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  #1  
Old Wednesday, June 06, 2007
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Default Space Exploration

Space Accidents


1967
Jan. 27, Apollo 1: a fire aboard the space capsule on the ground at Cape Kennedy, Fla., killed astronauts Virgil I. Grissom, Edward H. White, and Roger Chaffee.
April 23–24, Soyuz 1: Vladimir M. Komarov was killed when his craft crashed after its parachute lines, released at 23,000 ft for reentry, became snarled.
1971
June 6–30, Soyuz 11: 3 cosmonauts, Georgi T. Dolrovolsky, Vladislav N. Volkov, and Viktor I. Patsayev, found dead in the craft after its automatic landing. Apparent cause of death was loss of pressurization in the space craft during reentry into Earth's atmosphere.
1980
March 18, USSR: a Vostok rocket exploded on its launch pad while being refueled, killing 50 at the Plesetsk Space Center.
1986
Jan. 28, Challenger Space Shuttle: exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, killing all 7 crew members. They were: Francis R. Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Judith A. Resnik, Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka, Gregory B. Jarvis, and schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe. A booster leak ignited the fuel, causing the explosion.
2003
Feb. 1, Columbia Space Shuttle: broke up on reentering Earth's atmosphere on its way to Kennedy Space Center, killing all 7 crew members. They were: Rick D. Husband, William C. McCool, Michael P. Anderson, David M. Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, and the first Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon. Foam insulation fell from the shuttle during launch, damaging the left wing. On reentry, hot gases entered the wing, leading to the disintegration of the shuttle.
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Default China's Unstaffed Spacecraft

China's Unstaffed Spacecraft

China launched its first unstaffed spacecraft from the Jiuquan Space Center in Gansu province on Nov. 19, 1999. The space capsule, named Shenzhou (“Divine Ship”), made 14 orbits of Earth in 21 hours before landing in Inner Mongolia.

The Shenzhou spacecraft are prototypes for future manned Chinese spacecraft. A small menagerie of passengers on board Shenzhou II (launched Jan. 9, 2001), including a rabbit, a dog, and a monkey, survived the shuttle's space-flight unharmed. The subsequent success of Shenzhou III, which was equipped with dummy astronauts and human physical monitoring sensors, further enhanced China's hopes of having Chinese taikonauts take their place in space next to Russia's cosmonauts and America's astronauts by 2005. Shenzhou III was launched from Jiuquan on March 25, 2002, and spent a week in orbit before landing, as had its predecessors, in Inner Mongolia. The next step, the setup of space labs manned by scientists, should set the stage for the eventual construction of a permanent Chinese space station.
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Default Moon Walks

Moon Walks

Twelve astronauts have walked on the moon, the last in 1972. Here are the names of those astronauts listed chronologically by the date of their walk.

July 20, 1969—Apollo 11
Neil Armstrong
Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin

Nov. 19, 1969—Apollo 12
Charles (Pete) Conrad
Alan Bean

Feb. 5, 1971—Apollo 14
Alan Shepard
Edgar Mitchell

July 30, 1971—Apollo 15
James Irwin
David Scott

Apr. 21-23, 1972—Apollo 16
Charles Duke
John Young

Dec. 11-13, 1972—Apollo 17
Eugene Cernan
Harrison Schmitt


Eugene Cernan was the last man to set foot on the moon. He and Schmitt left behind a plaque that reads: “Here Man completed his first exploration of the Moon, December 1972 A.D. May the spirit of peace in which we came be reflected in the lives of all mankind.” This was a companion to the plaque left by Armstrong and Aldrin on the first visit to the lunar surface: “Here Men From Planet Earth First Set Foot Upon the Moon. July 1969 A.D. We Came in Peace For All Mankind.”
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Default A Human Mission to Mars? Not Yet

A Human Mission to Mars? Not Yet

Water on Mars

The scientific community was intrigued by the startling announcement in June 2000 that some high-resolution images of Mars taken by the Mars Global Surveyor showed strong evidence of small channels and gullies that appeared to be carved by outflows of subsurface water. Then in March 2004, NASA announced that the Mars rover Opportunity had found spherical formations in rocks (NASA called them “blueberries”) that seem to point to water once being plentiful on the planet.

