For the first time, you can hear the sound of NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter flying on Mars

ingenuity perseverance thumb
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter (left) and Perseverance rover (right).

A ghostly hum has been echoing across the plains of Mars’ Jezero Crater. It’s the sound of NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter spinning its rotor blades at unearthly speeds and lifting itself away from the Martian dust. For the first time, you can hear it yourself.

NASA’s Perseverance rover, which carried Ingenuity to Mars, has recorded video of each of the helicopter’s four flights thus far. But during the chopper’s fourth flight on April 30, Perseverance’s microphone was on. It captured the sound of otherworldly flight from 262 feet away.

The dominant sound in the video, below, is the rumble of wind blowing across the open plain. But if you turn the volume up high, you’ll hear the helicopter whir as its spinning blades lift it from the ground. The sound gets loudest when Ingenuity flies across the camera’s field of view.

“This is a very good surprise,” David Mimoun, the science lead for the Perseverance rover’s microphone, said in a press release. “We had carried out tests and simulations that told us the microphone would barely pick up the sounds of the helicopter, as the Mars atmosphere damps the sound propagation strongly. We have been lucky to register the helicopter at such a distance. This recording will be a gold mine for our understanding of the Martian atmosphere.”

Scientists had to tweak the original audio a bit in order to isolate the sound of the rotor blades – they reduced the volume of frequencies above and below the helicopter noise.

Ingenuity is about to start a new mission

ingenuity helicopter mars
Ingenuity, photographed on Mars by the Perseverance rover on April 4, 2021.

Ingenuity’s rotor blades have to spin at more than 2,500 rotations per minute – roughly five times the speed of a passenger helicopter on Earth. That’s the only way the drone can gain enough traction in the thin Martian air, which has about 1% the density of Earth’s atmosphere. It’s the equivalent of flying at three times the height of Mount Everest.

For the flight in the video – Ingenuity’s fourth – the rotor blades lifted it 16 feet off the ground. Then it flew south for about 436 feet, snapping photos of the Martian surface along the way. It stopped, hovered, and flew back to its original landing spot. The drone reached a record speed of 3.5 meters per second.

The NASA team the data that Ingenuity’s cameras gathered to make a 3D map of the Martian terrain and pick out a new airfield for the helicopter. During its next flight, which is scheduled for Friday, Ingenuity is set to retrace its path to this new location then land there. It will be the helicopter’s first one-way flight. Before landing, the drone is set to climb a record 33 feet high.

NASA’s original plan was to abandon the helicopter after its fifth flight. But Ingenuity has proven so successful that the agency decided to give it a secondary mission. From its new airfield, Ingenuity will begin testing operations that the agency might want to conduct with future space helicopters.

That includes scouting and mapping, observing interesting features of Mars from the air, and exploring rough terrain that rovers can’t access.

“The ability to fly the helicopter out into terrain that the rover cannot possibly traverse and bring back scientific data – this is extremely important for future missions that could combine a rover with a reconnaissance helicopter,” Perseverance scientist Ken Farley said in a briefing on April 30.

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SpaceX’s high-flying Starship prototype has finally landed successfully – a big step towards Elon Musk’s reusable mega-rocket

spacex starship sn15 landing success happy elon musk
The SN15 prototype stuck the landing (left), a big step towards becoming the reusable rocket Elon Musk (right) wants it to be.

On Wednesday, SpaceX sent the latest prototype of its mega-rocket system roaring six miles above Texas, its fifth such launch since December.

SpaceX is no stranger to Starship launches, but unlike the last four attempts, this prototype landed smoothly, without blowing up during its first 15 minutes back on Earth. A previous prototype exploded 10 minutes after landing, after a fire burning around its skirt wouldn’t go out. But this time, the fire at the prototype’s feet appeared to be extinguished.

“Starship landing nominal!” Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder, CEO, and chief engineer, declared on Twitter.

This version of the spaceship, called Starship serial No. 15, or SN15, followed the same trajectory as its predecessors. The 16-story rocket lifted off from SpaceX’s launch facilities in Boca Chica, Texas. As it approached the peak of its flight, the vehicle shut off two of its three truck-sized Raptor engines. It hovered at roughly 33,000 feet before cutting the final engine, then tipped sideways and plunged back to Earth. As it neared the ground, the engines reignited to flip the rocket upright, and then it lowered itself to the landing pad.

As of Wednesday afternoon, SN15 was still sitting upright and intact on the landing pad.

A final version of this mega-spaceship is set to become NASA’s next moon lander – the vehicle that could put boots on the lunar surface for the first time since 1972.

starship moon human landing system
An illustration of SpaceX’s Starship as a lander carrying NASA astronauts to the moon.

Musk has an ambitious vision for the launch system. The prototypes his company is launching are meant to be the upper stage of a two-part system. Eventually, a roughly 23-story booster called Super Heavy would heave the spaceship toward orbit. Musk wants this system to carry humans into low-Earth orbit, to the moon, and even to Mars, then return to Earth to do it again. The smooth landing of SN15 gets Starship a big step closer to being the reusable vehicle Musk wants.

“It’s a tough vehicle because we’re trying to crack this nut of a fully and rapidly reusable rocket,” Musk said in a NASA press conference on April 23. “Somebody’s got to do this. And if you have rapid and complete reusability, then that is the gateway to the heavens.”

SpaceX is building a booster that could carry Starship to orbit

The SN15 was the second of the five high-flying Starships SpaceX has launched that touched down in one piece – at least initially. The other was SN10, which landed in one piece in early March but blew up 10 minutes later. The first two Starship prototypes that soared to a high altitudes, SN8 and SN9, both slammed into the landing pad at high speeds and exploded immediately. Another, SN11, exploded in midair as it relit its engines for landing.

starship prototype explosions collage spacex boca chica spadre
From left to right: The SN8, SN9, and SN10 explosions.

SpaceX began assembling its first prototype of the Super Heavy booster – the other part of the Starship system – at its Texas facilities in mid-March. Musk said this version of Super Heavy is just for production testing, though the next prototype should fly.

To grasp the size of this launch system, look for the person standing on the lift in this photo Musk shared on Twitter. Starship, not pictured, would sit on top of that booster.

