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Apollo 11 Astronaut Michael Collins Returns to The Exact Spot where He Flew to Moon 50 Years Ago

Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins returned Tuesday to the exact spot where he flew to the moon 50 years ago

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Apollo 11, Astronaut, Michael Collins
In this July 16, 2019 photo made available by NASA, astronaut Michael Collins, right, speaks to Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana at Launch Complex 39A, about the moments leading up to launch at 9:32 a.m. on July 16, 1969. VOA

Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins returned Tuesday to the exact spot where he flew to the moon 50 years ago with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

Collins had the spotlight to himself this time — Armstrong has been gone for seven years and Aldrin canceled. Collins said he wished his two moonwalking colleagues could have shared the moment at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A, the departure point for humanity’s first moon landing.

“Wonderful feeling to be back,” the 88-year-old command module pilot said on NASA TV. “There’s a difference this time. I want to turn and ask Neil a question and maybe tell Buzz Aldrin something, and of course, I’m here by myself.”

At NASA’s invitation, Collins marked the precise moment — 9:32 a.m. on July 16, 1969 — that the Saturn V rocket blasted off. He was seated at the base of the pad alongside Kennedy’s director, Robert Cabana, a former space shuttle commander.

Apollo 11, Astronaut, Michael Collins
Apollo 11 astronaut Mike Collins makes comments as Rusty Schweickart, Apollo 9 astronaut listens during a news conference, July 16, 2019, in Cocoa Beach, Fla. VOA

Collins recalled the tension surrounding the crew that day.

“Apollo 11 … was serious business. We, crew, felt the weight of the world on our shoulders. We knew that everyone would be looking at us, friend or foe, and we wanted to do the best we possibly could,” he said.

Collins remained in lunar orbit, tending to Columbia, the mother ship, while Armstrong and Aldrin landed in the Eagle on July 20, 1969, and spent two hours walking the gray, dusty lunar surface.

A reunion Tuesday at the Kennedy firing room by past and present launch controllers — and Collins’ return to the pad, now leased to SpaceX  — kicked off a week of celebrations marking each day of Apollo 11’s eight-day voyage.

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In Huntsville, Alabama, where the Saturn V was developed, some 4,900 model rockets lifted off simultaneously, commemorating the moment the Apollo 11 crew blasted off for the moon. More than 1,000 youngsters attending Space Camp counted down … “5, 4, 3, 2, 1!” —  and cheered as the red, white and blue rockets created a gray cloud, at least for a few moments, in the sky.

The U.S. Space and Rocket Center was shooting for an altitude of at least 100 feet (30 meters) in order to set a new Guinness Book of World Records. Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden helped with the mass launching. Also present: all three children of German-born rocket genius Wernher von Braun, who masterminded the Saturn V.

“This was a blast. This was an absolute blast,” said spectator Scott Hayek of Ellicott City, Maryland. “And, you know, what a tribute — and, a visceral tribute — to see the rockets going off.”

Another spectator, Karin Wise, of Jonesboro, Georgia, was 19 during Apollo 11 and recalled being glued to TV coverage.

Apollo 11, Astronaut, Michael Collins
FILE – In this July 30, 1971 NASA photo, Apollo 15 Lunar Module Pilot James B. Irwin salutes while standing beside the fourth American flag planted on the moon. VOA

“So, to bring my grandchildren here for the 50 anniversary, was so special,” she said. “I hope they’re around for the 100th anniversary.”

At the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum in Washington, the spacesuit that Armstrong wore went back on display in mint condition, complete with lunar dust left on the suit’s knees, thighs and elbows. On hand for the unveiling were Vice President Mike Pence, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Armstrong’s older son, Rick. Armstrong died in 2012.

A fundraising campaign took just five days to raise the $500,000 needed for the restoration. It was taken off display 13 years ago because it was deteriorating, said museum curator Cathleen Lewis. It took four years to rehab it.

Calling Armstrong a hero, Pence said “the American people express their gratitude by preserving this symbol of courage.”

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Back at Kennedy, NASA televised original launch video of Apollo 11, timed down to the second. Then Cabana turned his conversation with Collins to NASA’s next moonshot program, Artemis, named after the twin sister of Greek mythology’s Apollo. It seeks to put the first woman and next man on the lunar surface — the moon’s south pole — by 2024. President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to put a man on the moon by the end of 1969 took eight years to achieve.

Collins said he likes the name Artemis and, even more, likes the concept behind Artemis.

“But I don’t want to go back to the moon,” Collins told Cabana. “I want to go direct to Mars. I call it the JFK Mars Express.”

Collins noted that the moon-first crowd has merit to its argument and he pointed out Armstrong himself was among those who believed returning to the moon “would assist us mightily in our attempt to go to Mars.”

Cabana assured Collins, “We believe the faster we get to the moon, the faster we get to Mars as we develop those systems that we need to make that happen.”

