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International Space Station 25 Years in Orbit: Crew Q&A
(Nov. 8, 2021) — The International Space Station is pictured from the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour during a fly around of the orbiting lab that took place following its undocking from the Harmony module’s space-facing port on Nov. 8, 2021.NASA/SpaceX NASA is celebrating the 25th anniversary of International Space Station operations during a live conversation with crew aboard the microgravity laboratory for the benefit of humanity. During a space-to-Earth call at 12:25 p.m. EST Wednesday, Dec. 6, the Expedition 70 crew will speak with NASA Associate Administrator Bob Cabana and Joel Montalbano, space station program manager.
Watch on the NASA+ streaming service at no cost on demand. The discussion also will air live on NASA Television, the NASA app, YouTube, and the agency’s website. Learn how to stream NASA TV through a variety of platforms including social media.
On Dec. 6, 1998, the first two elements of the orbital outpost, Unity and Zarya, were attached by crew members of space shuttle Endeavour’s STS-88 mission. Cabana was the commander of the mission and the first American to enter the space station.
Through this global endeavor, astronauts have continuously lived and worked aboard the space station for more than 23 years, testing technologies, performing science, and developing the skills needed to explore farther from Earth. It has been visited by 273 people from 21 countries.
More than 3,300 research and educational investigations have been conducted on station from 108 countries and areas. Many of these research and technology investigations benefit people on Earth, and many lay the groundwork for future commercial destinations in low Earth orbit and exploration farther into the solar system. Together with Artemis missions to the Moon, these proving grounds will help prepare NASA for future human exploration of Mars.
Learn more about the International Space Station at:
Last Updated Dec 05, 2023 LocationNASA Headquarters Related Terms
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7 Min Read Digging Deeper to Find Life on Ocean Worlds
Conceptual image of a cryobot breaching into the ocean of Europa and searching for signs of life. Credits:
In February 2023, researchers from around the country gathered at a NASA-sponsored workshop to discuss the latest developments and a roadmap for a cryobot mission concept to drill through the icy crusts of Europa and Enceladus and search for life.
“Follow the water” has been the mantra of the astrobiology community in search of alien life in the universe. Water is a fundamental building block of all terrestrial life as we know it and—as discovered by various space missions—water is abundant throughout the solar system, and perhaps, the universe. Ancient eroded features on Mars show clear evidence of a wet history, and the ongoing quest of the Perseverance rover aims to uncover clues as to whether or not Mars once hosted a population of microbes. However, there is only so much we can learn from the fossil record. To truly understand the nature of possible alien life, we must directly investigate the source—the liquid water.
Enter “Ocean Worlds.” Over the past two decades, scientists have discovered that a vast number of icy moons orbit the outer giant planets in our solar system. Many of these moons show strong evidence for harboring global oceans beneath their icy crusts. In fact, these moons likely have far more liquid water than all of Earth’s oceans combined, and some may even have the right conditions to foster life. Two moons, in particular, have captured the imaginations of astrobiologists due to their amenable conditions for life and their relative ease of interrogation: Jupiter’s moon, Europa and Saturn’s moon, Enceladus. Both show strong evidence of a global subsurface ocean beneath a kilometers-thick water-ice crust—but how can we access this liquid water?
Various concepts for ocean access have been investigated over the past decades, ranging from robots that descend through crevasses to drills of varying types. One concept that has emerged as a leading candidate is the cryobot. A cryobot is a self-contained cylindrical probe that uses heat to melt the ice beneath it. The melted water then flows around the probe before refreezing behind it. Thermal ice drilling is so simple and effective that it has become a common tool for studying terrestrial glaciers and ice sheets. But how can we translate this technology to a system that can penetrate planetary icy crusts, which are colder, thicker, and more uncertain?
