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Universe Today

Axiom Space aims to fly first Saudi female astronaut

Axiom Space says it’s working with the Saudi Space Commission to send two spacefliers from the Arab kingdom, including the first Saudi woman to go into orbit, to the International Space Station as early as next year.

The inclusion of a female astronaut is particularly notable for Saudi Arabia — where women were forbidden to drive motor vehicles until 2018, and where the status of women is still a controversial subject.

Houston-based Axiom Space and the Saudi Space Commission announced their partnership today at the International Astronautical Congress in Paris. In a news release, the Saudi commission said its participation in Axiom’s Ax-2 mission is part of the nation’s effort “to conduct scientific experiments and research for the betterment of humanity in priority areas such as health, sustainability and space technology.” It acknowledged that including a woman astronaut “will represent a historical first for the Kingdom.”

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GeekWire

Orbital Reef space station wins role in sci-fi movie

The commercial space station that Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has a hand in building, known as Orbital Reef. will be getting some Hollywood-level product placement years before it’s due to go into operation.

Blue Origin and the other partners in the Orbital Reef project today announced a cross-promotional deal with Centerboro Productions to portray the space outpost in an upcoming sci-fi movie titled “Helios.” The announcement was timed to coincide with this week’s International Astronautical Congress in Paris.

The movie is set in 2030, which is around the time Orbital Reef could become a reality — assuming that the funding from NASA and from commercial partners continues to flow.

“The film will tell the story of a spaceship, the Helios, and its crew during their urgent mission to the International Space Station,” a plot synopsis reads. “When a massive solar flare hits the station, it is up to astronomer and former NASA astronaut Jess Denver and Air Force Colonel Sam Adler to team up and save humanity.”

Orbital Reef is to be featured as a next-generation space station that serves as a critical resource for the Helios crew.

“We teamed up with Blue Origin to give moviegoers a thrilling but realistic depiction of the future of living and working in space and a coordinated response to a space weather emergency,” Patricia A. Beninati, who’s one of the film’s producers and writers as well as the president of Centerboro Productions, said in a news release.

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GeekWire

Microbes could blaze a trail for farmers on Mars

An experiment that’s on its way to the International Space Station focuses on a subject that’s as common as dirt, but could be the key to growing crops in space.

The NASA-funded experiment — known as Dynamics of Microbiomes in Space, or DynaMoS — is being conducted by researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. DynaMoS makes use soil and bacteria that were collected at a Washington State University field site in Prosser, Wash.

“Soil microbes are the hidden players of the life support system on planet Earth,” PNNL chief scientist Janet Jansson, the principal investigator for the DynaMoS experiment, explained during a pre-launch news briefing. The bacteria work to break down organic matter and make nutrients available for growing plants.

Space missions could extend the microbes’ reach beyond our home planet. “Soil microbes can help to make conditions on the lunar surface and Mars more favorable for plant growth,” Jansson said. “They can also be used to help grow crops on space stations and during long-term spaceflight.”

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GeekWire

‘The Infinite’ puts you aboard a VR space station

TACOMA, Wash. — One tour of the International Space Station is not enough, even if you do the tour in virtual reality.

I found that out when I explored “The Infinite,” a cleverly conceived VR presentation that draws upon more than 250 hours’ worth of 3-D video shot aboard (and outside) the space station over the course of nearly three years.

After months-long runs in Montreal and Houston, the show … or exhibit … or whatever you want to call it … landed at the Tacoma Armory late last month and is open to visitors through July 31.

The best way to describe “The Infinite” is to call it an immersive experience — an entertainment genre of relatively recent vintage that would also include the immersive Van Gogh exhibits that are making their way around the world. (One such exhibit recently wrapped up its Tacoma run, and another is still playing in Seattle.)

Even by the standards of immersive experience, “The Infinite” is in a class by itself.

“People don’t necessarily realize that this is the largest virtual-reality experience that has ever been created, in terms of size and in terms of capacity of people,” Felix Lajeunesse, co-founder of Felix & Paul Studios and chief creative officer for “The Infinite,” told me after my first encounter with the experience. “We can have up to 150 people sharing that collective experience at the same time, walking inside a 7,000-square-foot open space.’

So what do they experience?

Imagine putting on a VR headset, walking through outer space with the Northern Lights above you, and floating right through the hull of the ISS to peek in on what the astronauts are doing. You might be gathering with the crew around their makeshift dinner table for a birthday party, or watching them get ready for a spacewalk, or looking over their shoulders as they gaze through the station’s giant picture window while the Earth spins below.

You’re not just watching a movie. It’s as if you’re in the movie.

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Universe Today

NASA will rent future spacesuits from two suppliers

NASA has struck deals with two commercial teams to provide the spacesuits destined for use when astronauts return to the moon by as early as 2025 — and there’s an extra twist that might have sounded alien to the Apollo moonwalkers a half-century ago. This time, NASA won’t own the suits.

Under the terms of the contracts issued for Exploration Extravehicular Activity Services, or xEVAS, Collins Aerospace and Axiom Space will own the spacesuits. They’ll also be free to explore non-NASA commercial applications for the data and the technologies they develop in partnership with NASA.

