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    • By NASA
      5 min read
      Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)
      Science in Space: June 2024
      The Sun wields a huge influence on Earth. Its gravity holds our planet in its orbit, and solar energy drives the seasons, ocean currents, weather, climate, radiation belts, and auroras on Earth.
      The solar wind, a flow of charged particles from the Sun, constantly bombards Earth’s magnetosphere, a vast magnetic shield around the planet. The Sun occasionally releases massive amounts of energy, creating solar geomagnetic storms that can interfere with communications and navigation and disrupt the electric power grid.
      The colorful aurora borealis or Northern Lights and aurora australis or Southern Lights are created by the transfer of energy from solar electrons to molecules in Earth’s upper atmosphere. Those molecules then release that energy in the form of light. Different molecules create specific colors, such as green from oxygen.
      Because Earth’s magnetic field directs solar electrons toward the poles, auroras typically are visible only at high latitudes, such as in Canada in the north and Australia in the south. But solar storms can send the lights into much lower latitudes. During a series of large solar eruptions in May 2024, for example, the display could be seen as far south as Texas and California.
      Satellites captured auroras visible across the globe on May 11, 2024.NOAA NASA has multiple missions studying how the Sun and solar storms affect Earth and space travel. The International Space Station contributes to this research in several ways. 
      Improved Solar Energy Measurements
      The station’s Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS) measures solar irradiance, the solar energy Earth receives, and solar spectral irradiance, a measure of the Sun’s energy in individual wavelengths. Knowing the magnitude and variability of solar irradiance improves understanding of Earth’s climate, atmosphere, and oceans and enables more accurate predictions of space weather. Better predictions could in turn help protect humans and satellites in space and electric power transmission and radio communications on the ground. 
      The first five years of TSIS observations demonstrated improved long-term spectral readings and lower uncertainties than measurements from a previous NASA mission, the Solar Radiation and Climate satellite. The accuracy of TSIS observations could improve models of solar irradiance variability and contribute to a long-term record of solar irradiance data. 
      Earlier Sun Monitoring
      Installation of the Solar instruments on the space station during a spacewalk.NASA The ESA (European Space Agency) Sun Monitoring on the External Payload Facility of Columbus, or Solar, collected data on solar energy output for more than a decade with three instruments covering most wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum. Different wavelengths emitted by the Sun are absorbed by and influence Earth’s atmosphere and contribute to our climate and weather. This monitoring helps scientists see how solar irradiance affects Earth and provides data to create models for predicting its influence. 
      One instrument, the Solar Variable and Irradiance Monitor, covered the near-ultraviolet, visible, and thermal parts of the spectrum and helped improve the accuracy of these measurements.  
      The SOLar SPECtral Irradiance Measurement instrument covered higher ranges of the solar spectrum. Its observations highlighted significant differences from previous solar reference spectra and models. Researchers also reported that repeated observations made it possible to determine a reference spectrum for the first year of the SOLAR mission, which corresponded to a solar minimum prior to Solar Cycle 24. 
      Solar activity rises and falls over roughly 11-year cycles. The current Solar Cycle 25 began in December 2019, and scientists predicted a peak in solar activity between January and October of 2024, which included the May storms. 
      The third instrument, SOLar Auto-Calibrating EUV/UV Spectrometers, measured the part of the solar spectrum between extreme ultraviolet and ultraviolet. Most of this highly energetic radiation is absorbed by the upper atmosphere, making it impossible to measure from the ground. Results suggested that these instruments could overcome the problem of degrading sensitivity seen with other solar measuring devices and provide more efficient data collection. 
      Auroras from Space
      An aurora borealis display photographed from the International Space Station.NASA Astronauts occasionally photograph the aurora borealis from the space station and post these images.  
      For the CSA (Canadian Space Agency) AuroraMAX project, crew members photographed the aurora borealis over Yellowknife, Canada, between fall 2011 and late spring 2012. The space images, coordinated with a network of ground-based observatories across Canada, contributed to an interactive display at an art and science festival to inspire public interest in how solar activity affects Earth. The project also provides a live feed of the aurora borealis online every September through April.  
      Student Satellites
      Deployment of the Miniature X-ray Solar Spectrometer and other CubeSats from the space station.NASA The Miniature X-ray Solar Spectrometer CubeSat measured variation in solar X-ray activity to help scientists understand how it affects Earth’s upper atmosphere. Solar X-ray activity is enhanced during solar flares. Students at the University of Colorado Laboratory for Atmospheric Space Physics built the satellite, which deployed from the space station in early 2016. 
