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NASA will let tourists visit the International Space Station starting in 2020

NASA plans to allow tourists to visit the International Space Station from 2020 – at an estimated cost of more than $50 million (£39 million) per trip.

Until now, the floating space lab has only been accessible to astronauts representing state-level space agencies.

In a surprise announcement today, NASA confirmed that it would be “opening the International Space Station for commercial business”.

It means that private companies will be able to take “private astronauts” to the ISS for up to 30 days.

“The agency can accommodate up to two short-duration private astronaut missions per year to the International Space Station,” Nasa explained.

“These missions will be privately funded, dedicated commercial spaceflights.”

Transport will be provided by both Boeing and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, who are currently developing capsules that can carry humans to the ISS.

It’s expected that a trip will likely cost around $50 million (£39 million) per astronaut, according to early estimates – but could easily rise well above that figure.

The spaceflight to the ISS will account for a large chunk of the cost.

NASA typically pays around $75 million for seats aboard a Soyuz spacecraft destined for the ISS, and even paid $82 million per seat in 2015.

However, NASA says seats aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon and/or Boeing CST-100 capsules will cost roughly $58 million per seat.

It’s these capsules that will be used to ferry astronauts up to the ISS – but the cost continues to rise after the journey.

Keeping astronauts on board the ISS is a pricey business.

For instance, regenerative life support and toilet cost $11,250 (£8,800) per astronaut each day.

And general supplies – like food and air – cost $22,500 (£17,500) per astronaut each day.

Nasa will get around $35,000 (£27,000) per night that a private astronaut spends on board the ISS.

A large bank balance won’t be enough either: you’ll have to pass Nasa’s rigorous health checks and training procedures.

As part of its “commercialization” of the ISS, Nasa will be making one space station port and utilities available for a private company to “attach a commercial module to”.

And it hopes that in the long-term, there will be lots of private space stations floating just above Earth.

“In the long-term, NASA’s goal is to become one of many customers purchasing services from independent, commercial and free-flying habitable destinations in low-Earth orbit,” NASA explained.

“A robust low-Earth orbit economy will need multiple commercial destinations, and NASA is partnering with industry to pursue dual paths to that objective that either go through the space station or directly to a free-flying destination.”

Whatever ends up going into space, it’s unlikely to get cheaper any time soon.

Even SpaceX charges $62million (£48.7million) to send commercial satellites into orbit with its relatively new Falcon 9 rocket.

And Axiom Space, a Houston-based company hoping to organize trips to the ISS, has pledged to charge $55 million (£43.2 million) for a 10-day trip to the ISS.

So why is NASA letting tourists travel to the ISS?

The main advantage seems to be keeping costs down, as the ISS is very expensive to run.

But it’s also about continuing to test space travel – to make it safer and cheaper for everyone.

“Market studies identified private astronaut missions to low-Earth orbit as a key element to demonstrate demand and reduce risk for future commercial destinations in low-Earth orbit,” NASA explained.

The long-term plan is to create space stations near Earth that can be used as stop-off points for deeper trips into space.

NASA hopes to set up several “lunar gateways” starting from 2028 that will float near the Moon, and could be used for crewed missions to Mars.

“The first Gateway is about the moon, but I think the second Gateway, being a deep-space transport, again using commercial and international partners, enables us to get to Mars,” said NASA top boss Jim Bridenstine, speaking last year.

“What we don’t want to do is go to the surface of the moon, prove that we can do it again, and then be done. We want to go to stay.

“And the Gateway, in my view – I’ve been convinced – enables us to take advantage of commercial and international partners in a more robust way so we are there to stay, it enables us to get to more parts of the moon than ever before, and it enables us to get to Mars.”

This story originally appeared in The Sun.

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Glass Invented for Drinking Whiskey in Space – Finally!

A Special Whisky Glass for Special Space Whisky

If Galactic’s first commercial flights are any indication, life in space could use a bit more glamour. Astronauts may be fine drinking recycled pee, but celebrities and wealthy space enthusiasts, who have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to get beyond Earth’s atmosphere, may want to sip something a little stronger. Enter Scotch-maker Ballantine’s new space glass, designed for drinking in microgravity.

