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Spaceports

Scientists are intensively tracking the workings of planet Earth with satellites that chart its winds, ocean currents, temperatures, plant growth, and more. And with a new virtual Earth, shrunk down and converted into physical equations, satellite data, and computer codes, scientists may begin to see Earth changing before our eyes.
There are many challenges associated with living on the International Space Station. Things that are easy to do on Earth where there is gravity can be difficult in space, for astronauts have been living for more than a decade aboard the space station and have developed a few tricks that make these everyday tasks easier. Expedition 36 Flight Engineer Karen Nyberg shows how she washes and rinses her hair in microgravity aboard the International Space Station.
NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is a robotic mission that will orbit the moon to gather detailed information about the lunar atmosphere, conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust. The spacecraft is set to be the first interplanetary launch from Virginia's Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island on Friday, September 6, 2013 at approximately 10:30 pm EST.
NASA Public Affairs Officer Lori Meggs talks with OPALS Project Systems Engineer Bogdan Oaida from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. OPALS, short for Optical PAyload for Lasercomm Science, looks at using lasers to transmit data from the International Space Station at much higher data rates than what is possible currently with radio-frequency transmissions.
The Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS), an optical technology demonstration experiment, could improve NASA's data rates for communications with future spacecraft by a factor of 10 to 100. OPALS has arrived at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida from the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. It is scheduled to launch to the space station later this year aboard a SpaceX Dragon commercial resupply capsule (CRS-3) on the company's Falcon 9 rocket. More from NASA.              
Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards (Md-D), the ranking Member, Subcommittee on Space, House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, discussed the importance of federal investment in civilian space activities and the role of NASA as a driver for inspiration, innovation, and economic growth at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC.

Rep. Edwards discussed the innovation and economic benefits of human space exploration and looked back to the successes of the Apollo missions.  She laid out an argument for a unifying vision of a manned mission to Mars, which would result in similar technological advances, reap tangible societal benefits, and help maintain NASA’s preeminence around the world in the fields of science and engineering.

NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, recently mapped the boundaries of the solar system's tail, called the heliotail. By combining observations from the first three years of IBEX imagery, scientists have mapped out a tail that shows a combination of fast and slow moving particles. The entire structure twisted, because it experiences the pushing and pulling of magnetic fields outside the solar system.

Since its launch in 2008, IBEX has been observing the interactions between the solar wind and the interstellar medium at the edge of our solar system. The briefing presented new observations of the outermost boundary of our solar system's heliosphere, the region of space influenced by our sun.
Two Expedition 36 astronauts wrapped up a successful 6-hour, 7-minute spacewalk at 2:09 a.m. EDT Tuesday, July 9, 2013, completing the first of two July excursions to prepare the International Space Station for a new Russian multi-purpose laboratory called Nauka that is due to launch in December of this year. The astronauts also performed additional installations on the station's backbone. 

Veteran NASA astronaut Christopher Cassidy and rookie partner Luca Parmitano, the first Italian to make a spacewalk, left the station's Quest airlock shortly after 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT) as the orbital outpost sailed about 260 miles (418 km) over the Arabian Sea.
The rover NASA will send to Mars in 2020 should look for signs of past life, collect samples for possible future return to Earth, and demonstrate technology for future human exploration of the Red Planet, according to a report provided to the agency.
The 154-page document was prepared by the Mars 2020 Science Definition Team, which NASA appointed in January to outline scientific objectives for the mission. The team, composed of 19 scientists and engineers from universities and research organizations, proposed a mission concept that could accomplish several high-priority planetary science goals and be a major step in meeting President Obama's challenge to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.    
NASA will conduct an open competition for the payload and science instruments. They will be placed on a rover similar to Curiosity, which landed on Mars almost a year ago. Using Curiosity's design will help minimize mission costs and risks and deliver a rover that can accomplish the mission objectives.        
The 2020 mission proposed by the Science Definition Team would build upon the accomplishments of Curiosity and other Mars missions. The Spirit and Opportunity rovers, along with several orbiters, found evidence Mars has a watery history. Curiosity recently confirmed that past environmental conditions on Mars could have supported living microbes. According to the Science Definition Team, looking for signs of past life is the next logical step. 
The team's report details how the rover would use its instruments for visual, mineralogical and chemical analysis down to microscopic scale to understand the environment around its landing site and identify biosignatures, or features in the rocks and soil that could have been formed biologically.   
"The Mars 2020 mission concept does not presume that life ever existed on Mars," said Jack Mustard, chairman of the Science Definition Team and a professor at the Geological Sciences at Brown University in Providence, R.I. "However, given the recent Curiosity findings, past Martian life seems possible, and we should begin the difficult endeavor of seeking the signs of life. No matter what we learn, we would make significant progress in understanding the circumstances of early life existing on Earth and the possibilities of extraterrestrial life."        
The measurements needed to explore a site on Mars to interpret ancient habitability and the potential for preserved biosignatures are identical to those needed to select and cache samples for future return to Earth. The Science Definition Team is proposing the rover collect and package as many as 31 samples of rock cores and soil for a later mission to bring back for more definitive analysis in laboratories on Earth. The science conducted by the rover's instruments would expand our knowledge of Mars and provide the context needed to make wise decisions about whether to return the samples to Earth.           
Samples collected and analyzed by the rover will help inform future human exploration missions to Mars. The rover could make measurements and technology demonstrations to help designers of a human expedition understand any hazards posed by Martian dust and demonstrate how to collect carbon dioxide, which could be a resource for making oxygen and rocket fuel. Improved precision landing technology that enhances the scientific value of robotic missions also will be critical for eventual human exploration on the surface.    

