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Sunita Williams among four selected for commercial flights to ISS

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Sunita Williams

Washington: Indian American Sunita Williams is among four astronauts who have been selected by NASA for commercial flights to the International Space Station (ISS) from US soil.

They will work closely with company-led teams to understand their designs and operations as they finalise their Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and operational strategies.

Williams, Robert Behnken, Eric Boe and Douglas Hurley will be trained for commercial spaceflights that will return American launches to US soil and further open up low-Earth orbit transportation to the private sector, the US space agency said.

“These distinguished, veteran astronauts are blazing a new trail — that will one day land them in the history books and Americans on the surface of Mars,” said NASA administrator Charles Bolden.

Williams, a US Navy captain, received her commission in the Navy in May 1987 and became a helicopter pilot, logging more than 3,000 flight hours in more than 30 different aircraft.

NASA chose Williams for the astronaut programme in 1998. She spent a total of 322 days in space and currently holds the record for total cumulative spacewalk time by a female astronaut (50 hours and 40 minutes).

She now ranks sixth on the all-time US endurance list and second all-time for a female astronaut.

“Their selection allows NASA to move forward with the training necessary to deliver on President Barack Obama’s ambitious plan for returning the launch of the US astronauts to US soil,” said John Holdren, assistant to the President for science and technology.

“This is a new and exciting era in the history of US human spaceflight,” said Brian Kelly, director of flight operations at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts with Boeing and SpaceX each require at least one crewed flight test with at least one NASA astronaut on board.

To meet this requirement, the companies must also provide the necessary training for the crew to operate their respective vehicles. NASA is extensively involved with the companies and reviews their training plans.

“Congratulations to Bob, Eric, Doug and Sunita and welcome to the Commercial Crew team,” noted John Elbon, Boeing vice president.

“We look forward to working with such a highly-skilled and experienced group of NASA astronauts as we carve a path forward to launch in 2017.”

The selections are the latest major milestone in the Obama administration’s plan to partner with the US industry to transport astronauts to space, create good-paying American jobs and end the nation’s sole reliance on Russia for space travel.

(IANS)

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NASA Planning Asteroid Impact Exercise Next Week

NASA’s PDCO and other US agencies and space science institutions, along with international partners, will participate in the exercise

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longest spacecraft, women
Part of NASA's study of the effects of long spaceflights on the human body, Koch will spend 328 days in space. Pixabay

Aimed at effective disaster management, NASA and its international partners are planning to participate in an exercise that will play out a realistic — but fictional — scenario of an asteroid on an impact trajectory with Earth.

The scenario begins with the fictional premise that on March 26, astronomers “discovered” a NEO they consider potentially hazardous to Earth.

After a “few months” of tracking, observers predict that this near-Earth object (NEO) – dubbed 2019 PDC – poses a 1 in 100 chance of impact with Earth in 2027 (in real life, the international community has decided that a 1 in 100 chance of impact is the threshold for action).

Participants in this exercise will discuss potential preparations for asteroid reconnaissance and deflection missions and planning for mitigation of a potential impact’s effects, NASA said.

Scientists believe that these exercises can help people in the planetary defence community to understand what those on the disaster management side need to know.

Asteroid
This Nov. 16, 2018, image provide by NASA shows the asteroid Bennu. NASA

“This exercise will help us develop more effective communications with each other and with our governments,” Lindley Johnson, NASA’s Planetary Defence Officer, said in a statement on Wednesday.

Better communication of the hazards posed by NEOs such as asteroids or comets has been a top priority for international groups, such as NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), the European Space Agency’s Space Situational Awareness-NEO Segment and the International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN).

Developed by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Center for NEO Studies (CNEOS), the asteroid impact exercise next week is scheduled to take place at the 2019 Planetary Defense Conference to be held in the US from April 29 to May 3.

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NASA’s PDCO and other US agencies and space science institutions, along with international partners, will participate in the exercise, the US space agency said.

Next week’s exercise events will occur over the five days of the conference, with exercise leaders briefing participants on the status of the scenario at the end of each day and soliciting response ideas and feedback, based on the latest fictional data, NASA said. (IANS)