NASA will purchase services from Collins and Axiom to fill the space agency’s spacewalking (and moonwalking) needs through 2034. The contracts have a combined maximum potential value of $3.5 billion, with the actual payout for each company determined by how NASA divvies up its task orders.

The model builds upon the precedents set by NASA’s commercialization of crew transport and cargo delivery services for the space station. A similar model was followed last year when NASA awarded a $2.9 billion contract to SpaceX for the Artemis program’s lunar lander.

“With these awards, NASA and our partners will develop advanced, reliable spacesuits that allow humans to explore the cosmos unlike ever before,” Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said today in a news release. “By partnering with industry, we are efficiently advancing the necessary technology to keep Americans on a path of successful discovery on the International Space Station and as we set our sights on exploring the lunar surface.”

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GeekWire

Starliner space taxi’s success paves way for crewed flight

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner space capsule landed safely amid the sands of New Mexico after a six-day test flight to the International Space Station and back.

This trip was uncrewed — assuming you don’t count a sensor-equipped mannequin nicknamed Rosie the Rocketeer as a crew member. But living, breathing astronauts could fly on Starliner as soon as this year.

All went well today with Starliner’s descent from the space station and its parachute-aided, airbag-cushioned landing at White Sands Missile Range, Cheers arose at NASA’s Mission Control in Houston, where the final stages of the flight test were being tracked.

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GeekWire

Starliner docks with space station after ‘excruciating’ wait

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner space taxi docked with the International Space Station for the first time today during an uncrewed flight test, marking one more big step toward being cleared to carry astronauts to orbit. But it wasn’t easy.

“The last few hours have been excruciating,” Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations, acknowledged during a post-docking teleconference for journalists.

Despite a few glitches, Lueders and other leaders of the NASA and Boeing teams said they were generally pleased with Starliner’s performance, beginning with its May 19 launch from Florida and continuing with today’s hours-long series of orbital maneuvers.

“We’ve learned so much from this mission over the past 24 hours,” Lueders said.

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GeekWire

Boeing’s Starliner space taxi lifts off for second test flight

Two and a half years after an initial orbital flight test fell short, Boeing is trying once again to put its CST-100 Starliner space capsule through an uncrewed trip to the International Space Station and back.

United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket sent Starliner spaceward from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 6:54 p.m. ET (3:54 p.m. PT) today. Boeing and NASA are hoping that this second orbital flight test, known as OFT-2, will pave the way for Starliner’s first crewed flight later this year.

Within OFT-2’s first hour, Starliner separated from the Atlas 5 rocket’s Centaur upper stage and executed an engine burn to reach its intended orbit. “It’s a major milestone to get behind us, but it is really just the beginning,” NASA commentator Brandi Dean said. “We’ve got a number of demonstrations now that the Starliner will have to go through ahead of its International Space Station arrival.”

Boeing has received billions of dollars from NASA to develop Starliner as an alternative to SpaceX’s Crew Dragon for sending astronauts into orbit. NASA’s arrangement with SpaceX and Boeing has been compared to a taxi service, with the space agency paying the spacecraft providers for rides.

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Universe Today

Axiom’s first astronauts end an extended space trip

Axiom Space’s first crew of private astronauts is back on Earth after a 17-day orbital trip that included a week of bonus time on the International Space Station.

The mission ended at 1:06 p.m. ET (10:06 a.m. PT) today when SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Endeavour splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.

Former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria was the commander for the homeward trip, accompanied by three investors who each paid Axiom $55 million for their rides: Ohio real-estate and tech entrepreneur Larry Connor, who served as the mission pilot, plus Canada’s Mark Pathy and Israel’s Eytan Stibbe.

“Welcome back to planet Earth,” SpaceX’s mission control operator Sarah Gillis told the crew. “The Axiom-1 mission marks the beginning of a new paradigm for human spaceflight. We hope you enjoyed the extra few days in space.”

Axiom-1 began on April 8 with the Florida launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The trip was originally supposed to last about 10 days, but concerns about weather in the splashdown zone delayed the descent. Because of the way their fares were structured, Axiom’s customers didn’t have to pay extra for the extension.

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Cosmic Space

Private astronauts get down to work on the space station

Axiom Space’s first quartet of private astronauts settled in on the International Space Station today after dealing with a glitch that cropped up during their approach.

The crew’s arrival aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule had to be delayed about 45 minutes while mission controllers at SpaceX and NASA sorted out an issue with a video system designed to monitor the docking using a camera aboard the space station.

After the video signal was re-routed, docking took place at 8:29 a.m. ET (5:29 a.m. PT). “We’re happy to be here, even though we’re a bit late,” said Michael Lopez-Alegria, the former NASA astronaut who’s commanding the mission for Houston-based Axiom Space.

A little less than two hours after docking, Lopez-Alegria and Axiom’s three customers — Larry Connor, Mark Pathe and Eytan Stibbe — floated through the hatch to become the first completely private-sector crew to visit the space station.

The seven long-term residents of the space station — representing the U.S., Russia and the European Space Agency — greeted them with hugs and handshakes. Then the full complement of 11 faced the cameras for a welcome ceremony that incorporated a new tradition.