This dilemma has been a core focus of researchers—many of whom are supported by NASA’s Scientific Exploration Subsurface Access Mechanism for Europa (SESAME) and Concepts for Ocean worlds Life Detection Technology (COLDTech) programs—for the past several years. In February 2023, NASA’s Planetary Exploration Science Technology Office (PESTO) convened a workshop at the California Institute of Technology, which brought together nearly 40 top researchers from diverse fields and institutions around the country to discuss progress in maturing this technology and to assess the challenges that remain. Recent studies have made significant progress in refining our understanding of the ice shell environment, detailing a mission architecture, and maturing critical subsystems and technologies. In particular, workshop participants identified four key subsystems that drive the roadmap for developing a flight-ready architecture: the power, thermal, mobility, and communication subsystems.
Conceptual image of the Cryobot mission profile. A lander deploys a nuclear-powered probe, which melts through the ice shell to access the ocean below. A tether and wireless transceivers are deployed behind the probe during its descent for communication. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech First, the heart of a cryobot is a nuclear power system that generates the sustained heat required to melt through kilometers of ice. Various nuclear power systems that could suit a cryobot system have been identified, including the familiar Radioisotope Power Systems (RPS) that have powered many deep-space missions, and fission reactors that may be developed in the coming years. Two key constraints that drive the power system design are: (1) sufficient total power and density to facilitate efficient melting (about 10 kW), and (2) integration within a structural vessel to protect the power system from the high pressures of the deep ocean. These challenges are both solvable and have some historical precedent: NASA’s Cassini mission had a 14 kW thermal power system, and several Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs) were deployed to the bottom of the ocean in the 1960s and 1970s as power sources for navigation beacons, which operated in comparable pressures to the Europan ocean. However, a cryobot power system will require a concerted effort and close collaboration with the Department of Energy throughout the maturation of the mission concept.
Second, a thermal management system is required to manage the heat produced by the onboard nuclear power system, maintain safe internal temperatures, and distribute heat to the environment for efficient performance. This system requires two independent pumped fluid circuits: one that circulates an internal working fluid through channels embedded in the skin and another that circulates melted ice water with the surounding environment. Some of these technologies have been demonstrated at reduced and full scale, but more work is needed to validate performance at the range of ice conditions expected in the outer solar system.
In addition, the icy shells of Europa and Enceladus will contain impurities such as dust and salt, which, when sufficiently concentrated, may require auxilliary systems to penetrate. A combination of “water jetting” and mechanical cutting has been demonstrated to be effective at clearing debris ranging from fine particulate to solid blocks of salt from beneath the probe. Some impurities such as larger rocks, voids, or water bodies may remain impenetrable, requiring the cryobot to incorporate a downward-looking mapping sensor and steering mechanism—both of which have been demonstrated in terrestrial prototypes, though not yet in an integrated system. High-priority future work includes a more rigorous and probabilistic definition of the icy environments to quantify the likelihood of potential mobility hazards, and an integrated demonstration of hazard mitigation systems on a flight-like cryobot system. Europa Clipper will also provide key observations to constrain the prevalence and characteristics of hazards for a cryobot.
Finally, a cryobot mission requires a robust and redundant communication link through the ice shell to enable the lander to relay data to an orbiting relay asset or directly to Earth. Fiber optic cables are the industry standard for communicating with terrestrial melt probes and deep-sea vehicles, but require careful validation for deployment through ice shells, which are active. The movement of ice in these shells could break the cable. A team led by Dr. Kate Craft at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory has been investigating the propensity of tethers embedded in ice to break during ice-shear events, as well as methods to mitigate such breakage. While preliminary results from this study are highly encouraging, other teams are exploring wireless techniques for communicating through the ice, including radio frequency, acoustic, and magnetic transceivers. These communication systems must be integrated onto the aft end of the probe and depoyed during its descent. Current projects funded under the NASA COLDTech program are taking the first steps toward addressing key risks for the communications system. Future work must validate performance across a broader range of conditions and demonstrate integration on a cryobot.
While the power, thermal, mobility, and communication subsystems took center stage, workshop participants also discussed other key systems and technologies that will require maturation to enable a cryobot mission. These topics include an integrated instrument suite with accommodations for liquid sampling and outward-facing apertures, planetary protection and sterilization strategies, materials selection for corrosion mitigation, ice-anchoring mechanisms, and autonomy. However, none of these technologies were identified as major risks or challenges in the cryobot mission concept roadmap.