In addition to landing astronauts on the moon, Musk wants the Starship-Super Heavy system to power hypersonic travel on Earth. Ultimately, he has said, he plans to build 1,000 Starships that would carry people and cargo to Mars in order to establish a self-sustaining settlement.

Making Starship-Super Heavy reusable could slash the cost of reaching space by “a factor of 100 or more,” according to Musk. Its enormous size would allow it to carry large payloads to space, including tens of thousands of Starlink internet satellites that SpaceX plans to put into orbit.

In short, this is the launch system on which SpaceX is staking its future. But there are several hurdles to clear before it can reach space.

Environmental reviews could slow Starship’s journey to orbit

spacex starship super heavy spaceship booster rocket launch boca chica south texas illustration
An illustration of SpaceX’s planned 39-story Starship rocket system launching from Boca Chica, Texas.

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has already booked tickets for himself and eight others for a week-long Starship flight around the moon in 2023. The group is set to become the spaceship’s first passengers. After that, NASA hopes that Starship will return astronauts to the moon in 2024. But a report from the agency’s Office of the Inspector General suggested it’s “highly unlikely” NASA will meet that deadline.

In addition to successfully landing Starship prototypes, SpaceX will need to integrate the Super Heavy booster with the spaceship, learn to launch the two parts together, and show it can land the booster in one piece.

The company will also need to rocket a Starship into orbit to test its ability to reenter Earth’s atmosphere. That will require a new type of launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration, which involves many regulatory hurdles, including a thorough environmental assessment. Depending on the findings of that assessment, it’s possible SpaceX may need to conduct a new environmental impact statement, which could take up to three years.

Complicating matters is a leaked FAA draft document obtained by Insider that revealed SpaceX’s plans to dig natural gas wells and build gas-fired power plants in Boca Chica. Such plans could prolong SpaceX’s environmental review process.

Still, Musk maintains that Starship could fly its first people in “a couple years.” He has also said he is “highly confident” that SpaceX will launch an uncrewed Starship to Mars in 2024, followed by a crewed mission in 2026.

“I tend to be somewhat optimistic with respect to schedules. I feel I should acknowledge this,” he said in the NASA briefing. “So take that with a grain of salt. But I think it’s not out of the question that it could fly people in a couple years.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

Watch SpaceX launch its newest Starship prototype. The last 4 exploded.

elon musk starship thumb 4x3
Elon Musk (center) wants Starships to fly to Mars. But so far the only prototype to land successfully (left) exploded 10 minutes later (right).

Update: The SN15 prototype flew and landed successfully on Wednesday. Read more in our story.

SpaceX is about to launch its fifth high-flying Starship prototype on Wednesday afternoon. The spaceship is ready to lift off from the company’s Texas rocket facilities.

Known as Starship Serial No. 15, or SN15, the vehicle is the latest in a series of prototypes that SpaceX is launching up to 6 miles above Boca Chica, Texas. Eventually, a version of this Starship mega-spaceship is expected to become NASA’s next moon lander, which would put boots on the lunar surface for the first time since 1972.

The plan for the SN15 flight calls for the rocket to shut off its three truck-sized Raptor engines one by one as it approaches the peak of its flight. Then the spaceship should tip sideways and plunge back to Earth, using four wing flaps to control its fall. As it nears the ground, SN15 should reignite its engines to flip itself upright and gently lower to the landing pad.

That last step is where its four predecessors have failed.

starship prototype explosions collage spacex boca chica spadre
The SN8, SN9, and SN10 explosions.

The first two prototypes that soared to high altitudes, SN8 and SN9, slammed into the landing pad at high speeds and exploded immediately. The third, SN10, landed in one piece but blew up 10 minutes later. The fourth, SN11, exploded in midair as it relit its engines for landing.

Watch Starship’s flight live

SpaceX is set to stream live from the launchpad and from cameras inside the rocket’s skirt, where the engines are, starting at 5:20 p.m. CT.

A few rocket enthusiasts and fans of the company are also broadcasting live from Boca Chica.

The NASASpaceflight’s video stream offers knowledgeable broadcasters and multiple quality camera views.

The commentators on the feed keep track of preparations at the SpaceX facilities that indicate progress toward liftoff – things like clearing the launchpad, activity in the tank farm next to SN15, and the loading of liquid propellant into the rocket.

LabPadre, meanwhile, offers six unique views of the Starship launch site. That YouTube channel is run by Louis Balderas, who lives across the bay from Boca Chica. Below is its main 4K-resolution feed.

For a more distant view of the launch site – broadcast from the top of a resort in South Padre Island, about 6 miles away – check out SPadre’s 24-hour live feed.

The Federal Aviation Administration has issued an airspace-closure notice for the Boca Chica area to make way for launch on Wednesday. A Cameron County judge has also issued local road closures. Both closures end at 8 p.m. CT, so SpaceX must launch by then.

Airspace and road closures are both required for launch. But they can change day to day depending on SpaceX’s plans and FAA procedure. If SN15 does not fly on Wednesday, further closures indicate that SpaceX could try again on Thursday or Friday.

A series of Starship explosions

For SpaceX, explosions during rocket development are par for the course.

“They use a different development philosophy than the government does, which is: Fly. If something goes wrong, they try to fix it. Fly again. If something else goes wrong, they try to fix that,” John Logsdon, founder of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute and a former member of the NASA Advisory Council, told Insider. “People have complimented SpaceX on how quickly they move.”

But, Logsdon added, “the fact that they’ve had these early development-program problems means that there will have to be a record of success before anybody except an extreme risk-taker is willing to get aboard.”

Success may be even more critical now that NASA has chosen Starship to land its next astronauts on the moon.

The agency announced earlier this month that it is working with SpaceX to turn Starship into a lunar lander as part of NASA’s Artemis program. NASA hopes to land its first crewed Starship on the lunar surface in 2024, though a recent report from the NASA Office of the Inspector General suggested it’s “highly unlikely” the agency will meet that deadline.

starship moon human landing system
Illustration of SpaceX Starship human lander design that will carry NASA astronauts to the Moon’s surface during the Artemis mission.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, recently predicted that Starship could fly its first humans “in a couple years.”

His goals for the launch system extend far beyond the lunar surface. Musk has said he plans to build 1,000 Starships to carry people and cargo to Mars. Ultimately, he hopes to establish a settlement there.

For now, though, SpaceX is trying to land the prototypes without blowing them up.