First Stop, Mars

Mars is the first nearby world that people from Earth will eventually visit. With its recognizable four seasons, clouds, polar ice caps, mountains, dry river beds, and dormant volcanoes, Mars is the most Earth-like planet in our solar system, and it has the greatest potential for human habitation. Although it has a very cold, dry climate, surface temperatures at the equator can reach 80F during the summer.

Scientists believe that there were once similar conditions on Mars and Earth billions of years ago. Data from past Mars missions suggest that the planet once had a warmer, wetter climate and abundant liquid water—lakes, rivers, and even oceans—during its early history.

A detailed exploration of Mars would give us insights into the past and future of our planet. We might also learn whether Mars could sustain self-sufficient colonies that might prove to be a lifeboat for humanity's survival in the event of a distant future global calamity. Finally, exploring the planet could create new commercial opportunities and sources of income.

A Very Dangerous Mission

A human expedition cannot be attempted until extensive robotic explorations have made a detailed study of the planet, found vital sources of water, returned soil samples to Earth, and located the best landing sites. The Mars Exploration Rovers Opportunity and Spirit are exploring small patches of Mars on opposite sides of the planet. The Phoenix Mission is set to land on the northern plains of Mars in 2008 and features a stationary lander with a robotic arm for exploration. The Mars Science Laboratory, destined for a 2010 landing on the planet is a brawnier version of the rovers. Eventually, however, NASA will develop the critical technologies for long-term human survival in beyond-Earth orbits on the International Space Station and then on the moon base, which will make it possible for humans to make such a journey.

No one knows how many billions of dollars a human mission to Mars will eventually cost, and the enormous financial burden will have to be shared by other nations. The epic endeavor will be far more dangerous and technically difficult to accomplish than it was when we sent men to the Moon over three decades ago. The Moon was only a short hop of 240,000 mi. compared to a 47-million-mi. voyage to Mars. If an Apollo 13–type disaster were to befall them, the astronauts wouldn't be able to return again to Earth.

The monumental challenge of sending humans to Mars for a lengthy stay and then returning them safely to Earth is mind-boggling. Unlike previous space missions, when these astronauts leave Earth, they will not be able to return for almost three years. The trip to Mars will take between four and six months, depending on the propulsion system used. After the interplanetary voyagers arrive on the Red Planet, they will have to remain there for approximately 18 months until the proper alignment of Earth and Mars allows them to blast off for home.

A Hypothetical Scenario

Most likely the mission will require transporting most of the necessary supplies and equipment by unmanned spacecraft to the chosen landing area and confirming their operable condition before the first astronauts even arrive.

During their long, confined stay, the Mars pioneers may live in an inflatable modular housing unit similar to the TransHab (for “transportation and habitat”) design proposed by NASA in 1997 as a possible replacement for the U.S. crew quarters on the International Space Station. The cylindrical structure would be 27 ft. (8.2 m) in diameter and have a foot-thick protective shell when inflated. The shell would be made of almost two dozen layers of material that is stronger than steel. It would also provide insulation from the extreme Martian temperatures that range from –199F (–128.3C) during the polar night to 80F (26.6C) at the equator. The module would consist of four levels, for work, health care, crew quarters, and a galley area.

The space travelers will drive for miles across the planet's diverse terrain in advanced-type roving vehicles equipped with specialized tools, drills, and analytical instruments. Much of their time will be spent searching for water and past and present evidence of Martian life forms, and conducting a wide range of scientific activities that cannot be accomplished by robotic exploration.

Survival on Mars

Because it is impossible to take all the supplies that they will need from Earth, the astronauts will probably have to live off the barren land, using the planet's raw materials to provide fuel, oxygen, and most of the food for a primarily vegetarian diet. Possibly some type of “care” packages of goodies will be sent by rocket to them from time to time to relieve the dietary monotony. The versatile explorers will even have to manufacture the special spacecraft fuel required for their return to Earth.