SpaceX's reusable Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) test vehicle made its highest jump yet, flying 1066 feet (325 meters) on 14 June 2013 and landed safely under near-perfect control. - Grasshopper's last jump, set to Johnny Cash's 'Ring of Fire' here: http://goo.gl/sfaWx

STS-135 Atlantis launched on 8 July 2011 on the last flight of the United States space shuttle program from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. "The Gap" of American-based human spaceflight continues but must be closed. It remains up to Americans to demand the Congress to enable the private sector to place humans back on orbit from American soil before the end of 2015. Take action: call and/or write your two US Senators and your Congressman today.
The European Space Agency (ESA) tested splashdown on its Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) - Photo gallery here: http://goo.gl/BViOJ , a wingless body with movable rear flaps for control, on June 19, 2013. Review found that parachutes provided such a gentle landing that the inflators never detected the splashdown. The ESA plans an orbital launch test next year of the IXL on the Vega rocket booster from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana, South America.


An Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) successfully launched from India today, July 1st 2013 carrying the first of seven IRNSS satellites into orbit. Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) will provide real time navigation and time data to multiple users.

Russia's Proton rocket crashed immediately after lifting off from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, Monday. Around an hour after the accident, a Russian Vesti 24 TV channel reported that Kazakh authorities had considered evacuating population from the area around the crash site due to a possible danger from toxic propellants onboard the rocket.
 

According to the local Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency, the launch vehicle crashed one kilometer from the launch complex.  The crash released 600 tons of toxic fuel at the Baikonur facility that Russia rents from Kazakhstan.

But Tuesday’s disaster should not affect trips made by manned Russian spacecraft to the International Space Station, according to NASA officials. Russian Soyuz rockets have been used to transport astronauts to the International Space Station, particularly since the decommissioning of the U.S. space shuttle fleet in 2011, reports the Los Angeles Times.
 
"The Proton rocket is a very different design than the Soyuz rocket, and we expect no impact to Soyuz launches," William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, said in a statement.
This movie clip shows Phobos, the larger of the two moons of Mars, passing overhead, as observed by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity in a series of images centered straight overhead starting shortly after sunset. Phobos first appears near the lower center of the view and moves toward the top of the view. The clip runs at accelerated speed; the amount of time covered in it is about 27 minutes.

The 86 frames combined into this clip were taken by the rover's Navigation Camera (Navcam) on the 317th Martian day of Curiosity's work on Mars (June 28, 2013, PDT). The apparent ring about halfway between the center of the frames and the edges is an artifact of the imaging due to scattering of light inside the camera.

Toyota is teaming up with Japan's space program to send Kirobo to space August 4, 2013. The robot astronaut is built with Toyota's latest voice-recognition software to test future applications for robot-human interaction. (AFP, Guardian)

The Shenzhou-10 Taikonauts completing  China's longest manned space mission, returned to Earth safely Wednesday morning, June 26, 2013 to China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region  marking another step towards the country's goal of building a permanent manned space station by 2020.
 
Nie Haisheng, commander of the Shenzhou-10 crew and a second-time space traveler, was the first to emerge out of the module, followed by Wang Yaping, the only female astronaut of the mission, and Zhang Xiaoguang. More from the Global Times and NBCNews.
 

Analysis from Stratfor.

A Russian Soyuz-STB rocket launched from the European Space Agency (ESA) spaceport at  Kourou in French Guiana today, 25th June 2013. The rocket boosted the first of the O3b Constellation satellites to enhance internet connectivity in harder to reach areas of Earth. This was the first Soyuz launch from Kourou this year and the 5th overall.
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