Without Earth’s gravity, a regular snifter would send droplets of fancy Scotch soaring into the air—and away from mouths. The Ballantine’s glass is designed to keep the whisky where it belongs. A metal plate at the bottom of the glass creates surface tension to keep the Scotch—poured into the bottom of the cupcontained. Rivulets running up the side of the glass channel the liquid directly into the mouth via a gold mouthpiece. (The company details the design process here.)

Scotch whisky companies seem particularly determined to corner the space drinking market. Ardberg whisky, for instance, is already an old pro at intergalactic refreshments, as vials of the Scotch spent several years on the International Space Station before returning last year. (The verdict: space makes smoky Scotch even smokier.) Several breweries also offer beer made from yeast that’s left Earth and returned, in case hard liquor isn’t your cup of astro-tea.

Naturally, those of us who are earthbound can still buy Ballantine’s space glass for an out-of-this-world experience.

[h/t: The New York Times]

All images by Ballantine’s via Medium

September 8, 2015 – 5:00pm

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Space station shipment launched from Virginia

Space station shipment launched from Virginia

Orbital Sciences Corp. launched its Cygnus capsule from the Virginia coast, its third space station delivery for NASA.

Daylight and clouds limited visibility, but observers from North Carolina to New Jersey still had a shot at seeing the rising Antares rocket. It resembled a bright light in the early afternoon sky.
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Its destination, the space station, was soaring 260 miles above Australia when the Cygnus took flight. The unmanned capsule should arrive there Wednesday.

This newest Cygnus contains more than 3,000 pounds of supplies, much of it food. Also on board: mini-satellites, science samples, equipment and experimental exercise clothes. NASA said the new type of clothing is resistant to bacteria and odor buildup. So the astronauts won’t smell as much during their two hours of daily workout in orbit and they’ll require fewer clothing changes.

NASA is paying for the delivery service. The space agency hired two companies — the Virginia-based Orbital Sciences and California’s SpaceX — to keep the space station well stocked once the shuttle program ended. The international partners also make shipments; the European Space Agency, for example, will launch its supply ship in 1 1/2 weeks from French Guiana.

This particular Cygnus delivery was delayed a few months by various problems, including additional engine inspections and, most recently, bad weather at the Wallops Island launch site.

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The Cygnus will remain at the space station for about a month. It will be filled with trash and cut loose for a fiery re-entry. Unlike the SpaceX Dragon capsule, the Cygnus is not built to return safely to Earth.

Saturday, meanwhile, marked the 5,000th day of continuous human habitation at the 260-mile-high outpost. Six men currently are on board, representing the United States, Russia and Germany.

“Humans are explorers!” German astronaut Alexander Gerst said via Twitter.

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Mars ‘flying saucer’ splashes down after NASA test

mars-saucer-cropped-internal.jpg

FILE – In this undated file photo provided by NASA, a saucer-shaped test vehicle known as a Low Density Supersonic Decelerator is shown in the Missile Assembly Building at the US Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility at Kekaha on the island of Kauai in Hawaii.AP/NASA

After several weather delays, NASA on Saturday launched a helium balloon carrying a saucer-shaped vehicle high in Earth’s atmosphere to test technology that could be used to land on Mars.

The craft deployed a novel inflatable braking system on its way back to Earth, but its massive parachute failed to fully unfurl as it descended to a splashdown.

Control room cheers that greeted successful steps in the complex test rapidly died as the parachute appeared to emerge tangled.

“Please inform the recovery director we have bad chute,” a mission official ordered.

Since the twin Viking spacecraft landed on the red planet in 1976, NASA has relied on the same parachute design to slow landers and rovers after piercing through the thin Martian atmosphere.

The $150 million experimental flight tests a novel vehicle and a giant parachute designed to deliver heavier spacecraft and eventually astronauts.

Viewers around the world with an Internet connection followed portions of the mission in real time thanks to cameras on board the vehicle that beamed back low-resolution footage.

After taking off at 11:40 a.m. from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, the balloon boosted the disc-shaped vehicle over the Pacific. Its rocket motor should then ignite, carrying the vehicle to 34 miles high at supersonic speeds.