“Obviously we need to, like, not be making craters,” Musk said in a NASA press conference last month, referring to the explosions. “We’ve got some work to do, but we’re making rapid progress.”

This post has been updated with new information. It was originally published April 19.

Read the original article on Business Insider

SpaceX is preparing to launch its newest Starship prototype on Wednesday. The last 4 exploded.

elon musk starship thumb 4x3
Elon Musk (center) wants Starships to fly to Mars. But so far the only prototype to land successfully (left) exploded 10 minutes later (right).

SpaceX is getting ready to launch its fifth high-flying Starship prototype. The spaceship could lift off from the company’s Texas rocket facilities on Wednesday afternoon.

Known as Starship Serial No. 15, or SN15, the vehicle is the latest in a series of Starship prototypes that SpaceX is launching up to 6 miles above Boca Chica, Texas. Eventually, a version of this mega-spaceship is expected to become NASA’s next moon lander, which would put boots on the lunar surface for the first time since 1972.

The plan for the SN15 flight calls for the rocket to shut off its three truck-sized Raptor engines one by one as it approaches the peak of its flight. Then the spaceship should tip sideways and plunge back to Earth, using four wing flaps to control its fall. As it nears the ground, SN15 should reignite its engines to flip itself upright and gently lower to the landing pad.

That last step is where its four predecessors have failed. The first two prototypes that soared to high altitudes, SN8 and SN9, slammed into the landing pad at high speeds and exploded immediately. The third, SN10, landed in one piece but blew up 10 minutes later. The fourth, SN11, exploded in midair as it relit its engines for landing.

starship prototype explosions collage spacex boca chica spadre
The SN8, SN9, and SN10 explosions.

For SpaceX, explosions during rocket development are par for the course.

“They use a different development philosophy than the government does, which is: Fly. If something goes wrong, they try to fix it. Fly again. If something else goes wrong, they try to fix that,” John Logsdon, founder of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute and a former member of the NASA Advisory Council, told Insider. “People have complimented SpaceX on how quickly they move.”

But, Logsdon added, “the fact that they’ve had these early development-program problems means that there will have to be a record of success before anybody except an extreme risk-taker is willing to get aboard.”

Success may be even more critical now that NASA has chosen Starship to land its next astronauts on the moon.

The agency announced earlier this month that it is working with SpaceX to turn Starship into a lunar lander as part of NASA’s Artemis program. NASA hopes to land its first crewed Starship on the lunar surface in 2024, though a recent report from the NASA Office of the Inspector General suggested it’s “highly unlikely” the agency will meet that deadline.

starship moon human landing system
SpaceX’s Starship human lander would carry NASA astronauts to the moon’s surface.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, recently predicted that Starship could fly its first humans “in a couple years.”

His goals for the launch system extend far beyond the lunar surface. Musk has said he plans to build 1,000 Starships to carry people and cargo to Mars. Ultimately, he hopes to establish a settlement there.

For now, though, SpaceX is trying to land the prototypes without blowing them up.

“Obviously we need to, like, not be making craters,” Musk said in a NASA press conference last month, referring to the explosions. “We’ve got some work to do, but we’re making rapid progress.”

How to watch Starship’s flight live

During the test flight, SpaceX is likely to stream live from the launchpad and from cameras inside the rocket’s skirt, where the engines are. During past Starship flights, the up-close cameras have provided stunning footage, like this clip of SN9.

SpaceX’s live feed of the SN15 launch will be embedded here once it becomes available. A few rocket enthusiasts and fans of the company also broadcast live from Boca Chica.

We recommend starting with NASASpaceflight’s video stream, given the broadcasters’ knowledge and multiple quality camera views.

The commentators on the feed keep track of preparations at the SpaceX facilities that indicate progress toward liftoff – things like clearing the launchpad, activity in the tank farm next to SN15, and the loading of liquid propellant into the rocket.

LabPadre, a YouTube channel from Louis Balderas, who lives across the bay from Boca Chica, offers six unique views of the Starship launch site. Below is the channel’s main 4K-resolution feed.

For a more distant view of the launch site – broadcast from the top of a resort in South Padre Island, about 6 miles away – check out SPadre’s 24-hour live feed.

The Federal Aviation Administration has issued an airspace-closure notice for the area to make way for launch on Wednesday. A Cameron County judge has also issued local road closures. Both closures end at 8 p.m. CT, so SpaceX must launch by then.

Airspace and road closures are both required for launch. But they can change day to day depending on SpaceX’s plans and FAA procedure. If SN15 does not fly on Wednesday, further closures indicate that SpaceX could try again on Thursday or Friday.

This post has been updated with new information. It was originally published April 19.

Read the original article on Business Insider

NASA is developing plans to build an enormous, Arecibo-like telescope inside a crater on the moon

lunar crater radio telescope
An illustration of the Lunar Crater Radio Telescope concept.

NASA is paying a team of researchers to develop a plan for a telescope on the far side of the moon.

The Lunar Crater Radio Telescope (LCRT), as the concept is called, would be a lot like the Arecibo telescope, which collapsed in December. A huge dish would collect radio waves from the cosmos and amplify them so that scientists could analyze the signals. The difference is that on the moon, such a telescope would be shielded from the cacophony of radio signals that such a device on Earth would hear from all kinds of equipment and satellites.

lunar crater radio telescope wide view on far side of moon
An illustration of the Lunar Crater Radio Telescope concept, as seen from high above the moon.

To build the LCRT, rock-climbing robots would suspend a kilometer-wide dish inside a lunar crater. The telescope would be nearly three times wider than Arecibo, and its lunar perch would give it a much better view of the universe.

“With a sufficiently large radio telescope off Earth, we could track the processes that would lead to the formation of the first stars, maybe even find clues to the nature of dark matter,” Joseph Lazio, a NASA radio astronomer working on the LCRT project, said in a press release.

The LCRT plans are too preliminary to be a NASA mission, but the agency announced in early April that it’s giving the team $500,000 to refine its concept of the telescope’s design and craft a plan for building it.

“It’s very challenging, but it’s something that I think is achievable with present-day technology,” Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay, a NASA engineer who leads the team, told Insider.