      Better data help scientists understand how solar events affect satellites, crewed missions, and infrastructure in space and on the ground. Ongoing efforts to measure how Earth’s atmosphere responds to solar storms are an important part of NASA’s plans for Artemis missions to the Moon and for later missions to Mars. 

      Melissa Gaskill 
      International Space Station Research Communications Team 
      NASA’s Johnson Space Center 

      Search this database of scientific experiments to learn more about those mentioned above. 
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    • By European Space Agency
      The hyperactive sunspot region responsible for the beautiful auroras earlier in May was still alive and kicking when it rotated away from Earth’s view. Watching from the other side of the Sun, the ESA-led Solar Orbiter mission detected this same region producing the largest solar flare of this solar cycle. By observing the Sun from all sides, ESA missions reveal how active sunspot regions evolve and persist, which will help improve space weather forecasting.
      View the full article
    • By NASA
      This article tells the story of one small American flag fortunate enough to be singled out from a group of one thousand flags just like it and embark on an incredible journey. The other 999 flags likely ended up as gifts, but this one flag had a loftier fate. It wasn’t the first American flag to ride on a crewed spacecraft into space, that one flew aboard Freedom 7 with Alan B. Shepard on May 5, 1961. Or the most famous flag that went into space, the Stars and Stripes planted on the Moon by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin on July 20, 1969, holds that honor. Other American flags have even flown on spacecraft not just to other planets but out of the solar system entirely. And tens of thousands of other small flags have thundered into space aboard space shuttles and returned to Earth for distribution around the world. So what makes this one small flag, known as the Legacy Flag, so special?

      Left: Launch of space shuttle Columbia on the STS-1 mission, April 12, 1981. Right: Landing of Columbia, April 14, 1981.
      Space shuttle Columbia first lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida on April 12, 1981, to usher in a new era of reusable crewed space transportation. It carried not only its two pilots, John W. Young and Robert L. Crippen, but also the Official Flight Kit (OFK), stowed away in the lockers in the shuttle’s middeck, along with food, clothing and other supplies. Many of the OFK items, including 1,000 8-by-12-inch American flags, were destined for distribution after the mission to commemorate its historic significance. Once they returned to Earth and workers removed them from the shuttle’s middeck, NASA distributed many of the flags to various people and organizations. But some remained and ended up in storage at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston. As the shuttle program progressed over the next 30 years, the number of flags in storage dwindled as additional recipients were identified. Finally, in 2011 it was time for the last shuttle mission, STS-135, and NASA felt it a fitting tribute to refly one of the flags from STS-1 on the final flight. Since STS-135 delivered supplies to the International Space Station, the flag would remain on board until the next time an American spacecraft carrying American astronauts launched from American soil arrived at the station. At the time, no one knew exactly how long that would take.

      Left: Launch of STS-135, July 8, 2011. Right: The crew of STS-135 pose with the Legacy Flag on the flight deck of Atlantis.
      On July 8, 2011, space shuttle Atlantis lifted off to begin STS-135, the final mission of the program with Christopher J. Ferguson, Douglas G. Hurley, Sandra H. Magnus, and Rex J. Walheim aboard, and two days later they docked with the station. The six international crewmembers of Expedition 28 welcomed them aboard. The long-term plan for the little flag was publicly revealed during a live TV session between the crew and President Barack H. Obama. “I also understand that Atlantis brought a unique American flag up to the station,” said President Obama. Shuttle Commander Ferguson explained that before their departure they would present the flag to the crew aboard the station, where “it will hopefully maintain a position of honor until the next vehicle launched from U.S. soil brings U.S. astronauts up to dock with the space station.”

      Left: The crews of STS-135 and Expedition 28 pose with the Legacy Flag. Right: The crews of STS-135 and Expedition 28 place the Legacy Flag on the hatch of the Harmony module.
      On July 18, near the end of the docked phase of STS-135, during a televised ceremony the crews placed the flag, flanked by the patches of the first and last space shuttle missions, on the forward hatch of the Harmony module, from where Atlantis would soon depart and where the next American crewed spacecraft would dock. After the shuttle and its crew left, the flag remained on the hatch for a while, but as time passed, onboard crews needed to use that area for stowage and so they moved it to a nearby wall for safekeeping. In 2015, to further safeguard the flag against damage or loss, Mission Control asked the onboard crew to place it in a stowage bag. As sometimes happens with stowage bags, this one moved around and ended up in a different module of the station. Three years later, during a general inventory of stowage bags, the crew found the flag and placed in a Ziploc bag with the words “Flown on STS-1 & STS-135. Only to be removed by crew launching from KSC” attached.

