Soccer ball recovered from Shuttle Challenger wreckage reaches space three decades later

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A soccer ball that survived the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986 is now aboard the International Space Station. (Source: Shane Kimbrough/ NASA)

A soccer ball that was to be carried to space by the ill-fated Space Shuttle Challenger has finally reached its destination, 31 years later. Prior to the January 28, 1986 launch, the ball was presented to NASA astronaut Ellison Onizuka by soccer players, including his daughter, from Clear Lake High School.

Onizuka was one of the seven astronauts killed when the shuttle exploded shortly after liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The ball was recovered among the wreckage and returned to the school, where it has been on display for the past three decades, according to NASA.

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‘Virus hunter’ astronaut shares details of science mission to Space Station

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins trains for spacewalks at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. (Source: NASA)

In July, a self-proclaimed ‘virus hunter’ astronaut will launch aboard a Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station, embarking on a four month, science-intensive assignment to the orbiting laboratory.

NASA’s Kate Rubins is counting down the days until the scheduled July 6 launch of Expedition 48/49, which will be the first spaceflight for the molecular biologist. Before her selection to the space agency’s astronaut corps in 2009, the 37-year-old helped developed the first ran a biomedical research lab that studied viral diseases like Ebola, Marburg, and Lassa Fever. Rubins even traveled Central and West Africa to conduct research and supervise study sites, her biography stated. Once aboard the orbiting outpost, she is planning to conduct several biological and human research investigations.

Rubins will spend four months in low Earth orbit along with crewmates Anatoly Ivanishin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and Takuya Onishi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The trio will join NASA astronaut Jeff Williams, and Roscosmos cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka, who are already on orbit.
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NASA unveils flashy, futuristic new look for spacesuit prototype

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The “Technology” design garnered more than 60 percent of nearly 240,000 votes cast.

NASA is ready to unveil the design of their next-generation spacesuit prototype. Wednesday, the space agency will reveal the winner of a contest on their website put the decision to a public vote.

The futuristic Z-2 suit will make future missions possible to asteroids or the surface of other planets. Some of the improvements under development include: a rear-entry “hatch” that could also dock with a rover, the use of “soft” materials to cut weight and increase mobility, complex joints and a redesigned life support system. While the functional portion of the suit is left up to the expertise of Spacesuit engineers, the look of the covering is a popularity contest.

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Online contest will pick NASA’s futuristic new spacesuit design

NASA’s “Technology” spacesuit design is among three options for a planned prototype to be built in November.

NASA’s “Technology” spacesuit design is among three options for a planned prototype to be built in November.

NASA is leaving the design of their next-generation spacesuit prototype up to the public. A contest on the space agency’s website puts three designs up for a vote, with a fully-functional model to be built by November.

The NASA Z-2 suit is a follow up to the Z-1, which Time Magazine named ‘one of the best inventions of 2012.’  The Z-series marks the first major prototype developed since the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU), the white suits used on space walks during the Shuttle program.

With a long-term focus on deep space missions, NASA will need a new spacesuit to replace its current stock of suits. Some of the technology used in the EMU is 40 years old. The futuristic Z-2 suit will make missions possible to asteroids or the surface of other planets. Some of the improvements under development include: a rear-entry “hatch” that could also dock with a rover, the use of “soft” materials to cut weight and increase mobility, complex joints and a redesigned life support system.

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NASA spacesuit designer reveals changes to new ‘pumpkin suit’

NASA is testing a modified

NASA is testing a modified “Pumpkin Suit” for spacewalks on future missions to asteroids.

NASA’s aging stock of spacesuits is coming under great scrutiny as the space agency investigates the near-drowning of an astronaut. Wednesday, an investigation board released its report on the July 2013 incident involving a water leak in Italian astronaut’s Luca Parmitano’s helmet. More than a liter of liquid pooled around Parmitano’s eyes, nose and ears, before he could get to safety inside the International Space Station airlock. The report revealed that managers misdiagnosed a similar leak one week earlier.

With an ongoing presence aboard the ISS, plans for capturing asteroids, the first mission to Mars and even a return to the Moon, NASA will need a new spacesuit to make the journey.

The space agency won’t have to look very far for ideas, according to NASA engineer Cody Kelly. Last week, he spoke to a room of science and math students at Tyler Junior College, explaining his ongoing work as part of the Crew Survival Engineering Team.