Their survival in the inhospitable environment will be totally dependent on their combined expertise, specialized skills, and available equipment. When unexpected problems and challenges arise, as they undoubtedly will, the spacefarers will have to solve them with little or no help from Earth. Even their radio communications with mission controllers will be difficult because of the time delay between Mars and Earth. Depending on Mars's distance from Earth, which can vary by as much as 200 million mi. (322 km), radio signals from the planet can take anywhere from 4 minutes to 21 minutes to reach Earth.

Health Issues a Priority

The physical and mental health and safety of the crew during their long, arduous months on Mars are a major concern for mission planners. How do you plan for life-threatening medical emergencies when you are trapped on a far distant world? In 1999, a doctor wintering at a South Pole station found a lump in her breast, but she couldn't be flown out for proper treatment until the end of the harsh winter. If Mars astronauts become perilously ill, they can't be “flown out” for two years.

The astronauts must also be shielded from harmful radiation while traveling in their spacecraft and when on the planet's surface. And because the gravity on Mars is only 38% of Earth's, ways to counteract any damaging effects of the weak gravity on their bodies, such as progressive bone loss and muscle atrophy, will have to be found. Currently, there is no fully effective treatment for microgravity-induced bone loss, and counter measures against bone loss are a top space science priority.

Next Stop…?

In March 2000, NASA took one of the first steps necessary in preparing humans to live on Mars when it successfully tested the prototype of a device to produce pure oxygen from the carbon dioxide in a simulated Martian atmosphere. Besides providing breathable oxygen for future colonists, the unit, called the Mars In-situ Propellant Production Precursor (MIP), demonstrated that rocket fuel can be manufactured on Martian soil for the return trip to Earth.

In January 2004, President Bush announced that the United States would put humans on Mars. The plan calls for a base to be built on the moon and then onward to the Red Planet, but experts believe that the first American footsteps on Mars wouldn’t happen any time before 2030. The European Space Agency (ESA) has the Aurora mission to put humans on Mars, also by 2030. In July 2005, the Russian space agency announced they were looking for six volunteers to lock themselves in a mock space capsule for 15 months in preparation for a Mars mission in 2015.
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Default Space Shuttle

Space Shuttle

space shuttle, reusable U.S. space vehicle. Developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), it consists of a winged orbiter, two solid-rocket boosters, and an external tank. As with previous spacecraft, the shuttle is launched from a vertical position. Liftoff thrust is derived from the orbiter's three main liquid-propellant engines and the boosters. After 2 min the boosters use up their fuel, separate from the spacecraft, and—after deployment of parachutes—are recovered following splashdown. After about 8 min of flight, the orbiter's main engines shut down; the external tank is then jettisoned and burns up as it reenters the atmosphere. The orbiter meanwhile enters orbit after a short burn of its two small Orbiting Maneuvering System (OMS) engines. To return to earth, the orbiter turns around, fires its OMS engines to reduce speed, and, after descending through the atmosphere, lands like a glider. Five different orbiters—Columbia, Challenger, Atlantis, Discovery, and Endeavour—have seen service; two have been lost in accidents.

Following four orbital test flights (1981–82) of the space shuttle Columbia, operational flights began in Nov., 1982. On Jan. 28, 1986, the Challenger exploded shortly after takeoff, killing all seven astronauts. The commission that investigated the disaster determined that the failure of the O-ring seal in one of the solid fuel rockets was responsible. Shuttle flights were halted until Sept., 1988, while design problems were corrected, and then resumed on a more conservative schedule. NASA was forced to reemphasize expendable rockets to reduce the cost of placing payloads in space.

A second disaster struck the shuttle program on Feb. 1, 2003, when the Columbia broke up during reentry, killing the seven astronauts on board. NASA again halted shuttle launches, and a special commission was appointed to investigate the accident. It is believed that damage to the left wing, which could have been caused by insulation that separated from the external fuel tank during launch, ultimately permitted superheated gas to flow into the wing, weaken it, and cause its failure. Modifications were made to external fuel tank and other parts of the shuttle, and shuttle flights resumed in July, 2005. Further problems with fuel tank insulation that developed during that launch led to the suspension of additional flights for a year while the problems were corrected.