‘We really do not know what the universe looks like’

Arecibo discovered the first known planet beyond our solar system, mapped Venus’ surface, and detected a pair of stars that confirmed Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

arecibo radio antenna observatory puerto rico overhead view 20050805 naic national science foundation nsf
The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, one of the world’s largest radio telescopes, pictured before its collapse.

However, the telescope was at a disadvantage: Earth’s atmosphere garbles radio waves with a wavelength higher than 10 meters, so it blocked Arecibo’s view of the earliest stages of the universe. Building a telescope on the moon, far from atmospheric interference, would allow astronomers to finally see what they’ve been missing.

“This is at the stage when the first stars were being formed in the universe, or even before that, when the first matter was formed but the stars hadn’t been formed yet,” Bandyopadhyay said.

Studying the early universe could help scientists understand the origins of dark matter, which outweighs visible matter six to one.

“Above-10-meter wavelengths, we really do not know what the universe looks like,” Bandyopadhyay said. “We don’t know what we’re going to discover in those wavelengths.”

The lunar telescope isn’t a NASA mission, but the agency wants to know more

sls space launch system nasa
An artist’s rendering of the Space Launch System, NASA’s next moon rocket, lifting off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Bandyopadhyay’s project is one of six that recently won similar sums from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts Program, which awards funding to help researchers flesh out futuristic ideas like this. These “phase II” grants allow researchers to continue studying their early-stage concepts over the next two years.

In addition to the LCRT, NASA’s list of concepts includes fungus-based space habitats and a swarm of kite-like spacecraft that would explore Venus’ clouds.

“All projects are still in the early stages of development, with most requiring a decade or more of technology maturation. They are not considered official NASA missions,” NASA said in a statement.

Like the other projects, Bandyopadhyay’s team previously got a $125,000 NASA grant to investigate the telescope project’s feasibility.

He’s hopeful that the agency will one day take the LCRT on as an official mission.

No humans required: Robots could build the telescope

duaxel rover climbing robot
A DuAxel rover participates in field tests in the Mojave Desert.

The LCRT team has already picked out a few craters on the moon’s far side that would be big enough for the telescope dish, each about 3 to 5 kilometers (2 to 3 miles) wide. Now they have to figure out how to get the wire-mesh structure into one of those craters.

One potential plan is to land two enormous landers on the edge of the chosen crater – one carrying the mesh and the other carrying 20 crater-climbing DuAxel rovers. The rovers from that second lander would lay out a series of guiding wires on which the first lander would roll out the telescope’s mesh net.

Bandyopadhyay’s team estimates that DuAxel bots could get the job done autonomously in just 10 days, well before the sun would set on that side of the moon for its 15-day night.

the moon surface
The moon as viewed by NASA’s Mariner 10 probe in 1973.

A second option is to use harpoons to deploy the mesh, though that would take about five months, and the robotic equipment would have to survive long lunar nights. The plus side, however, is that Bandyopadhyay estimates this method would be several billion dollars cheaper.

In their first phase of research, Bandyopadhyay’s team picked out a few moon craters that could host their telescope and plotted out the ideas for climbing robots and harpoons. They also laid out the LCRT’s scientific objective: gathering signals from the “Dark Ages” of the early universe and filtering out the cosmic radio noise of our Milky Way.

Now, with their new NASA funding, the group must pick the right materials for the science they want to do.

“In the current phase, our most challenging thing is actually designing a mesh that satisfies multiple different constraints,” Bandyopadhyay said. Those constraints include making a mesh base that would be lightweight enough to launch aboard a rocket. The mesh would also have to be flexible enough to be deployed on the moon yet durable enough to survive dramatic temperature changes there.

lunar crater radio telescope view from inside moon crater
An illustration of the Lunar Crater Radio Telescope, as seen from inside the crater.

The team will also do more research into ways to build this telescope, conduct risk analyses, and lay out a work plan.

Bandyopadhyay hopes his team will come out of this next phase of research with a cost estimate and a solid pitch for a future NASA mission.

“If this mission does get funded through the next stages, I would be very surprised if LCRT was successfully deployed on the moon before I retire. And I’m a very young scientist,” Bandyopadhyay said. “Usually things in space of this magnitude really take time. So, yeah, I’m looking forward to the journey, and this will be a journey of a lifetime.”

This post has been updated. It was originally published on April 16, 2021.

Read the original article on Business Insider

A NASA probe detected a strange radio signal in Venus’ atmosphere last year. Astronomers have figured out where it came from.

NASA parker probe venus
NASA’s Parker Solar Probe snapped an up-close view of Venus when it flew by the planet in July 2020.

  • NASA’s Parker Solar Probe detected a strange radio signal while flying by Venus in July.
  • The probe flew through Venus’ upper atmosphere, where such signals naturally occur, to collect data.
  • The data show Venus’ atmosphere has thinned, a process linked to solar activity.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

During a close flyby of the planet Venus on July 11, 2020, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe detected something odd.

As it dipped just 517 miles above the Venusian surface, the probe’s instruments recorded a low-frequency radio signal – a telltale sign that Parker had skimmed through the ionosphere, a layer of the planet’s upper atmosphere.

This was the first time an instrument had been able to directly record measurements of Venus’ upper atmosphere in nearly three decades, and the data gives us a new understanding of how Venus changes in response to cyclic changes in the sun.

“I was just so excited to have new data from Venus,” Glyn Collinson, an astronomer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a press release.

According to a recent study by Collinson’s team, Venus’ upper atmosphere was an order of magnitude thinner last year than it was in 1992 – the last time scientists were able to collect data from the planet’s atmosphere.

Venus’ thick, hot atmosphere makes it hard to explore

Venus NASA surface
The surface of Venus as seen on September 16, 2010.

Venus is similar to Earth in size and composition, yet crucially different: It’s a toxic, scorching hot hell-world that is likely completely inhospitable to life as we know it.

How the two planets could have developed into such radically different beasts is of profound interest to planetary scientists and astrobiologists searching for other habitable worlds in the galaxy.

Yet missions to explore Venus have been relatively few. There’s not much point sending landers; they can’t survive the planet’s 864-degree-Fahrenheit (462-degree-Celsius) surface.

Sending orbiting probes is also considered problematic due to the incredibly thick atmosphere of carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid rain clouds that make it hard to tell what’s happening on the surface.