      Left: The Legacy Flag, placed between the STS-1 and STS-135 patches on the Harmony module’s forward hatch as Atlantis prepared to depart. Middle: In May 2014, during Expedition 40, astronauts mounted the flag on a wall near the Harmony module’s hatch to allow that area to be used for stowage. Right: The Legacy Flag in July 2018 during Expedition 56, placed in a Ziploc bag for safety.
      On May 30, 2020, a Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from KSC’s Launch Pad 39A, the same pad used for STS-1 and STS-135, carrying SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule on its Demo 2 mission. Aboard were Doug Hurley, who flew aboard the last shuttle mission, and Robert L. Behnken, the first American astronauts launched aboard an American spacecraft from American soil since STS-135. Once in orbit, Hurley and Behnken announced that they had christened their spacecraft Endeavour. The next day, Endeavour docked with the station, and Hurley and Behnken came aboard, welcomed by Expedition 63 Commander NASA astronaut Christopher J. Cassidy and Flight Engineers Anatoli A. Ivanishin and Ivan V.  Vagner representing Roscosmos. Mounted on the open hatch as they floated aboard the station was our intrepid little flag, in space for nine years, and 39 years after making its first trip into space. After their arrival, Cassidy, Hurley and Behnken held a press conference and proudly displayed the flag and how it stood as a symbol of the return of American launch capability. The flag’s nine-year journey came to end when Hurley and Behnken brought it back to Earth on Aug. 2, 2020. The flag first went on display at SpaceX’s facility in Hawthorne, California, then toured the country for a few months, making its final public appearance at the World Petroleum Congress in Houston in December 2021. Currently in storage at JSC, the Legacy Flag will fly again, possibly on even more distant journeys.

      Left: The Harmony module’s forward hatch bearing the Legacy Flag, opened to welcome the SpaceX Demo 2 crew. Middle: NASA astronauts Robert L. Behnken, left, Douglas G. Hurley (holding the Legacy Flag), and Christopher J. Cassidy during a press conference. Right: The Legacy Flag in its display case after its return to Earth.
      During its time on the space station, the Legacy Flag saw 100 visitors from many nationalities come and go, some of them more than once. Most stayed six months, some stayed longer, up to almost one year. A few made short visits of about a week. During all that time, the space station remained a busy beehive of activity, with hundreds of experiments conducted by the international crews. Many astronauts ventured outside, to repair equipment, place new experiments out, or bring older ones back inside. And in that time, the flag traveled more than 1.3 billion miles. 
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    • By NASA
      4 Min Read Flag Day – One Small Flag’s Incredible Journey
      This article is for students grades 5-8.
      This story tells the tale of one small American flag fortunate enough to embark on an incredible journey. It wasn’t the first flag to ride into space, or the most famous flag that went into space — that honor probably goes to the Stars and Stripes planted on the Moon by the Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969. So what makes this one little flag so special? Let’s let the flag tell its own story.
      Here I am launching into space aboard the space shuttle Columbia for the first time in 1981.Credits: NASA Workers packed me away with many other small flags like me – there must have been a thousand of us – just 8-by-12-inch Stars and Stripes, in a locker aboard space shuttle Columbia. We took off on STS-1, the shuttle’s very first mission in 1981, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Although we couldn’t see anything, we could feel the vibrations and noises of the liftoff, the ride a bit rough for the first two minutes, then much smoother until we reached space. Once in orbit, we could hear the two astronauts working as they tested the new spaceship.
      And two days later, I’m back on Earth!Credits: NASA Then after just two days, we came home, making a smooth landing in California. Thirty years later, someone had the idea to send me into space again, this time on the very last space shuttle mission, STS-135. And this time I would be making a much longer trip, since I would be left aboard the International Space Station.
      Here I am starting my second trip into space in 2011, this time aboard the space shuttle Atlantis.Credits: NASA So I roared off into space again in 2011, this time aboard space shuttle Atlantis. I had four friends to keep me company, Chris Ferguson, Doug Hurley, Sandy Magnus, and Rex Walheim. They actually took me out of my locker, and we all took pictures together. That made me feel really special.
