News from Space: Crimean Crisis Highlights US Dependence

crimean_crisis3The crisis in the Crimea continues, with Russia and the Ukraine threatening military action and the US and its western allies threatening sanctions. In addition to anxieties about the likelihood of war and the conflict spilling over into other regions, the crisis has served to highlight other possible global repercussions. And interestingly enough, some of them have to do with the current balance of space exploration and research.

In essence, every aspect of the manned and unmanned US space program – including NASA, other government agencies, private aerospace company’s and crucially important US national security payloads – is highly dependent on Russian & Ukrainian rocketry. Thus, all of the US space exploration and launches are potentially at risk amidst the current crisis.

SoyuzCompared to the possibility of an outbreak of war that could engulf the Eurasian triangle, this hardly seems terribly consequential. But alas, quite a few people stand to suffer from seeing all rockets grounded in the Ukraine and Russia as a result of the current climate. Consider the ISS, which is entirely dependent on Earth-based rockets for resupply and personnel rotation.

As it stands, astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) ride to space and back on regularly scheduled launches, and each new rocket carried fresh supplies of food and equipment. The Atlas V and Antares rockets, plus critical U.S. spy satellites that provide vital, real time intelligence, are just some of the programs that may be in peril if events deteriorate, or worse yet, spin out of control.

ISSThe threat to intelligence gathering operations would be especially critical, since it would hamper efforts to monitor the crisis. In short, the Crimean confrontation and all the threats and counter threats of armed conflicts and economic sanctions shines a spotlight on US vulnerabilities regarding space exploration, private industry and US national security programs, missions, satellites and rockets.

But the consequences of escalating tensions would hardly be felt by only one side. Despite what some may think, the US, Russian and Ukrainian space programs, assets and booster rockets are inextricably intertwined and interdependent, and all would suffer if anything were to shut it down. For instance, some 15 nations maintain participation and funding to keep the ISS and its programs running.

ISS_crewAnd since the forced retirement of NASA’s space shuttle program in 2011, America has been dependent on Russia for its human spaceflight capability. ISS missions are most often crewed by American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts. And under the most recent contract, the US pays Russia $70 million per Soyuz seat, and both they and the Ukraine’s space programs are dependent on this ongoing level of investment.

The fastest and most cost effective path to restore America’s human spaceflight capability to low Earth orbit and the ISS is through NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) seeking to develop private ‘space taxis’ with Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada. But until such time as long-term funding can be guaranteed, the current arrangement will persist.

maven_launchWhen NASA Administrator Chales Bolden was asked about contingencies at a briefing yesterday, March 4, he responded that everything is OK for now:

Right now, everything is normal in our relationship with the Russians. Missions up and down are on target… People lose track of the fact that we have occupied the International Space Station now for 13 consecutive years uninterrupted, and that has been through multiple international crises… I don’t think it’s an insignificant fact that we are starting to see a number of people with the idea that the International Space Station be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

At the same time, he urged Congress to fully fund CCP and avoid still more delays:

Let me be clear about one thing. The choice here is between fully funding the request to bring space launches back to the US or continuing millions in subsidies to the Russians. It’s that simple. The Obama administration chooses investing in America, and we believe Congress will choose this course as well.

spacex-dragon-capsule-grabbed-by-iss-canadarm-640x424At a US Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing on Defense, which was held yesterday to address national security issues, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk underscored the crucial differences in availability between the Falcon 9 and Atlas V in this excerpt from his testimony:

In light of Russia’s de facto annexation of the Ukraine’s Crimea region and the formal severing of military ties, the Atlas V cannot possibly be described as providing “assured access to space” for our nation when supply of the main engine depends on President Putin’s permission.

So, continuing operations of the ISS and US National Security are potentially held hostage to the whims of Russian President Vladimir Putin. And given that Russia has threatened to retaliate with sanctions of its own against the West, the likelihood that space exploration will suffer is likely.