For these reasons, Venus hasn’t been a popular target for dedicated missions in some time (Japan’s Akatsuki orbiter being the recent exception), and a lot of our recent data has come piecemeal, from instruments with other primary objectives, like the Parker Solar Probe.

As the Parker probe conducts its mission to study the sun in close detail, it’s been using Venus for gravity assist maneuvers – slingshotting around the planet to alter its velocity and trajectory. It was on one of these gravity assist flybys that the probe’s instruments recorded a radio signal.

Collinson, who has worked on other planetary missions, noted an odd familiarity that he couldn’t quite place in the shape of the signal.

“Then the next day, I woke up,” he said, “and I thought, ‘Oh my god, I know what this is!'”

It was the same kind of signal recorded by NASA’s Galileo probe when the space skimmed through the ionospheres of Jupiter’s moons. The ionosphere is a layer of atmosphere where solar radiation ionizes atoms, resulting in a charged plasma that produces low-frequency radio emission that scientists can detect.

Once the researchers realized the signal was ionospheric plasma, they were able to use the signal to calculate the density of the Venusian ionosphere, and compare that density to similar measurements taken in 1992. Fascinatingly, the ionosphere was an order of magnitude thinner in 2020 than it was in 1992.

The sun wreaks havoc on Venus

The team believes that thinning has something to do with solar cycles. Every 11 years, the sun’s magnetic poles swap places: south becomes north and north becomes south. It’s not clear what drives these cycles, but we do know that the poles switch when the magnetic field is at its weakest.

When the sun’s magnetic field is weak, there’s fewer instances of sunspots, solar flares, and coronal mass ejections – when the sun releases plasma and bits of its magnetic field into space. This period of minimal activity is aptly called the solar minimum.

Once the poles have switched, the magnetic field strengthens, and solar activity increases to a maximum before subsiding again for the next polar switch.

NASA sun video
A NASA image of the solar surface.

Measurements of Venus from Earth suggested that Venus’ ionosphere was changing in sync with the solar cycles, growing thicker at solar maximum and thinner at solar minimum. But without direct measurements, it was difficult to confirm – until the Parker probe’s recent flyby.

The 1992 measurement was taken at a time close to solar maximum; the 2020 measurement close to solar minimum. They were both consistent with the Earth-based measurements.

“When multiple missions are confirming the same result, one after the other, that gives you a lot of confidence that the thinning is real,” Robin Ramstad, an astronomer from the University of Colorado, Boulder, said in the release.

Exactly why the solar cycle has this effect on Venus’ ionosphere is unclear, but there are two leading theories.

The first is that the upper boundary of the planet’s ionosphere could be getting compressed to a lower altitude during solar minimum, which prevents atoms ionized on the day side from flowing to the night side, resulting in a thinner night side ionosphere. The second is that Venus’ ionosphere leaks into space at a faster rate during solar minimum.

Neither of these mechanisms could be ruled out by the data collected by the new Parker probe, but Collinson’s team hopes that more observations and future missions to Venus might be able to clarify what’s going on.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Former Senator Bill Nelson is officially NASA’s new administrator. His goals: support climate research and put astronauts on the moon.

bill nelson nasa administrator confirmation hearing senator
Former Senator Bill Nelson appears before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, April 21, 2021, in Washington DC.

NASA has a new leader, but he does not plan to shake things up.

Instead, Bill Nelson is keeping his eyes on the same prizes as his predecessor, Jim Bridenstine: sending astronauts to the moon and Mars.

Nelson, a three-term US Senator from Florida who flew into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1986, was sworn in as the new NASA Administrator on Monday.

His plan is mainly to keep the ball rolling. During confirmation hearings, Nelson told Congress that he wants to see NASA achieve its most ambitious goal – sending astronauts to the lunar surface and, eventually, to Mars. He also advocated a renewed focus on climate-change research, which has historically been a big part of NASA’s directive but was deprioritized under the Trump administration.

bill nelson nasa administrator swear in
Former Senator Bill Nelson is sworn in as NASA Administrator, as his wife, Grace Nelson, holds their family Bible, and his daughter, Nan Ellen Nelson watches, May 3, 2021.

“The space program needs constancy of purpose,” Nelson said in a written testimony to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. For continuity, he added, he plans to work with Bridenstine and “seek his advice.”

That consistency may give NASA a break from the whiplash it often gets with new administrations. President George W. Bush first asked NASA to pursue a return to the moon in 2005. Five years later, President Barack Obama shifted the focus to Mars. The Trump administration shifted back to the moon, with a tight deadline: to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024. That’s four years earlier than NASA was previously planning.

“If you ask me what is my vision for the future of NASA, it is to continue for us to explore the heavens with humans and with machines,” Nelson told the Senate committee, of which he was previously a member, during a confirmation hearing on April 21. “There is a lot of excitement.”

Sending astronauts back to the moon and on to Mars

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An illustration of SpaceX’s Starship as a lander carrying NASA astronauts to the moon.

NASA still hopes to land astronauts on the moon by 2024 – a feat nobody has accomplished since 1972. Nelson is on board, even though the timeline may be too ambitious. NASA’s Office of the Inspector General recently determined a 2024 landing is “highly unlikely.”

“I think you may be pleased that we’re gonna see that timetable try to be adhered to, but recognize that, with some sobering reality, that space is hard,” Nelson told the Senate committee.

NASA’s plan is to launch an astronaut crew inside an Orion spaceship, using the mega-rocket the agency is currently developing, called the Space Launch System. Once in lunar orbit, Orion would rendezvous with a lander. Two of the astronauts would move into that vehicle then land on the moon’s surface.

NASA recently awarded the contract for that lander to SpaceX. Elon Musk’s rocket company intends to convert its planned Starship mega-spaceship into a lunar lander. But NASA was expected to pick two contractors instead of one, so the decision prompted SpaceX’s competitors – Dynetics and Blue Origin – to file complaints. While things are being sorted out, NASA asked SpaceX to pause work on the project.

NASA cited a lack of funding from Congress when it decided to award one single contract, and promised there would be a follow-on competition. Nelson stood by that statement, vowing that there will be competitions for contracts to send the first astronauts to Mars.

“Competition is always better than sole sourcing, because you can get the efficiencies and you get a lower price,” he told the Senate committee.

NASA aims to launch its first Mars-bound astronaut mission in the 2030s.