The environment this high up is similar to the thin Martian atmosphere. As the vehicle prepared to drop back the Earth, a tube around it expanded like a Hawaiian puffer fish, creating atmospheric drag to dramatically slow it down from Mach 4, or four times the speed of sound.

Then the parachute if only partially — and the vehicle splashed down about three hours later. At 110 feet in diameter, the parachute is twice as big as the one that carried the 1-ton Curiosity rover through the Martian atmosphere in 2011.

Despite the parachute problem, “what we just saw was a really good test,” said NASA engineer Dan Coatta with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The test was postponed six previous times because of high winds. Winds need to be calm so that the balloon doesn’t stray into no-fly zones.

Engineers planned to analyze the data and conduct several more flights next year before deciding whether to fly the vehicle and parachute on a future Mars mission.

“We want to test them here where it’s cheaper before we send it to Mars to make sure that it’s going to work there,” project manager Mark Adler of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory said during a pre-launch news conference in Kauai in early June.

The technology envelope needs to be pushed or else humanity won’t be able to fly beyond the International Space Station in low-Earth orbit, said Michael Gazarik, head of space technology at NASA headquarters.

Technology development “is the surest path to Mars,” Gazarik said at the briefing.

The Los Angeles Times reported that teams working on the project will report at different times. These teams include specialists who will launch the balloon and communication teams. There are antennas near the base, the report said.

There is a lot that can go wrong, but that’s precisely why the teams say these tests are imperative.

“We learn even more when we fail,” Robert Manning, the chief engineer, told The Times. “If you’re not dropping balls, you’re not learning how to juggle.”

Click for more from LA Times

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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Inside The New Dragon Spacecraft

The Dragon V2 Capsule can carry humans, dock with the ISS, and land on its own.

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Astronauts see strange cloud in space

Astronauts see strange cloud in space, remnant of missile launch

By Miriam Kramer

Published October 15, 2013

  • hopkins-twitter-iss-photo-cloud.jpg

    Oct. 10, 2013: NASA Astronaut Mike Hopkins took this photo from the International Space Station. “Saw something launch into space today. Not sure what it was but the cloud it left behind was pretty amazing,” the Expedition 37/38 Flight Engineer tweeted.(MIKE HOPKINS (VIA TWITTER AS @ASTROILLINI))

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    Oct. 11, 2013: Astronaut Luca Parmitano of Italy tweeted this photo of a missile launch seen from the International  Space Station.(LUCA PARMITANO (VIA TWITTER AS @ASTRO_LUCA))

Astronauts on the International Space Station have beamed home photos of an eerie space cloud outside their orbital home, a strange sight apparently created by a recent missile launch.

The astronaut photos were captured on Oct. 10 by NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins and European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano who took to Twitter under their pen names (@AstroIllini and @astro_luca, respectively) to share the unnatural looking space cloud formation with Earth.

“Saw something launch into space today,” Hopkins wrote. “Not sure what it was but the cloud it left behind was pretty amazing.” At first, Hopkins wasn’t sure what created the odd looking cloud outside the window of the orbiting laboratory, but Parmitano cleared up the confusion with a Twitter post of his own. [Amazing Space Photos by Astronaut Luca Parmitano]

“A missile launch seen from space: an unexpected surprise!” Parmitano wrote in a post on Oct. 11. One of the Italian astronaut’s photos shows a curving contrail left in the missile’s wake and another features a wispy cloud formed in space after the missile disintegrated.

Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces launched the missile, according to a blog post on RussianForces.org. The Topol/SS-25 missile launched from Kapustin Yar to the Sary Shagan test site in Kazakhstan.

“According to a representative of the Rocket Forces, the test was used to confirm characteristics of the Topol missile, to test the systems of the Sary Shagan test site, and ‘to test new combat payload for intercontinental ballistic missiles,'” RussianForces.org wrote on Oct. 10.

Russia also conducted a similar test from Kapustin Yar to Sary Shagan in June 2012, RussiaForces.org said.

Parmitano and Hopkins are joined by four other spaceflyers on the International Space Station. NASA’s Karen Nyberg and Russian cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin, Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy round out the Expedition 37 crew. Ryazanskiy, Hopkins and Kotov launched to the station at the end of September. Current station commander Yurchikhin, Nyberg and Parmitano are scheduled to fly back to Earth on Nov. 11.