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????The Crimean crisis is without a doubt the most dangerous East-West conflict since the end of the Cold War. Right now no one knows the future outcome of the crisis in Crimea. Diplomats are talking but some limited military assets on both sides are reportedly on the move today.

The Truth of Yuri Gagarin’s Tragic Death Revealed

yuri_gagarin1On the morning of April 12, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin lifted off aboard Vostok 1 to become the first human in space, becoming an instant hero to many and an historic figure. Tragically, his life was cut short when just seven years later (on March 27th, 1968) the MiG-15 UTI he was piloting crashed. Ever since, his death has been shrouded in confusion and controversy, with many theories being posited as to what actually cause.

And now, some 45 years after the fact, the details about what really happened to cause the death of the first man in space have come out — from the first man to go out on a spacewalk, no less. In an article published online on Russia Today, former cosmonaut Aleksey Leonov — who performed the first EVA on March 18, 1965 — has revealed details about the accident that killed both Yuri Gagarin and his flight instructor Vladimir Seryogin in March 1968.

yuri_gagarinA soft-spoken and well-mannered man, Gagarin began his journey into space in 1960 when he and 19 other pilots were selected to take part in the Soviet space program. Just three years after making history with the launch of the first artificial satellite into space (Sputnik-1), the Russians were eager to follow this up with a mission that would put a man into low-Earth orbit.

After a grueling selection process involving physical and psychological tests, Gagarin was selected to take the pioneering flight inside the Vostok-1 space capsule. The launch, which was eagerly monitored by people all over Russia and around the world, took place at exactly 9:07 am local time (06:07 UT) on 12 April 1961. After spending just under two hours in orbit, the capsule made reentry, Gagarin exited it and parachuted to the ground, landing at around 11:05 am (08:05 UT) in a farmer’s field outside of Engels.

vostok-1_landingObserving the landing of Vostok-1 were two school girls, who recalled the site of the capsule hitting the ground with a combination of fascination and fear:

It was a huge ball, about two or three metres high. It fell, then it bounced and then it fell again. There was a huge hole where it hit the first time.

Elsewhere, a farmer and her daughter observed the strange scene of a figure in a bright orange suit with a large white helmet landing near them by parachute. Gagarin later recalled:

When they saw me in my spacesuit and the parachute dragging alongside as I walked, they started to back away in fear. I told them, ‘Don’t be afraid, I am a Soviet like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow!’

After the flight, Gagarin became a worldwide celebrity, touring widely abroad to promote the Soviet’s accomplishment in putting a man into space. Upon returning home, he found himself relegated to training and other tasks, due in part to the death of his friend, Vladimir Komarov in the first flight involving a Soyuz spacecraft. Shortly thereafter, he began to re-qualify to become a fighter pilot, and died during one of his training flights.

Su-15_FlagonOfficially, reports about Gagarin and Seryogin’s death claim that the plane crashed when Gagarin manuevered the two-seated training version of the MiG-15 fighter craft to avoid a “foreign object”. The report does not specify what this object was, but the term refers to  anything from balloons and flocks of birds to airborne debris or another airborne craft. And as you can imagine, people have made some very interesting suggestions as to what this object could have been.

Now, a declassified report, which Leonov has been permitted to share, shows what actually happened during the training flight. Apparently, an “unauthorized Su-15 fighter” flew too close to Gagarin’s MiG, disrupting its flight and sending it into a spin. In his article, Leonov went on to explain in further detail:

In this case, the pilot didn’t follow the book, descending to an altitude of 450 meters. While afterburning the aircraft reduced its echelon at a distance of 10-15 meters in the clouds, passing close to Gagarin, turning his plane and thus sending it into a tailspin — a deep spiral, to be precise — at a speed of 750 kilometers per hour.