‘You can’t mitigate climate change unless you can measure it’

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Clouds over the Amazon rainforest, as seen from space, January 30, 2015.

During his hearing, Nelson defended a White House request to budget $2.3 billion for NASA’s Earth-science programs. That would constitute a roughly 15% increase from the agency’s 2020 Earth-science budget.

“It’s a very important increase. You can’t mitigate climate change unless you can measure it, and that’s NASA’s expertise,” Nelson said. “Understanding our planet gives us the means to better protect it.”

Nelson vocally opposed the Trump administration’s decision to cancel NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System – a $10-million-per-year program that gathers data on how carbon moves around the planet. Congress subsequently reinstated the program.

“When I flew on the space shuttle, any time that was not scheduled with experiments or flight activities – which was not often – I would make my way to the spacecraft window to look at our home, our planet,” Nelson wrote in his testimony. “I was struck by how fragile it looked with its thin atmosphere. Combating climate change cannot succeed without robust observations, data, and research.”

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Astronauts have been enjoying a fresh supply vegetables to keep them healthy in space. Two NASA scientists explain how the crop-growing experiments worked.

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NASA astronaut, Michael Hopkins, smells “extra dwarf” pak choi plants growing aboard the International Space Station.

  • Astronauts in space recently enjoyed a fresh supply of vegetables, including pak choi plants.
  • Crews turned them into a delicacy by marinating the leaves in garlic paste and soy sauce.
  • NASA scientists told Insider how the crop-production experiments worked.

Of the many challenges astronauts will face in future missions to the Moon and Mars, keeping healthy is one of the most crucial.

But, in recent days, astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) found startling solutions to sustain them on long-lasting missions. They recently enjoyed a fresh supply of vegetables due in large part to the efforts of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission commander and Expedition 64 crew member, Michael Hopkins.

Insider spoke to two NASA scientists, Matt Romeyn and Gioia Massa, who work on the crop-production experiments, known as Veg-03Kand VEG-03L. Romeyn is the lead scientist on the experiments and Gioia is a Kennedy Space Centre plant scientist.

Veg-03Kand VEG-03L intended to test a new space crop, “Amara” mustard, also known as Ethiopian kale, and a previously grown crop, “extra dwarf” pak choi. Both yielded successful results. Since their harvest by Hopkins on April 13, the two crops grew for 64 days, the longest duration leafy greens have grown on the space station.

According to Romeyn, the pak choi germinated for so long that the plant began to flower as part of its reproductive growth cycle. This was thanks to Hopkins’ effort in using a small paintbrush to pollinate plant flowers.

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They took the approach after Hopkins’ and Romeyn discussed multiple options for the pollination process, including allowing the flowers to self-pollinate themselves.

“We were very happy with his efforts to pollinate those flowers to look at the possibility of producing seeds from them,” said Massa.

She added that this approach “will also be very critical in the future to be able to produce new plants without getting seeds from Earth, so very important for long-duration missions such as a mission to Mars,” and the Moon.

Hopkins’ was hugely interested in crop production, said Romeyn and Massa, and he devoted much of his free time in space to caring for them. This meant monitoring and watering the plants every day, as well as determining the optimal time to harvest them.

“It’s a really challenging thing and so he had to check those plants pretty much every day and monitor their growth and adjust his approaches to growing them,” Massa said.

New methods of harvesting were also among Hopkins’ discoveries in space-crop production. This included a sustainable approach to harvesting, called “cut-and-come-again harvesting”, which entailed harvesting multiple times from the same plant Massa explained.

“He’s been just an incredible gardener and scientist for us,” she added.

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Hopkins poses with leaf samples from plants growing on the International Space Station.

Massa said the crew have been eating the pak choi as a side dish, by marinating the leaves in garlic paste and soy sauce, and then heating them up in a small food warmer.

“Delicious, plus the texture or crunch,” Hopkins wrote in experiment notes after tasting the “Amara” mustard plant grown in space.

According to Massa, the crew have also put the leafy greens on tacos or cheeseburgers that they’ve made. In the past, Massa saw crew members enjoy the “Amara” mustard plant as lettuce wraps. “I know the Russians had canned lobster salad and so they made lettuce wraps with the canned lobster salad,” she added.

For now, the astronauts are focusing on the “pick-and-eat salad” crops, which don’t require cooking or processing, because there’s not that much capability to do that type of work on the space station.

Next year, there are plans to grow ‘dwarf tomatoes,’ which Massa likened to cherry tomatoes.

Romeyn explained that NASA scientists on the crop-production project look to grow crops high in Vitamin C and Vitamin K for astronauts in space. This is because research at Johnson Space Centre found the nutritional value of food stored in space ultimately deteriorates.

“The vitamins and the quality can break down for some of the food items,” Massa said.

This is why a lot of the work being done in space agriculture, from a nutritional and supplemental perspective, is to feed crews travelling to and from Mars, Romeyn explained. “We may not have full nutrition without supplementing with the fresh crops,” he said, in regards to a future Mars mission.

NASA officials are certainly hopeful that a future crewed mission to Mars is on the cards. When the agency announced its partnership with SpaceX to return to the moon by 2024, it said in a press release that a trip to the moon would be an important step toward an eventual mission to the Red Planet.

“It’s something I hoped I would see,” said Scott Hubbard, a SpaceX advisor who formerly led NASA’s Mars program, previously told Insider in an interview.

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SpaceX has safely landed 4 astronauts in the ocean for NASA, completing the US’s longest human spaceflight

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NASA’s Crew-1 mission crew members in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft (left to right): NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Mike Hopkins, as well as JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

SpaceX just returned its first full astronaut crew to Earth, completing the longest human spaceflight any US vehicle has ever flown.

The astronauts of the Crew-2 mission – Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Mike Hopkins of NASA, and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) – felt the pull of Earth’s gravity for the first time in six months as their Crew Dragon spaceship tore through the atmosphere early Sunday. The spaceship, which they’ve named Resilience, protected them as its speed superheated the air around it to a 3,500-degree-Fahrenheit plasma.

A few miles above the ocean, four parachutes ballooned from the gumdrop-shaped capsule, jerking it into a slower fall. They gently lowered Resilience to a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico at 2:57 a.m. ET. The waves were calm and the weather was clear.