      Here I am posing with my friends Doug, Chris, Sandy, and Rex aboard Atlantis.Credits: NASA But there was more in store for me: Two days after our launch we arrived at the space station; wow, what a huge place this was! I met even more astronauts here, from America, Russia, and Japan! President Barack Obama called to congratulate the crews, and I heard him talking about me and what a unique American flag I was. I would have a position of honor aboard the station until the next team of Americans arrived aboard an American spacecraft launched from American soil. I couldn’t have been more proud! 
      Here I am with all 10 crewmembers aboard the station, from America, Russia, and Japan.Credits: NASA And here I am, taking my position of honor on the space station’s hatch.Credits :NASA The astronauts made a TV show and I was the star. They placed me in my position of honor on the forward hatch of the space station, between the patches of the first and last space shuttle missions. I stayed on the hatch for a while, but as no spacecraft arrived through that portal for a few years, the crews needed the space to store their stuff.
      Here I am between the STS-1 and STS-135 patches on the station’s forward hatch.Credits: NASA Worried I might be injured, they slipped me into a plastic cover and placed me on a wall near the hatch. People grew concerned about me and thought it would be good to put me away in storage for safekeeping, at least temporarily, so that’s what happened. And while I waited, the bag I was in got moved around, and after a few years, people weren’t really sure where I was. But luckily, they found me and placed me in a safer bag and wrote these words, “Flown on STS-1 & STS-135. Only to be removed by crew launching from KSC,” to let everyone know I was that special flag.
      Later I was moved to a nearby wall.Credits: NASA Later still, placed in a Ziploc bag for safety, with the words to let everyone know I was that special flag.Credits: NASA Two more years went by, and I began to hear rumblings that I might be needed again. My newest friend on the space station, Chris Cassidy, cleared out the area around the hatch. Was I about to resume my position of honor? Excitement was building, and Chris and his two crewmates, Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner prepared the station for its newest arrivals. Apparently two Americans had launched aboard an American spacecraft from American soil, the first time in nine years.
      Here I am welcoming the SpaceX Demo 2 crew.Credits: NASA Doug is holding me up to the camera during a press conference.Credits: NASA My long wait was over! Chris placed me on the now-open hatch, and first Bob Behnken and then Doug Hurley, my old friend from Atlantis, floated inside the station! I was there to welcome them aboard! Once again, I starred in another TV show. After returning to Earth with Doug and Bob – I’m told I had traveled 1.3 billion miles – I went on display in several places. And now I hear rumblings of another possibly more distant journey awaiting me. We’ll just have to see.
      Here I am all dressed up for public display after my return to Earth.Credits: NASA Share
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      Last Updated Jun 13, 2024 Related Terms
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    • By NASA
      6 min read
      Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)
      The specks in this scene were caused by charged particles from a solar storm hitting a camera aboard NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover. Curiosity uses its navigation cameras to try and capture images of dust devils and wind gusts, like the one seen here.NASA/JPL-Caltech NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover captured black-and-white streaks and specks using one of its navigation cameras just as particles from a solar storm arrived on the Martian surface. These visual artifacts are caused by energetic particles hitting the camera’s image detector.NASA/JPL-Caltech In addition to producing auroras, a recent extreme storm provided more detail on how much radiation future astronauts could encounter on the Red Planet.
      Mars scientists have been anticipating epic solar storms ever since the Sun entered a period of peak activity earlier this year called solar maximum. Over the past month, NASA’s Mars rovers and orbiters have provided researchers with front-row seats to a series of solar flares and coronal mass ejections that have reached Mars — in some cases, even causing Martian auroras.
      This science bonanza has offered an unprecedented opportunity to study how such events unfold in deep space, as well as how much radiation exposure the first astronauts on Mars could encounter.
      The biggest event occurred on May 20 with a solar flare later estimated to be an X12 — X-class solar flares are the strongest of several types — based on data from the Solar Orbiter spacecraft, a joint mission between ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA. The flare sent out X-rays and gamma rays toward the Red Planet, while a subsequent coronal mass ejection launched charged particles. Moving at the speed of light, the X-rays and gamma rays from the flare arrived first, while the charged particles trailed slightly behind, reaching Mars in just tens of minutes.
      The unfolding space weather was closely tracked by analysts at the Moon to Mars Space Weather Analysis Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, which flagged the possibility of incoming charged particles following the coronal mass ejection.
      If astronauts had been standing next to NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at the time, they would have received a radiation dose of 8,100 micrograys — equivalent to 30 chest X-rays. While not deadly, it was the biggest surge measured by Curiosity’s Radiation Assessment Detector, or RAD, since the rover landed 12 years ago.
