Hurtling around the Earth at nearly five miles per second, some 205 miles above where you might be sitting right now, crewmembers aboard the International Space Station plan to celebrate Thanksgiving in many of traditional ways that you or I might—only the turkey won't be roasted, and the football may be floating.
Behold the fiery sphere of pain in the heavens! No, not the sun, this one is much, much closer to Earth, and much stranger still. Aboard the International Space Station, scientists have an electromagnetic levitator that lets them suspend a sphere of liquid metal in place. Why? To observe how it cools when it's free of a container or constraints like the strong gravity on Earth.
In the ongoing effort to lower the cost of commercial spaceflight, private companies hope to conquer a facet of rocket design NASA hasn't fully explored yet: reusable rockets. Up until now, all space rockets have used disposable launch systems, meaning they're designed to launch only once, and afterward, their parts are never recovered. The Space Shuttle was mostly reusable, but it still required an expendable -- and pricey -- external tank for lift-off. If a truly reusable launch system can be achieved, such a rocket could dramatically lower the cost of getting to space, since manufacturers wouldn't need to replace their rockets after each liftoff.
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 big part of going to the Moon was selling the program to the public. Not only was it important for NASA to gain support for the Apollo program, the agency stood to gain nothing by misrepresenting its missions to the taxpayers who were footing the bill. Part of this marketing strategy was transparency, including public release of unedited mission transcripts, a transparency for which we can thank Paul Haney.