Overall, the consensus finding of workshop participants was that this mission concept remains feasible, scientifically compelling, and the most plausible near-term way to directly search for life in situ on an ocean world. Continued support would allow scientists and engineers to make even further progress toward readying cryobots for future mission opportunities. The potential for the direct detection of life on another world seems more possible than ever.
This research was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (80NM0018D0004).
Dr. Benjamin Hockman, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology
NASA’s Planetary Exploration Science Technology Office (PESTO)
Last Updated Dec 05, 2023 Related Terms
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Students participate in the 21st annual Disability Mentoring Day on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The visiting students paired with mentors from Kennedy based on interests spanning from public affairs to engineering, shadowing them to learn about their respective day-to-day duties at the spaceport. Mentors shared experiences and insight on their path to NASA and provided learning opportunities to students looking to kickstart their career development.NASA/Glenn Benson By Matina Douzenis
NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center
Meeting members of the Artemis generation often inspires NASA’s workforce as much as it encourages the students themselves. For one recent group of students, a visit to the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida brought mentorship, new experiences, and inspiration for answering the profound questions of our universe.
The 22 students traveled to the world’s preeminent spaceport on Nov. 14 for the 21st annual Disability Mentoring Day hosted at Kennedy by the Disability Awareness and Action Working Group (DAAWG). Students were paired with a mentor based on interests spanning communication to engineering. Mentors shared experiences and insight on their path to NASA and provided learning opportunities to students hoping to kickstart their career development.
“As a first-year mentor, it’s hard to capture the spirit of Disability Mentoring Day with words,” said NASA Public Affairs Officer Danielle Sempsrott. “Seeing how excited these kids were to be here at Kennedy, learning what we do, was amazing. One of the students asked us to keep them in mind for any job openings in the future. It’s really cool knowing we made them feel welcome and maybe sparked an interest that may not have been there before.”
At Kennedy, teams of diverse people collaborate to do groundbreaking work across a wide range of programs. Event organizers hope that mentoring day will inspire the Artemis generation, who are still in school today, to enter the NASA orbit in any number of career fields.
“When I was a young kid, I didn’t have this opportunity to participate in any disability mentoring day,” said DAAWG Co-Chair Nicole Delvesco and NASA cost accountant who has a cochlear implant. “If I had, I know I would have felt better about myself, would have had a lot more confidence to achieve a lot more than I already have.”
The mentoring day is just one activity that helps further NASA Kennedy’s diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion goals. DAAWG also serves as an advocate for the center’s employees with disabilities and disabled veterans, advises the Center Director on matters relating to employees with disabilities, and serves as a resource to the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity and other directorates.
Other programs like National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which occurs every October, celebrates the accomplishments and achievements of all individuals with disabilities. The U.S. Congress created the observance in 1988 to raise awareness of disability employment needs and to celebrate the many and varied contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities.
“It is important for people to learn about different disabilities – hidden or visible,” said Paul Spann, the Disability Mentoring Day event lead who is a NASA accountant with a cochlear implant. “Most individuals with disabilities that I know will work harder to show their capabilities and always look for ways to prove themselves – I personally have had to do this throughout my career to remove doubts from people. It’s important that everyone understand how to focus on the strengths of individuals with disabilities in the workplace.”
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NASA Administrator Bill Nelson participated in the first-ever Space Agencies Leaders’ Summit at COP 28 in Dubai, UAE, on Dec. 4, 2023, where he underscored the importance of sharing climate data transparently and openly with the world.
Leaders from two dozen space agencies discussed enhancing data sharing between established and emerging space nations, strengthening climate research by allocating resources and funding towards climate research initiatives within the space sector, supporting climate monitoring initiatives by establishing new programs, and promoting sustainable space operations by minimizing the environmental impact of space operations.
The summit ended with participants adopting a pledge to enhance space-based climate initiatives to transform and accelerate climate action to meet the commitments outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Image Credit: COP 28/Stuart Wilson
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