The pilot of the SU-15 survived the incident, is apparently still alive, and was not named – a condition of Leonov’s permission to share the information.

valentina_tereshkova_1Afterwards, the first woman into space, Valentina Tereshkova (also a Soviet cosmonaut) was officially grounded by the government after Gagarin’s death to avoid a loss of another prominent cosmonaut. After the revelation was made about the true cause of Gagarin’s death, she responded by saying that the details come as a bittersweet relief. “The only regret here is that it took so long for the truth to be revealed,” Tereshkova said. “But we can finally rest easy.

Indeed. Rest in peace, Yuri. Like many who have since come and gone, you’re a part of an extremely select few who went into space at a time when doing so was still considered by many to be an impossible dream. And regardless of the Cold War atmosphere in which this accomplishment occurred, it remains an historic first and one of the greatest accomplishments ever made by a human being.

Source: universetoday.com

News From Space: China’s Launches Shenzou 10 Manned Spaceship

shenzou_10Yesterday, at approximately 5:38 am ET, China took yet another step towards establishing itself as a major player in space. It’s latest manned spacecraft, known as the Shenzhou 10, departed the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at the edge of the Gobi Desert, carrying three astronauts on what is planned to be a fifteen day mission that will see them rendezvousing with the prototype Tiangong-1 space lab in Earth’s orbit.

This is China’s fifth manned mission into space and will be its longest to date. The purpose of the mission is to educate young people about science, but for the Chinese state, it also presents an opportunity to flex its muscles as one of the new leaders in space exploration. Much of this has to do with the Tiangong-1, which is intended to serve as an experimental prototype for a much larger Chinese space station that will be launched in 2020.

shenzhou-10-crewIn this respect, China is hoping to reach beyond its membership as on the three nations to send manned craft into space and join the United States and Russia by being able to send independently maintained space stations into orbit as well. If all goes well, China’s space station will join the likes of Mir and the ISS in Earth’s lower orbit. And with this kind of infrastructure in place, China will be well suited to play a role in future missions to Mars and the outer Solar System.

The craft carried two men, mission commander Nie Haisheng and Zhang Xiaoguang, and China’s second female astronaut, Wang Yaping. After rendezvousing with the space lab, the crew will spend a total of 12 days living in zero-gravity and conducting scientific experiments, the results of which will be shared with people on Earth.

shenzou_10_dockBorrowing a page from astronaut Chris Hadfield and his many popular Youtube videos that cataloged his crew’s mission aboard the ISS, the Chinese crew plans to deliver a series of talks to students while aboard the Tiangong. This development of “space classrooms” marks the boldest step so far for the Chinese space program, turning what was a military-backed program into something that will impact on the lives of ordinary Chinese citizens.

Here too, China is following in the footsteps of NASA, which uses student outreach to inspire interest in space exploration and sustain support for its budgets. At a news conference on Monday, Wang said she was “eager to explore and feel the magic and splendor of space with young friends.” Her fellow astronaut Zhang told reporters they would conduct dozens of space science experiments and would “enjoy personalized space foods especially designed by our nutritionists.

China_launchcenterOn the day of the launch, President Xi Jinping was shown live on television at the launch center. State television showed Xi watching the launch, as well as Premier Li Keqiang who was at the space command center in Beijing. Prior to the launch, Xi delivered a statement to the astronauts, commending them on their efforts and wishing them luck on their journey:

You have made [the] Chinese people feel proud of ourselves. You have trained and prepared yourselves carefully and thoroughly, so I am confident in your completing the mission successfully. I wish you success and look forward to your triumphant return.

The space program is a source of enormous national pride for China, reflecting its rapid economic and technological progress and ambition to rank among the world’s leading nations. Little wonder then why the launch was met with such fanfare and overseen by both the President and Premier. The mission comes at the height of ten years of Chinese space exploration and if successful, will mark China as a true superpower in the space race of the 21st century.

And be sure to check out the video of the launch of the Shenzou 10:


Source:
cbc.ca, news.xinhuanet.com