Kelly said NASA is modifying its Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES) for future missions of the new Orion spacecraft, relying on time-tested technology to ensure the survival of astronauts.

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‘Name the Shuttle’ contest gives Texans chance to name space history icon

1065024_466218043462439_1097396518_oTexans now have the opportunity to name a high-fidelity replica of a NASA Space Shuttle, the centerpiece of a new attraction set to open in Houston.

In early 2015, Space Center Houston will unveil an exhibit featuring the Shuttle replica seated atop a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, or SCA, the Boeing 747 jumbo jet that ferried the now-retired shuttle fleet on cross-country trips.

The $12 million, six-story attraction will allow visitors to tour the SCA, as well as the flight deck and payload bay of the full-size Shuttle mockup.

The free, online naming contest launches at 10 a.m. Thursday, July 4 and ends September 2 at noon. Original names for the Shuttle will symbolize “the spirit of Texas and its unique characteristics of independence, optimism and can-do attitude,” according to a news release. Continue reading

Texas lands massive piece of Space Shuttle history

An artist’s rendering of the completed Shuttle Carrier Aircraft exhibit at Space Center Houston.

Space Center Houston is adding a “jumbo” piece of space history to its already impressive fleet of retired spacecraft and aerospace vehicles.

Thursday, NASA announced the transfer of ownership of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, or SCA, to the official visitor’s center of the Johnson Space Center.

The SCA, one of two modified Boeing 747 jumbo jets, were used to ferry NASA’s fleet of Space Shuttles from coast to coast, beginning in 1977. Space Center Houston’s SCA flew under the tail designation “SCA-905” and was decommissioned in 2012 after the retirement of the Shuttle fleet.

Space Center Houston plans to mount a full-size replica of the Space Shuttle atop the SCA in flight configuration, as part of a 12-million dollar educational complex. According to a news release, “The Shuttle and 747 Carrier will give visitors the world’s first and only all-access pass to an authentic and realistic journey through the inside of the  Shuttle Carrier Aircraft as well as an unforgettable experience aboard the full-scale, Shuttle model.” Continue reading

Communication restored to International Space Station after computer glitch

International Space StationCommunication has been restored to the International Space Station after a computer glitch Tuesday morning left crew members unable to reach ground controllers for more than two hours.

Around 8:45 a.m. Central Time, the ISS lost contact with Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston Texas, according to a NASA news release. By 11:34 a.m., systems had been restored.

Early Tuesday, flight controllers were updating station flight computer software when a data relay system malfunctioned. The backup system would not allow the station to communicate with NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellites.

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10 years after Shuttle Columbia tragedy, E. Texas museum preserves crew’s legacy

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The “Remembering Columbia” Museum in Hemphill, Texas is open daily.

10 years have passed since East Texas was thrust into the national spotlight after Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart on re-entry over the Piney Woods. Obviously, it’s an emotional time for the families of the seven brave astronauts, but the small town of Hemphill is reflecting on their very deep and personal connection to the tragedy.

Many of the larger pieces of debris were recovered in rural Sabine County. The remains of the crew members were recovered not far from town. Search crews came from all over the country, but the city of 1,200 people, I’m told, came to a standstill to pool their resources into the recovery effort. Residents spent weeks and months searching for the wreckage, opening up their homes to volunteers, providing transportation and food. The emotions felt by the NASA family were shared by the community, forming a bond through the tragedy. For many there, life has never been the same. Continue reading

Houston’s new space shuttle replica arrives by sea

A full-size shuttle replica atop a barge arrives at the Johnson Space Center docks in Houston.

After its hopes of landing a retired Space Shuttle were scrapped, Houston is now home to the next-closest thing — a full-size replica. Friday marked the end to an 8-day voyage across the Gulf of Mexico for the orbiter mockup that had previously welcomed visitors to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Hundreds crowded along the shoreline to witness the historic arrival of “Explorer” as it navigated the waters of Clear Lake atop a barge. The ship that never left the Earth will become the centerpiece of a new educational exhibit at Space Center Houston, the official visitors center of the Johnson Space Center.

In a salute at sea, two fire boats sprayed an arch of water for the shuttle to pass under as it approached its new home. Waiting on the shore — a crowd of onlookers and a “Shuttlebration Weekend” of activities featuring parades, fireworks, and music. A pair of  NASA T-38 Talon jets soared overhead in formation as the National Anthem was sung to mark the kickoff of the celebration. Continue reading