Although NASA is currently closed due to the government shutdown, astronauts on the station are apparently still able to post photos on social media websites.

Twitter is just one of the ways that astronauts are able to communicate with people on the ground. Nyberg actively posts post photos on the website Pinterest and Parmitano blogs about his adventures in spaceflight through ESA. The station astronauts can also video chat with their loved ones on the surface of Earth.

The $100 billion orbiting laboratory is the size of a five-bedroom house with the wingspan of a football field. It is the largest structure ever built in space and has been continually staffed by a rotating crew of astronauts and cosmonauts since 2000.

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Dark Matter Update

Dark matter, hidden substance that makes up the universe, possibly found by $2b space physics experiment

By Tia Ghose

Published April 03, 2013

Space.com

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    The powerful Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 (AMS) is visible at center left. The blackness of space and Earth’s horizon provide the backdrop for the scene, on May 20, 2011 (Flight Day 5 of the STS-134 shuttle mission). (NASA)

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    Artist’s concept of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a particle physics detector that will be installed on the starboard truss of the International Space Station. (NASA)

A massive particle detector mounted on the International Space Station may have detected elusive dark matter at last, scientists announced Wednesday.
The detector, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), measures cosmic-ray particles in space. After detecting billions of these particles over a year and a half, the experiment recorded a signal that may be the result of dark matter, the hidden substance that makes up more than 80 percent of all matter in the universe.

AMS found about 400,000 positrons, the antimatter partner particles of electrons. The energies of these positrons suggest they might have been created when particles of dark matter collided and destroyed each other.

NASA will hold a press conference detailing the AMS science results at 1:30 p.m. EDT (1830 GMT) today. You can watch the AMS science results live on FoxNews.com.

Elusive matter
Dark matter emits no light and can’t be detected with telescopes, and it seems to dwarf the ordinary matter in the universe.

Physicists have suggested that dark matter is made of WIMPs, or weakly interacting massive particles, which almost never interact with normal matter particles. WIMPs are thought to be their own antimatter partner particles, so when two WIMPS meet, they would annihilate each other, as matter and antimatter partners destroy each other on contact. The result of such a violent collision between WIMPs would be a positron and an electron, said study co-author Roald Sagdeev, a physicist at the University of Maryland.

The characteristics of the positrons detected by AMS match predictions for the products of dark-matter collisions. For example, based on an overabundance of positrons measured by a satellite-based detector called the Payload for Antimatter Matter Exploration and Light-nuclei Astrophysics (PAMELA), scientists expected that positrons from dark matter would be found at energy levels higher than 10 gigaelectron volts (GeV), said study co-author Veronica Bindi, a physicist at the University of Hawaii.

And the positrons found by AMS increase in abundance from 10 GeV to 250 GeV, with the slope of the increase reducing by an order of magnitude over the range from 20 GeV to 250 GeV — just what scientists expect from positrons created by dark-matter annihilations.

Furthermore, the positrons appear to come from all directions in space, and not a single source in the sky. This finding is also what researchers expected from the products of dark matter, which is thought to permeate the universe.

Intriguing signal
The $2 billion AMS instrument was delivered to the International Space Station in May 2011 by the space shuttle Endeavour, and installed by spacewalking astronauts on the orbiting laboratory’s exterior backbone.

In just its first year and half, the AMS detector has measured 6.8 million positrons and electrons. As the instrument continues to collect data, scientists will be better able to tell whether the positron signal really does come from dark matter.

If the positrons aren’t created by annihilating WIMPs, there are other possible explanations. For example, spinning stars called pulsars spread out around the plane of our Milky Way galaxy.

But even with more AMS data, “we will still not be completely able to figure out if it’s really a dark-matter source or a pulsar,” Bindi told SPACE.com. To understand dark matter thoroughly, scientists hope to detect WIMPs directly via underground experiments on Earth, such as the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search and XENON Dark Matter projects.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/04/03/dark-matter-major-astrophysics-discovery/?intcmp=features#ixzz2PQX63gak

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