      To view this video please enable JavaScript, and consider upgrading to a web browser that supports HTML5 video
      The purple color in this video shows auroras on Mars’ nightside as detected by the ultraviolet instrument aboard NASA’s MAVEN orbiter between May 14 and 20, 2024. The brighter the purple, the more auroras that were present.NASA/University of Colorado/LASP RAD’s data will help scientists plan for the highest level of radiation exposure that might be encountered by astronauts, who could use on the Martian landscape for protection.
      “Cliffsides or lava tubes would provide additional shielding for an astronaut from such an event. In Mars orbit or deep space, the dose rate would be significantly more,” said RAD’s principal investigator, Don Hassler of Southwest Research Institute’s Solar System Science and Exploration Division in Boulder, Colorado. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this active region on the Sun continues to erupt, meaning even more solar storms at both Earth and Mars over the coming weeks.”
      During the May 20 event, so much energy from the storm struck the surface that black-and-white images from Curiosity’s navigation cameras danced with “snow” — white streaks and specks caused by charged particles hitting the cameras.
      Similarly, the star camera NASA’s 2001 Mars Odyssey orbiter uses for orientation was inundated with energy from solar particles, momentarily going out. (Odyssey has other ways to orient itself, and recovered the camera within an hour.) Even with the brief lapse in its star camera, the orbiter collected vital data on X-rays, gamma rays, and charged particles using its High-Energy Neutron Detector.
      This wasn’t Odyssey’s first brush with a solar flare: In 2003, solar particles from a solar flare that was ultimately estimated to be an X45 fried Odyssey’s radiation detector, which was designed to measure such events.
      Learn how NASA’s MAVEN and the agency’s Curiosity rover will study solar flares and radiation at Mars during solar maximum – a period when the Sun is at peak activity. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC/SDO/MSSS/University of Colorado Auroras Over Mars
      High above Curiosity, NASA’s MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN) orbiter captured another effect of the recent solar activity: glowing auroras over the planet. The way these auroras occur is different than those seen on Earth.
      Our home planet is shielded from charged particles by a robust magnetic field, which normally limits auroras to regions near the poles. (Solar maximum is the reason behind the recent auroras seen as far south as Alabama.) Mars lost its internally generated magnetic field in the ancient past, so there’s no protection from the barrage of energetic particles. When charged particles hit the Martian atmosphere, it results in auroras that engulf the entire planet.
      During solar events, the Sun releases a wide range of energetic particles. Only the most energetic can reach the surface to be measured by RAD. Slightly less energetic particles, those that cause auroras, are sensed by MAVEN’s Solar Energetic Particle instrument.
      Scientists can use that instrument’s data to rebuild a timeline of each minute as the solar particles screamed past, meticulously teasing apart how the event evolved.
      “This was the largest solar energetic particle event that MAVEN has ever seen,” said MAVEN Space Weather Lead, Christina Lee of the University of California, Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory. “There have been several solar events in past weeks, so we were seeing wave after wave of particles hitting Mars.”
      New Spacecraft to Mars
      The data coming in from NASA’s spacecraft won’t only help future planetary missions to the Red Planet. It’s contributing to a wealth of information being gathered by the agency’s other heliophysics missions, including Voyager, Parker Solar Probe, and the forthcoming ESCAPADE (Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers) mission.
      Targeting a late-2024 launch, ESCAPADE’s twin small satellites will orbit Mars and observe space weather from a unique dual perspective that is more detailed than what MAVEN can currently measure alone.
      More About the Missions
      Curiosity was built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is managed by Caltech in Pasadena, California. JPL leads the mission on behalf of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
      MAVEN’s principal investigator is based at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder. LASP is also responsible for managing science operations and public outreach and communications. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the MAVEN mission. Lockheed Martin Space built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California provides navigation and Deep Space Network support. The MAVEN team is preparing to celebrate the spacecraft’s 10th year at Mars in September 2024.
      For more about these missions, visit:
      http://mars.nasa.gov/msl
      http://mars.nasa.gov/maven
      News Media Contacts
      Andrew Good
      Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
      818-393-2433
      andrew.c.good@jpl.nasa.gov
      Karen Fox / Charles Blue
      NASA Headquarters, Washington
      202-358-1600 / 202-802-5345
      karen.c.fox@nasa.gov / charles.e.blue@nasa.gov
      2024-080
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      Details
      Last Updated Jun 10, 2024 Related Terms
      Mars Curiosity (Rover) Goddard Space Flight Center Jet Propulsion Laboratory MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN) Explore More
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