Missions of the space shuttle have included the transport of the Spacelab scientific workshop (see space exploration) and the insertion into orbit of the Hubble Space Telescope (1990), the Galileo space probe (1989), the Chandra X-Ray Observatory (1999), and a wide variety of communications, weather, scientific, and defense-related satellites. Other notable achievements of the shuttle program include the rescue and repair of disabled satellites (including the Hubble Space Telescope in 1993 and 1999) and the first three-person spacewalk (1992). In 1995 the Endeavour's mission of Mar. 2–18 set the record for the longest shuttle flight. It was also in 1995 that the crew of Atlantis accomplished the first of nine shuttle-Mir (Russian space station) docking maneuvers and crew transfers, which were designed to pave the way for the assembly of the International Space Station (ISS). The crew of Discovery made the ninth and final docking in 1998, five months before the Russians orbited Zarya, the first ISS module. A month later the astronauts aboard Endeavour initiated the first assembly sequence of the ISS, linking the Unity module, a passageway that will connect living and work areas of the station, to Zarya. In 1999 the Discovery crew accomplished the first docking of a shuttle with the ISS during a mission to supply the two modules with tools and cranes.

See D. R. Jenkins, Space Shuttle: The History of Developing the National Space Transportation System (2d ed. 1996); D. M. Harland, The Space Shuttle: Roles, Missions, and Accomplishments (1998); C. Bredeson, The Challenger Disaster: Tragic Space Flight (1999); M. O. Thompson and C. Peebles, Flying without Wings: NASA Lifting Bodies and the Birth of the Space Shuttle (1999).
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Default Space Station

Space Station

space station or space platform,artificial earth satellite, usually manned, that is placed in a fixed orbit and can serve as a base for astronomical observations; zero-gravity materials processing; satellite assembly, refueling, and repair; or, possibly, as weapons platforms. The first space station was the Soviet Salyut 1, launched in Apr., 1971. The Soyuz 10 spacecraft docked with this station, but the crew did not enter it; two months later the cosmonauts aboard the Soyuz 11 spacecraft docked and entered Salyut 1, remaining aboard for 22 days. By 1982 five more Salyut space stations had been orbited successfully, two of them for military purposes. By rotating the crews regularly, the Soviets were able to staff the stations for extended periods. All the Salyut space stations have decayed and are no longer in orbit.

During this period the United States launched its only true space station. Called Skylab, it was placed in orbit in May, 1973. Skylab housed three three-person crews, the last remaining aboard for 84 days, which at that time was a record for continuous residency in space. Among the tasks accomplished by the Skylab astronauts were biomedical studies to evaluate the effects of weightlessness, photographing the earth to monitor volcanoes and earthquake faults, astronomical observations of optical sources (including extensive studies of Comet Kohoutek), and materials-processing activities such as brazing and welding (to see how they were affected by the lack of gravity). Skylab fell to earth in July, 1974, showering debris over uninhabited parts of Australia and the Indian Ocean.

The Soviet Union launched the core module of the Mir space station in Feb., 1986. It was enlarged several times so that it could accommodate a crew of up to six cosmonauts. The Mir program was enhanced by having international teams conduct experiments at the station; Afghanistan, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Japan, Syria and the United States, in addition to Russia and other nations that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, participated. In 1995, Mir cosmonaut Valery Polyakov set an endurance record of nearly 439 days in space, eclipsing the previous record of 326 days set in 1987 by Yuri Romanenko (also while on Mir). In Aug., 1999, its extended 13-year mission concluded, Mir was abandoned. During its lifetime, it orbited the earth 86,331 times and was home to 104 people, including 42 Russian cosmonauts and 7 American astronauts. In Mar., 2001, Mir fell to earth, the largest spacecraft (143 tons/130 metric tons) ever to decay, showering an estimated 1,500 fragments of 44 lb (20 kg) or more over an uninhabited area 120 mi (193 km) wide by 3,600 mi (5795 km) long in the South Pacific.