About 100 of the original 500 launch controllers and managers on July 16, 1969, reunited in the firing room Tuesday morning. The crowd also included members of NASA’s next moon management team, including Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, launch director for the still-in-development Space Launch System moon rocket. The SLS will surpass the Saturn V, the world’s most powerful rocket to fly to date.

Blackwell-Thompson said she got goosebumps listening to the replay of the Apollo 11 countdown. Hearing Collins’ “personal account of what that was like was absolutely amazing.”

The lone female launch controller for Apollo 11, JoAnn Morgan, enjoyed seeing the much updated- firing room. One thing was notably missing, though: stacks of paper.  “We could have walked to the moon on the paper,” Morgan said.

Collins was reunited later Tuesday with two other Apollo astronauts at an evening gala at Kennedy, including Apollo 16 moonwalker Charlie Duke, who was the capsule communicator in Mission Control for the Apollo 11 moon landing. Only four of the 12 moonwalkers from 1969 through 1972 are still alive: Aldrin, Duke, Apollo 15’s David Scott and Apollo 17’s Harrison Schmitt.

Among the gala attendees: Eight former shuttle astronauts, including Mark Kelly and his wife, former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and “space lover” and aspiring space tourist Vesa Heilala, 52, who traveled from Helsinki to Florida for the anniversary.

“I had to come here because in Finland we don’t have rockets and we don’t have astronauts for 50 years,” said Heilala, who was collecting astronaut autographs on his colorful propeller cap.

Huntsville’s rocket center also had a special anniversary dinner Tuesday night, with some retired Apollo and Skylab astronauts and rocket scientists. Aldrin was set to attend but was traveling Tuesday and likely wouldn’t make it on time, a center official said.

Aldrin, 89, hosted a gala in Southern California last Saturday.

NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs said Aldrin bowed out of the Florida launch pad visit, citing his intense schedule of appearances. Aldrin and Collins may reunite in Washington on Friday or Saturday, the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s moon landing. (VOA)

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Heart Rate Gets Altered in Space But Returns to Normal on Earth

Upon return to Earth, space-flown heart cells show normal structure and morphology

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Heart Rate
Relatively little is known about the role of microgravity in influencing human Heart Rate at the cellular level. Pixabay

Heart Rate gets altered in space but return to normal within 10 days on Earth, say researchers who examined cell-level cardiac function and gene expression in human heart cells cultured aboard the International Space Station (ISS) for 5.5 weeks.

Exposure to microgravity altered the expression of thousands of genes, but largely normal patterns of gene expression reappeared within 10 days after returning to Earth, according to the study published in the journal Stem Cell Reports.

“We’re surprised about how quickly human heart muscle cells are able to adapt to the environment in which they are placed, including microgravity,” said senior study author Joseph C. Wu from Stanford University.

These studies may provide insight into cellular mechanisms that could benefit astronaut health during long-duration spaceflight, or potentially lay the foundation for new insights into improving heart health on Earth.

Past studies have shown that spaceflight induces physiological changes in cardiac function, including reduced heart rate, lowered arterial pressure, and increased cardiac output.

But to date, most cardiovascular microgravity physiology studies have been conducted either in non-human models or at tissue, organ, or systemic levels.

Relatively little is known about the role of microgravity in influencing human cardiac function at the cellular level.

Heart Rate
Heart Rate gets altered in space but return to normal within 10 days on Earth, say researchers who examined cell-level cardiac function and gene expression in human heart cells cultured aboard the International Space Station (ISS) for 5.5 weeks. Pixabay

To address this question, the research team studied human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes (hiPSC-CMs). They generated hiPSC lines from three individuals by reprogramming blood cells, and then differentiated them into heart cells.

Beating heart cells were then sent to the ISS aboard a SpaceX spacecraft as part of a commercial resupply service mission.

Simultaneously, ground control heart cells were cultured on Earth for comparison purposes.

Upon return to Earth, space-flown heart cells showed normal structure and morphology. However, they did adapt by modifying their beating pattern and calcium recycling patterns.

In addition, the researchers performed RNA sequencing of heart cells harvested at 4.5 weeks aboard the ISS, and 10 days after returning to Earth.

These results showed that 2,635 genes were differentially expressed among flight, post-flight, and ground control samples.

Most notably, gene pathways related to mitochondrial function were expressed more in space-flown heart cells.

A comparison of the samples revealed that heart cells adopt a unique gene expression pattern during spaceflight, which reverts to one that is similar to groundside controls upon return to normal gravity, the study noted.

Heart Rate
Past studies have shown that spaceflight induces physiological changes in cardiac function, including reduced Heart Rate, lowered arterial pressure, and increased cardiac output. Pixabay

According to Wu, limitations of the study include its short duration and the use of 2D cell culture.

In future studies, the researchers plan to examine the effects of spaceflight and microgravity using more physiologically relevant hiPSC-derived 3D heart tissues with various cell types, including blood vessel cells.

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“We also plan to test different treatments on the human heart cells to determine if we can prevent some of the changes the heart cells undergo during spaceflight,” Wu said. (IANS)