONDS botany facility.

More research into why pathogens become more virulent in space continued today as Flight Engineer Nick Hague processed culture samples for the microbiology study. Hague also checked on microalgae sample packs that may serve as a dietary supplement for future astronauts.

Image above: The Gulf and eastern coasts of the United States feature prominently in this well-lit nighttime view of North America. Image Credit: NASA.

Hague also configured a variety of space biology hardware, both large and small, ensuring critical research operations continue successfully on the orbital lab. He first worked on a pair of refrigerator-sized Human Research Facility racks before checking out the shoebox-sized TangoLab-1 facility that enables a variety of tissue, cell and botany investigations.

Anne McClain of NASA turned her attention Friday to old hardware disconnected during a spacewalk earlier this year. She will retrieve a failed Battery Charge Discharge Unit (BCDU) resting outside the Kibo laboratory module’s airlock and bring it inside the station. The Canadarm2’s robotic hand, known as Dextre, removed the BCDU early Thursday from a truss structure logistics carrier and placed it outside Kibo. The BCDU will be packed aboard the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft for analysis after it returns to Earth June 3.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

Two cosmonauts are getting ready for the fourth station spacewalk this year scheduled to take place May 29. Commander Oleg Kononenko and Flight Engineer Alexey Ovchinin tagged up with Russian spacewalk specialists on the ground today for assistance setting up their Orlan spacesuits. The duo will remove experiments, sample station surfaces and jettison obsolete hardware during their six-hour excursion.

Related links:

Expedition 59:

SpaceX Dragon:


Genes In Space-6:

Veggie PONDS:


Human Research Facility:


Kibo laboratory module:


Moon and beyond:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

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

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