“This year, American astronauts will go back to space in American rockets.”
Space launches are some of the most spectacular and nerve wracking events you can witness. And when you are actually involved in one, you realize just how much can go wrong. We are currently in Florida, nervously counting down the hours until we launch our experiment, sending thousands of microscopic worms to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
When it comes time for NASA to send astronauts back to the Moon and on to Mars, a number of new spacecraft systems will come into play. These include the Space Launch System (SLS), the most powerful rocket ever built, and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) – a next-generation spacecraft that will carry crews beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
Before NASA can mount its proposed “Journey to Mars“, which will see astronauts set foot on the Red Planet for the first time in history, a number of logistical and technical issues need to be addressed first. In addition to a launch vehicle (the Space Launch System), a crew capsule (the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle), and a space station beyond the Moon (the Deep Space Gateway), the astronauts will also need a space habitat in orbit of Mars.
There’s one force whose effects are so deeply entrenched in our everyday lives that we probably don’t think much about it at all: gravity. Gravity is the force that causes attraction between masses. It’s why when you drop a pen, it falls to the ground. But because gravitational force is proportional to the mass of the object, only large objects like planets create tangible attractions. This is why the study of gravity traditionally focused on massive objects like planets.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – At the request of the new Trump Administration, NASA has initiated a month long study to determine the feasibility of converting the first integrated unmanned launch of the agency’s new Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket and Orion capsule into a crewed mission that would propel two astronauts to the Moon and back by 2019 – 50 years after the first human lunar landing.
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly recently spent one year in space, while his identical twin brother Mark (a former NASA astronaut himself) stayed on Earth. The mission was part of an important health experiment, looking at how being in space affects our bodies. While the data are still being studied carefully, NASA recently released some intriguing preliminary findings.
It’s easy to assume that astronauts float in space because they are far away from the Earth’s gravitational force. But look at the moon. It is much further away than the International Space Station, yet it orbits around the Earth because it is perpetually attracted by its gravitational pull. So if the Earth’s gravity can affect the moon, the astronauts cannot be floating because there is no gravity where they are.
“Dream the impossible – and go out and make it happen. I walked on the moon. What can’t you do?” These are the final words spoken by Eugene (Gene) Cernan in the documentary film The Last Man on the Moon. They are a challenge, spoken by a man in his 80s, not just to his grandchildren, but to all of us.
Would you like to spend a year gazing down from the International Space Station? Before you pack your bag, you should think about what actually might happen to you in microgravity, away from the protection of the atmosphere and magnetosphere. Thanks to two astronauts who’ve recently landed back on Earth, we’ll now be able to find out.