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Russians give their OK for selling a spacewalk

BELLEVUE, Wash. — Russian space officials say that they’ve signed off on a commercial deal with Virginia-based Space Adventures to fly two customers to the International Space Station in 2023 — and that one of those customers would be allowed to do a spacewalk.

Space Adventures’ co-founder and chairman, Eric Anderson, told GeekWire that the company is now checking to see who’s interested.

“There is no specific client who’s been contracted for this one,” said Anderson, who has his office in Bellevue even though Space Adventures is headquartered in Virginia. “We’re looking for clients.”

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Space station trio returns to a pandemic planet

Two NASA astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut ended a months-long tour of duty on the International Space Station and returned to Earth to face a viral outbreak that didn’t exist when they launched.

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New trio joins space station crew; SpaceX is next

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and two Russian cosmonauts are settling into their new home on the International Space Station after today’s launch and docking of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

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Space station crew grows to 9, including Emirati

Space station crew
Nine crew members face the camera on the space station during a video conference. (NASA via YouTube)

Three more spacefliers arrived at the International Space Station today in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, increasing the orbital outpost’s population from its usual six to a crowded nine.

One of the new arrivals is Hazzaa Ali Almansoori, the first citizen of the United Arab Emirates to fly in space.

The 35-year-old fighter jet pilot was sent to the final frontier under the terms of a contract with the Russian Space Agency, and will be returning to Earth on a different Soyuz in just eight days. The cost to the UAE hasn’t been reported, but for what it’s worth, NASA has been paying the Russians more than $80 million for a ride.

The other two spacefliers are NASA astronaut Jessica Meir, another first-time flier, and veteran Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka.

Their Soyuz craft docked with the station just six hours after today’s launch from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

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Experts share their visions for the moon in 2069

Moon base
The European Space Agency’s vision for lunar settlement includes habitats shielded by piled-up moon dirt. (ESA / Foster + Partners Illustration)

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Fifty years ago this month, NASA’s Apollo 11 mission transformed the idea of putting people on the moon from science fiction to historical fact.

Not much has changed on the moon since Apollo, but if the visions floated by leading space scientists from the U.S., Europe, Russia and China come to pass, your grandchildren might be firing up  lunar barbecues in 2069.

“Definitely in 50 years, there will be more tourism on the moon,” Anatoli Petrukovich, director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Space Research Institute, said here today during the World Conference of Science Journalists. “The moon will just look like a resort, as a backyard for grilling some meat or whatever else.”

Wu Ji, former director general of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ National Space Science Center, agreed that moon tourism could well be a thing in 2069.

“People will go there for space holidays, and come back,” Wu said. “The staff of the hotel will work there. So that will be permanent human habitability on the moon in 50 years.”

“Robotic staff?” Petrukovich asked.

“No, not necessarily,” Wu answered.

Today’s session in Lausanne, titled “The Moon and Beyond,” provided a status report on international space cooperation as well as speculative glimpses at the next 50 years of space exploration.

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Spacewalkers pay tribute to Russian pioneer

Russian spacewalkers
Russian spacewalkers Oleg Kononenko and Alexey Ovchinin work outside the International Space Station’s Pirs docking compartment. (NASA TV)

Two Russian cosmonauts took care of a host of scientific and maintenance choreson the exterior of the International Space Station, including cleaning windows from the outside, during a spacewalk that lasted just a minute over six hours.

They also wished the world’s first spacewalker, Alexei Leonov, a happy birthday. Leonov, a pioneer of the Soviet space program who made history with his 1965 orbital outing and took part in the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project a decade later, turns 85 on May 30.

In his honor, cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Alexey Ovchinin wore orange placards praising Leonov on their spacesuits during today’s extravehicular tasks. They also showed off a photo of Leonov that they carried outside with them.

“Mr. Leonov, please accept our heartfelt birthday wishes,” one of the spacewalkers said. “You’re with us here and now in outer space, and for the entire duration of this spacewalk you will be here with us.”

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Spacefliers have smooth sailing after bad trip

Soyuz launch
A Russian Soyuz rocket lifts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, sending three spacefliers to the International Space Station. (NASA Photo / Bill Ingalls)

NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin finally made it to the International Space Station today, five months after their first trip went awry.

The two spacefliers were due to join the station’s crew last October, but as they were ascending from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, one of their Soyuz rocket’s side boosters knocked into the main core, causing a rare abort and activation of the Soyuz capsule’s escape system.

The capsule was thrown clear of the rocket, and Hague and Ovchinin made a safe but rather rocky ballistic landing. It took weeks to track down the cause of the anomaly — a bent sensor — and ensure that the anomaly wouldn’t reoccur.

It took months more to get the pair back into the flight rotation. Today’s trouble-free launch from Baikonur sent them into space in the company of a third crew member, rookie NASA astronaut Christina Koch.

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Russians report deal to put tourists in orbit by 2021

Charles Simonyi
Space Adventures facilitated two trips to the International Space Station for Seattle billionaire Charles Simonyi, in 2007 and 2009. (NASA Photo via Space Adventures)

Russia’s space agency says it’s getting ready to resume sending private passengers to the International Space Station and back, a decade after the last space tour.

A contract has been signed with Virginia-based Space Adventures to send two non-professional spacefliers into orbit for short-term space station stays by the end of 2021, Roscosmos reported today in a news release.

Space Adventures didn’t issue a statement but retweeted Roscosmos’ news.

Roscosmos said the two passengers would fly on a Soyuz spacecraft that’s currently being built, presumably with a professional Russian cosmonaut in the pilot’s seat. “The execution of all works on the creation of space technology will be carried out at the expense of the space tourists,” Roscosmos said.

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Space station trio rides slashed Soyuz back to Earth

Serena Aunon-Chancellor
NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor is carried to a medical tent shortly after she, Germany’s Alexander Gerst and Russia’s Sergey Prokopyev landed in their Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft near the town of Zhezkazgan in Kazakhstan. (NASA Photo / Bill Ingalls)

A Russian Soyuz spaceship that stirred up an international fuss over a drill hole and an air leak brought three spacefliers back to Earth from the International Space Station without a problem.

NASA’s Serena Auñón-Chancellor, Germany’s Alexander Gerst and Russia’s Sergey Prokopyev touched down in the snowy steppes of Kazakhstan at 11:02 a.m. local time Dec. 20 (9:02 p.m. PT Dec. 19), leaving three crewmates on the orbital outpost.

The homeward-bound trio rode the same Soyuz they took up to the station in June. It’s the same Soyuz that experienced an air leak in August, causing consternation in space as well as back down on Earth.

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Spacewalkers slash away at suspect Soyuz

Soyuz slashing
Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko uses a cutting tool to open up the Soyuz spacecraft’s external cover, at bottom, while crewmate Sergey Prokopyev looks on. (NASA TV via YouTube)

During an extraordinary spacewalk, two Russian cosmonauts used sharp objects today to cut away layers of protective insulation on a Soyuz capsule and take samples of sealant plugging up a mysterious drill hole.

The hole, measuring just a tenth of an inch wide, was the source of an alarming air leak detected on the International Space Station in August. Soon after discovering the breach, the station’s crew managed to plug the hole in the Soyuz’s habitation module with epoxy and gauze, and the Soyuz has since been judged safe for next week’s return trip to Earth.

Three returning spacefliers will take their seats in a separate area of the Soyuz spacecraft, the descent module, and the habitation module will be jettisoned as usual before atmospheric re-entry.

Russian mission planners scheduled today’s spacewalk to gather evidence from the Soyuz’s exterior, in order to track down the cause of the breach and to determine the best way to make such repairs in the future.

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