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WASHINGTON - Four people are set to become the world's first all-civilian crew to fly into Earth orbit when they blast off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center Wednesday as space tourism takes its biggest leap yet.
Weather conditions are 70% favorable for Wednesday night's scheduled launch of Americans Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Chris Sembroski and Sian Proctor from the U.S. spaceport's historic Launch Pad 39A, which was used for the Apollo moon missions during the 1960s and 70s.
The four-member crew will fly into space aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft built by SpaceX, the privately-run company which has begun sending astronauts to the International Space Station. The fully automated Crew Dragon spacecraft will take the crew to an altitude of 575 kilometers above the Earth's surface, just above the current positions of both the ISS and the Hubble Space Telescope.
SpaceX said the four space tourists will "conduct scientific research designed to advance human health on Earth and during future long-duration spaceflights" before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean near the Florida coast three days later.
The mission, dubbed Inspiration4, will be led by the 38-year-old Isaacman, a billionaire technology entrepreneur and founder of an online payment-processing company who is said to have paid SpaceX several million dollars for the flight. The 29-year-old Arceneaux is a childhood bone cancer survivor who has a titanium rod in her leg, which makes her the first person to fly in space with a prosthesis. Sembroski is a 42-year-old retired U.S. Air Force ballistic missile maintenance engineer who now works in the aviation industry, while 51-year-old Proctor is a geoscientist and community college professor who was a NASA astronaut finalist in 2009.
Sembroski and Proctor were selected through a nationwide search contest, while Arceneaux is flying as a representative of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where she was treated during her battle with cancer and now works as a physician's assistant. Isaacman is using the flight to raise $100 million for St. Jude, and has pledged $100 million of his own money to the hospital.
Isaacman's flight will far exceed those of fellow billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, who each took brief non-orbital flights to the edge of space aboard their own self-financed vehicles — Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, respectively — earlier this year.
Keywords: SpaceX, Falcon, Civilian Orbital, NASA, Kennedy Space Center
NASA confirmed Monday that its Perseverance Mars rover succeeded in collecting its first rock sample for scientists to pore over when a future mission eventually brings it back to Earth.
"I've got it!" the space agency tweeted, alongside a photograph of a rock core slightly thicker than a pencil inside a sample tube.
The sample was collected on September 1, but NASA was initially unsure whether the rover had successfully held onto its precious cargo, because initial images taken in poor light were unclear. After taking a new photo so mission control could verify its contents, Perseverance transferred the tube to the rover's interior for further measurements and imaging, then hermetically sealed the container.
"This is a momentous achievement, and I can't wait to see the incredible discoveries produced by Perseverance and our team," NASA administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement.
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science, likened the achievement to the first samples of rock taken from the Moon, which are still invaluable to researchers today. Perseverance's sampling and caching system is the most complex mechanism ever sent to space, with more than 3,000 parts.
Perseverance uses a drill and a hollow coring bit at the end of its 2-meter-long (7-foot-long) robotic arm to extract samples. Photo by NASA on Unsplash
Its first target was a briefcase-sized rock nicknamed "Rochette" from a ridgeline that is particularly interesting from a geological perspective as it contains ancient layers of exposed bedrock.
Perseverance uses a drill and a hollow coring bit at the end of its 2-meter-long (7-foot-long) robotic arm to extract samples. Perseverance landed on an ancient lakebed called the Jezero Crater in February, on a mission to search for signs of ancient microbial life using a suite of sophisticated instruments mounted on its turret. It is also trying to better characterize the red planet's geology and past climate.
The first part of the rover's science mission, which will last hundreds of sols or Martian days, will be complete when it returns to its landing site. By then, it will have traveled somewhere between 2.5 and 5 kilometers (1.6 and 3.1 miles) and may have filled up to eight of its 43 sample tubes.
It will then travel to Jezero Crater's delta region, which might be rich in clay minerals. On Earth, such minerals can preserve fossilized signs of ancient microscopic life. Eventually NASA wants to send back the samples taken by the rover in a joint mission with the European Space Agency, sometime in the 2030s. Its first attempt at taking a sample in August failed after the rock was too crumbly to withstand the robot's drill.
keywords: NASA, European Space Agency, Jezero Crater, Martian, Bill Nelson
CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA - A SpaceX shipment of ants, avocados and a human-sized robotic arm rocketed toward the International Space Station on Sunday.
The delivery — due to arrive Monday — is the company's 23rd for NASA in just under a decade.
A recycled Falcon rocket blasted into the predawn sky from NASA's Kennedy Space Center. After hoisting the Dragon capsule, the first-stage booster landed upright on SpaceX's newest ocean platform, named A Shortfall of Gravitas.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk continued his tradition of naming the booster-recovery vessels in tribute to the late science fiction writer Iain Banks and his Culture series.
The Dragon is carrying more than 2,170 kilograms of supplies and experiments, and fresh food, including avocados, lemons and even ice cream for the space station's seven astronauts.
The Girl Scouts are sending up ants, brine shrimp and plants as test subjects, while University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists are flying up seeds from mouse-ear cress, a small flowering weed used in genetic research. Samples of concrete, solar cells and other materials also will be subjected to weightlessness.
A Japanese start-up company's experimental robotic arm, meanwhile, will attempt to screw items together in its orbital debut and perform other mundane chores normally done by astronauts. The first tests will be done inside the space station. Future models of Gitai Inc.'s robot will venture out into the vacuum of space to practice satellite and other repair jobs, said chief technology officer Toyotaka Kozuki.
As early as 2025, a squad of these arms could help build lunar bases and mine the moon for precious resources, he added.
SpaceX had to leave some experiments behind because of delays resulting from COVID-19.
It was the second launch attempt; Saturday's try was foiled by stormy weather.
NASA turned to SpaceX and other U.S. companies to deliver cargo and crews to the space station, once the space shuttle program ended in 2011. (VOA/RN)
Keywords: SpaceX, Space Station, Robots, NASA
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The U.S. space agency NASA reports the Ingenuity helicopter, the tiny aircraft that landed on Mars with the agency's Perseverance rover earlier this year, has completed its 12th flight over the red planet.
On its Twitter account late Monday, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which oversees the Perseverance mission, reported the success of the latest flight of the tiny aircraft, noting it flew over what JPL called "the geological wonder that is the 'South Séítah' region of Mars. In its tweet, JPL reported the craft climbed to a height of 10 meters over the martian surface and flew a 450-meter round trip for a total flight time of 169 seconds. The flight took place early Monday, but because of the delay in transmission time from Mars, its success was not confirmed until later.
In a blog post to the JPL website, Ingenuity Team Lead Teddy Tzanetos, and Ingenuity Chief Pilot Håvard Grip explained the flight was ambitious for the helicopter because its relatively simple navigation system was designed to fly over basically flat terrain. The Séítah South region is more varied, including boulders, rocky outcrops and other geologic features.
But based on the JPL tweet, the flight was completed apparently without issue. The team says the images taken by Ingenuity will be used to construct a stereo, or 3D, image that will be used to determine if the area is worth further scrutiny by the Perseverance rover in its mission to look for signs of past or current life on the planet.
Originally designed to be a simple demonstration project to prove flight was possible on in the Martian atmosphere, the Ingenuity team says the helicopter is now providing NASA with data to guide the Perseverance rover. Its performance will also guide how future missions will be designed, how those missions will utilize aircraft to help determine where rovers should go and where they cannot.
The 1.8-kilogram aircraft arrived on the planet packed away on NASA's Perseverance rover when it landed on Mars in February. Aside from solar batteries, a camera and a transmitter, Ingenuity carries no scientific instruments.(VOA/HP)