This was NASA’s first nighttime splashdown since 1968. Thermal cameras on a nearby recovery ship and a NASA plane captured video, below, of the spaceship and its parachutes falling into the ocean.

“On behalf of NASA and the SpaceX teams, we welcome you back to planet Earth. Thanks for flying SpaceX. For those of you enrolled in our frequent flyer program, you have earned 68 million miles on this voyage,” a mission controller quipped to the Crew-1 astronauts as they splashed down.

“We’ll take those miles. Are they transferable?” Hopkins responded.

The astronauts’ return to Earth concludes SpaceX’s first routine crewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS). That’s where Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi have been living and working since they launched in November.

SpaceX first proved it could launch and land humans last year when it rocketed NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS for a two-month test flight. Now it has shown that it can carry out full-length crew rotations.

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There were 11 humans aboard the International Space Station last week.

NASA has contracted five more round-trip flights from SpaceX. The next one, Crew-2, already delivered four more astronauts to the ISS last weekend. Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi greeted their Dragon-flying colleagues with smiles and hugs. The football-field-sized orbiting laboratory was crowded with 11 people during the week that the two missions overlapped.

But on Saturday evening, the Crew-1 astronauts said goodbye and climbed back into the Crew Dragon Resilience.

The capsule undocked from its ISS port and fell into orbit around Earth, slowly lining up with a path to its splashdown site over the next 6.5 hours.

“This marks many important milestones, but it really is important for getting a regular cadence of crew to the station and back,” Steve Jurczyk, NASA’s acting administrator, said after the Crew-2 launch.

“What we do on ISS is important not only for the research and technology development that we do for here on Earth but also to prepare for what we’re going to do in the future,” he added. “Our ultimate goal is sending astronauts to Mars.”

Having fun and making history 250 miles above Earth

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Left to right: Mike Hopkins, Soichi Noguchi, Shannon Walker, and Victor Glover gather around a laptop computer to join a video conference on February 7, 2021.

Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi conducted hundreds of science and technology experiments during their time in orbit. They did a few spacewalks. They also relocated the Crew Dragon from one ISS docking port to another – a first for the spacecraft.

The crew celebrated Glover’s 45th birthday on Friday, their last full day on the ISS. The party featured cake, musical instruments, and balloons.

“Gratitude, wonder, connection. I’m full of and motivated by these feelings on my birthday, as my first mission to space comes to an end,” Glover, who is the mission pilot, tweeted. “This orbiting laboratory is a true testament to what we can accomplish when we work together as a team. Crew-1 is ready for our ride home!”

Glover was a rookie at the beginning of this mission, but Noguchi is a spaceflight veteran. He’s spent more than a year of his life in space and has flown on three different spacecraft. He said after the launch that Crew Dragon was the best.

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Soichi Noguchi poses with his SpaceX Crew Dragon spacesuit inside the International Space Station.

Hopkins, the mission commander, has had to sleep inside the spaceship for the last five months since the ISS didn’t have enough beds. That gave him the only room with a window 250 miles above Earth. The views were “absolutely stunning,” he told reporters last week.

As their departure date approached, the astronauts wondered what the Crew Dragon had in store for them.

“We don’t know quite what to expect landing on the water under parachutes like this,” Walker said. “And it’s just exciting that we get to go home and see our friends and family.”

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The Crew Dragon Endeavour parachutes into the Gulf of Mexico with Demo-2 astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley onboard, August 2, 2020.

Their return trip was originally scheduled for Wednesday, then for Saturday morning, but NASA rescheduled twice after forecasts predicted high winds in the splashdown zones.

Akihiko Hoshide, a JAXA astronaut on Crew-2, has taken over the role of ISS commander. He spoke to the Crew-1 astronauts over the radio as their spaceship backed away from the station: “Resilence departed. Have a safe trip back home and a soft landing.”

“Thanks for your hospitality,” Hopkins responded. “Sorry, we stayed a little bit long. And we’ll see you back on Earth.”

‘A new era of space exploration’

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Elon Musk celebrates after SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft launch their first astronauts on the Demo-2 mission, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, May 30, 2020.

NASA shares its Mars ambitions with Elon Musk, the founder, CEO, and chief engineer of SpaceX. So far, SpaceX seems to be the agency’s first-choice commercial partner in expanding human spaceflight.

NASA recently chose the company’s Starship mega-spaceship to land astronauts on the moon for the first time since 1972. However, work has been temporarily halted after competing firms Dynetics and Blue Origin filed complaints.

“The future’s looking good,” Musk said in a press conference after the Crew-2 launch. “I think we’re at the dawn of a new era of space exploration.”

That era begins in low-Earth orbit, with the six Crew Dragon missions NASA has purchased. So far, this is the only commercial spaceship ever to fly humans – and it’s done so for three crews.

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The Crew Dragon Endeavour approaches the International Space Station with the Crew-2 astronauts on board, April 24, 2021.

Those missions restored NASA’s ability to launch astronauts from the US for the first time since the last Space Shuttle flew in 2011. The Crew Dragon also gives other space agencies, like JAXA, an alternative to the Russian Soyuz rockets that have dominated human spaceflight for the last decade.

This was what NASA wanted from its Commercial Crew Program, which funded SpaceX to build Crew Dragon and prepare its Falcon 9 rockets for crewed launches. NASA did the same for Boeing’s Starliner spaceship, but that vehicle has to re-do an uncrewed mission to the ISS before it can fly humans.

To the moon and Mars

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Illustration of SpaceX Starship human lander design that will carry NASA astronauts to the Moon’s surface during the Artemis mission.

Through the partnerships fostered in the Commercial Crew Program – and using its own mega-rocket, the Space Launch System – NASA aims to put boots on the lunar surface in 2024. Musk has said he thinks this timeline is “doable,” though NASA’s Office of the Inspector General recently determined it is “highly unlikely.”

Whenever it happens, that mission would kick NASA’s Artemis program into full gear. The eventual goal is to establish a permanent human presence on the moon – picture ISS-like orbiting laboratories and research stations on the lunar surface. NASA plans to send human missions to Mars from there.

Musk has his own plans, including building SpaceX’s planned Starship-Super Heavy launch system and using it to build a self-sustaining settlement on Mars. For now, Starship prototypes are still trying to fly and land without exploding.