The United States, Japan, Canada, Brazil, Russia, and 11 members of the European Space Agency (ESA)—Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom—are developing a space station that is being assembled in space. Each partner will contribute a portion of the complex, called the International Space Station (ISS). For example, of the six laboratories that will be included, three will be provided by Russia, one by the United States, one by Japan, and one by ESA. The first element, Zarya (the control module), was orbited by a Russian Proton rocket in Nov., 1998. A month later the U.S. space shuttle Endeavour initiated the first assembly sequence of the ISS, linking the Unity module, a passageway that will connect living and work areas of the station, to Zarya. In July, 2000, the Russian-built Zvezda service module was mated with the two existing components. The first permanent crew—two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut—began living aboard the ISS in Nov., 2000, marking the beginning of what is anticipated to be a continuous human presence. When planned construction is completed, the ISS will be 290 ft (88.5 m) long, have a wingspan of 396 ft (120.7 m), and be 143 ft (43.5 m) tall. Its mass will be nearly a million pounds (454,000 kg), and it will support a crew of seven. The plan involves more than 40 space flights over five years, and at least three space vehicles (the space shuttle, the Russian Soyuz rocket, and the Russian Proton rocket) will deliver the various ISS components to earth orbit. Assembly of the more than 100 components will require a combination of human spacewalks and robot technologies. In preparation for the project, construction tasks were practiced by both Mir and shuttle crews, and during 1995–98 nine dockings of the shuttle with Mir were accomplished.

See P. Bizony, Island in the Sky: The ISS (1996); D. M. Harland, The Mir Space Station: Precursor to Space Colonization (1997); M. D. Cole, International Space Station: A Space Mission (1999).
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Default National Aeronautics and Space Administration

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), civilian agency of the U.S. federal government with the mission of conducting research and developing operational programs in the areas of space exploration, artificial satellites (see satellite, artificial), rocketry, and space telescopes (see Hubble Space Telescope) and observatories. It is also responsible for international cooperation in space matters. NASA came into existence on Oct. 1, 1958, superseding the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA), an agency that had been oriented primarily toward laboratory research. While the NACA budget never went higher than $5 million and its staff never exceeded 500, the NASA annual budget reached $14.2 billion in 1995, and its staff reached a maximum size of 34,000 in 1966 (21,000 in 1995), with some 400,000 contract employees working directly on agency programs.

The creation of NASA was spurred by American unpreparedness at the time the Soviet Union launched (Oct. 4, 1957) the first artificial satellite (Sputnik 1). NASA took over the Langley, Ames, and Lewis research centers from NACA. Soon after its creation, NASA acquired from the U.S. army the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (operated by the California Institute of Technology). Later, the Army Ballistic Missile Arsenal (now the Marshall Space Flight Center) at Huntsville, Ala., was placed under NASA control.

The best-known NASA field installations are the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center near Houston, Tex., where flights are coordinated, and the John F. Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla., where all space shuttle launches take place. Other facilities include the Dryden, Glenn, Goddard, and Stennis centers and NASA headquarters, in Washington, D.C. Operationally, NASA is headed by a civilian appointed by the president and has four divisions: the offices of Space Flight, Space Science Programs, Aeronautics Exploration and Technology, and Tracking and Data Acquisition. Despite some highly publicized failures, NASA has in many cases successfully completed its missions within their projected budgets; the total cost of the Apollo project, for example, wound up very close to the original $20-billion estimate. Currently, NASA oversees all space science projects, operates the space shuttle, and launches approximately half of all military space missions.

See T. Crouch, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (1989); H. Benedict, NASA: The Journey Continues (2d ed., 1992); R. D. Launius et al., NASA and the Exploration of Space (1998); W. E. Burrows and W. Cronkite, The Infinite Journey (2000); H. E. McCurdy, Inside NASA: High Technology and Organizational Change in the U.S. Space Program (2000); R. E. Bilstein, Testing Aircraft, Exploring Space (2003); F. Sietzen, Jr., et al., New Moon Rising: The Making of America's New Space Vision and the Remaking of NASA (2004).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright 2007, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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