This afternoon, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko take off for a yearlong stay on the International Space Station. The record-breaking jaunt aims to help researchers understand how humans react and adapt to protracted stints in space. After all, we may soon find ourselves capable of traveling farther away from our home planet--and things can get weird while living long-term in zero gravity.
This morning Robert Bigelow—budget hotel billionaire; paranormal investigator; space entrepreneur—unveiled the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), which will soon ship to Kennedy Space Center, stowed in a SpaceX rocket. It will launch in September, expand, dock with the International Space Station, and become sort of a test chamber slash astronaut lounge. It is also—depending on who you talk to—probably the shape of much to come, in terms of extraterrestrial habitation.
At the crack of dawn on Friday, the Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft was transported via specialized train car to its launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Russian rocket is scheduled for liftoff this afternoon and will be carrying an eclectic mix of astronauts to the International Space Station. The team includes three crew members from across the globe: commander Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency, flight engineer Terry Virts of NASA, and Italian flight engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency.
A few years ago, I caught a glimpse of one of the biggest obstacles to space exploration. In a movie theater line, I overheard two people discussing the concept of building a human base on our Moon. Since I find that endeavor fascinating, I secretly tuned into their conversation — only to be hit in my space-loving gut with their outlook. They weren’t talking about the real possibilities of such a mission. Instead, they openly mocked the idea, saying such a thing was never going to happen, and that more important matters than space travel warranted our attention.
Among the 2.5 tons of cargo that's set to go up to the International Space Station this weekend, there will be five mice with a particular genetic mutation. The mice lack a gene that normal mice have, called Muscle Ring Finger 1, or MuRF-1 (rhymes with Smurf). Scientists are hoping the missing gene will keep those mice healthier in space than their five ordinary compatriots that will be riding up with them.