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A snapshot from a SpaceX livestream of a Starship prototype flying up to 6 miles above Texas.

SpaceX also plans to start launching private spaceflight missions for paying customers. The first, set to launch this year, is called Inspiration4. For that flight, billionaire Jared Isaacman purchased four seats on Crew Dragon Resilience – the same capsule that just splashed down in the ocean. He and three other civilians plan to take a three-day joy ride around Earth.

“I think it’s a good thing for human spaceflight to see more and more people getting up into orbit around Earth. It’s just an amazing experience,” Mike Hopkins told reporters in a call from the ISS last week when asked how he felt about civilians flying in the spaceship he’s been commanding.

“As we look to kind of transition low-Earth orbit to the commercial industry, this is a big step along that way. And then NASA can continue to focus on exploration and getting back to the moon and on to Mars.”

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Watch live: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship is bringing 4 astronauts back to Earth, ending NASA’s longest human spaceflight

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Flying aboard SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission for NASA are astronauts (from left) Mike Hopkins, Soichi Noguchi, Shannon Walker, and Victor Glover.

A gumdrop-shaped fireball is set to plummet through the dark Florida skies overnight.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship, carrying four astronauts for NASA, is preparing to plow through the atmosphere at 25 times the speed of sound, deploy four parachutes as it approaches the coast of Florida, and then glide to a gentle splashdown in the ocean at about 2:57 a.m. ET on Sunday.

The return journey has already begun. The spaceship, named Resilience, has backed away from the International Space Station (ISS), carrying Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Mike Hopkins of NASA, along with Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Resilience carried these astronauts to the ISS in November. They have been living and working there ever since.

Their mission, called Crew-1, officially restored NASA’s ability to launch people into space on a US spacecraft for the first time since the Space Shuttles stopped flying in 2011. Six-month spaceflights have been routine for NASA astronauts launching on Russian Soyuz spaceships, but until now, the US had never flown such long-term missions on its own.

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There were 11 humans aboard the International Space Station last week.

Crew-1 is also SpaceX’s first routine astronaut flight for NASA. The agency has already purchased five more Crew Dragon missions. The second one, Crew-2, launched four more astronauts toward the ISS on April 23; they reached the station the following morning.

Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi greeted the new arrivals, but the ISS was getting crowded. So on Saturday evening, the Crew-1 team climbed back aboard the Crew Dragon Resilience for the journey home.

Watch live as Crew-1 returns to Earth

NASA is broadcasting the nearly seven-hour journey – including the fiery plunge to Earth and the splashdown at the end – via the livestream below, which began at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi boarded the Resilience capsule and closed its hatch behind them at 6:20 p.m. ET on Saturday. After about two hours of checkouts, the hooks keeping Resilience attached to the space station retracted at 8:35 p.m. ET, undocking the spaceship from the ISS. The vehicle then fired its thrusters to back away.

The Crew-1 return trip was originally scheduled for Wednesday, then for Saturday morning, but NASA delayed it twice after forecasts predicted high winds in the splashdown zones.

SpaceX has flown humans back to Earth from the ISS once before – on a crewed test flight called Demo-2. In May, that mission rocketed NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken into orbit. They stayed on the ISS for two months before splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico.

The entire descent and landing process is automated, but Hurley advised the Crew-1 astronauts to make sure they’re “staying ahead of the capsule,” according to Hopkins, the mission commander.

“Preparing for that landing is just going over our procedures and making sure when we get into that sequence of events, that we’re ready to go, and we’re following right along with all of the automation as it takes us to, hopefully, a safe landing,” Hopkins told reporters in a call from the ISS on Monday.

If all goes well, Resilience is expected to spend the next few hours orbiting Earth and maneuvering into position. At 10:58 p.m. ET, the capsule should jettison its trunk – a lower section outfitted with fuel tanks, solar panels, and other hardware – which it will no longer need.

From there, the Crew-1 astronauts could be in for a bumpy ride.

“The landing was – I would say it was more than what Doug and I expected,” Behnken told reporters after he returned to Earth aboard the spaceship. “I personally was surprised at just how quickly events all transpired.”

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NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, aboard the Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft on August 2, 2020.

“It felt like we were inside of an animal,” he added.

Behnken also said that pivotal moments of the landing process – such as when the capsule separated from its trunk and when the parachutes deployed – felt “very much like getting hit in the back of the chair with a baseball bat.”

What to expect as the astronauts plummet to Earth

As the Resilience spacecraft approaches Earth, it is expected to fire its thrusters continuously, pushing itself further into the atmosphere.

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An animation of Crew Dragon plowing through the atmosphere.

Soon, the spaceship should be plummeting through the atmosphere, superheating the material around it to a blistering 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. At that point in his flight, Behnken said, he could feel the capsule heating up, and the force of Earth’s gravity pulling on him for the first time in two months. It felt like being in a centrifuge, he added.

The Crew Dragon’s heat shield – a collection of heat-resistant tiles that line the spaceship’s underbelly – must deflect that superheated material to protect the astronauts inside. After the Demo-2 landing, NASA and SpaceX found that one of those tiles had worn away more than expected. So SpaceX reinforced the heat shield with stronger materials.

Once it’s about 18,000 feet above the ocean, Resilience should deploy four parachutes – which brings a “pretty significant jolt,” Behnken said.

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The Crew Dragon Endeavour lands in the Gulf of Mexico, returning astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to Earth on August 2, 2020.

From there, Resilience should glide to a gentle splashdown in the ocean at 2:57 a.m. ET on Sunday. A recovery crew is expected to retrieve the charred capsule and carry the astronauts to shore.

During Behnken and Hurley’s return to Earth, a crowd of onlooking boats got dangerously close to the spaceship after it splashed down. To prevent that from happening again, SpaceX, NASA, and the Coast Guard plan to secure a 10-mile no-boat perimeter around the Crew-1 splashdown site.

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The SpaceX GO Navigator recovery ship lifts the Crew Dragon capsule Endeavour out of the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, on August 2, 2020.

“Landings are always fairly dynamic, particularly with the capsules like this, particularly when the chutes are opening. So that’s always a little bit exciting,” Hopkins said.

When asked what he’d like to eat upon returning from the ISS, he replied, “If I have an appetite, that’s going to be a bonus.”

This post has been updated with new information. It was originally published on April 26, 2021.

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