Medal, NASA Space Flight, Sally Ride, National Air and Space Museum

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Medal, NASA Space Flight, Sally Ride

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Medal, NASA Space Flight, Sally Ride (A20140200000)

NASA Space Flight Medal, Large medal on multicolor ribbon pin

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  • There are restrictions for re-using this media. For more information, visit the Smithsonian’s Terms of Use page.

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Display Status:

This object is not on display at the National Air and Space Museum. It is either on loan or in storage.

Collection Item Summary:

This set of items constitute the NASA Space Flight Medal awarded to Dr. Sally K. Ride after her first space flight aboard STS-7 in 1983. The medal is bestowed upon all space flight crew members after the completion of a mission.

Sally Ride became the first American woman in space when she flew aboard STS-7 in 1983. Her second and last space mission was STS-41G in 1984. A physicist with a Ph.D., she joined the astronaut corps in 1978 as a part of the first class of astronauts recruited specifically for the Space Shuttle Program. Viewed as a leader in the NASA community, she served on the Rogers Commission after the Challenger disaster in 1986 as well as the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) in 2003. She also led the task force that produced a visionary strategic planning report in 1987 titled, “NASA Leadership and America’s Future in Space,” but known popularly as the Ride Report.

After she retired from NASA in 1987, Dr. Ride taught first at Stanford and later at the University of California, San Diego. Until her death in 2012, she was president and CEO of Sally Ride Science, a company that promoted science education.

Dr. Ride’s partner, Dr. Tam O’Shaughnessy, donated the medals and accompanying items to the Museum in 2013.

NASA is grappling with our biggest limitation in spaceflight: our own bodies

Scientists are grappling with our biggest limitation in spaceflight: our own bodies

We’ve sent people to space for decades — but we’re only beginning to learn what that means for human health.

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The human body has evolved, for hundreds of thousands of years, to thrive on the surface of the Earth. But what happens when you take such an earthbound body and put it in the weightlessness of space?

Astronauts commonly report diminished eyesight upon their return home, possibly because the eyeball changes shape in space and tissues surrounding the optic nerves become swollen. Without the constant tug of gravity, bones become more brittle and muscles atrophy.

Now there’s momentum to send humans into space farther and longer than we’ve ever been before, subjecting our bodies to even more of this strange environment. The White House has tasked NASA with the (hasty) mission of returning to the moon by the year 2024, and establishing a more permanent human presence there. The plan involves a permanent “lunar gateway,” a space station to orbit the moon. Those efforts could lay the groundwork for an eventual crewed mission to Mars, which would place astronauts in space and on the red planet for years.

The top 7 ways a trip to Mars could kill you, illustrated

And there are even more far-fetched dreams incubating. Tech titans Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk have both stressed that humans ought to become an interplanetary species. “We are going to build a road to space,” Bezos said at a recent event unveiling a moon lander design for his rocket company, Blue Origin. “And then amazing things will happen.”

All these grand ideas, potential missions, and dreams of a long-term human presence in space depend on one thing: that our feeble human bodies can handle it. But the truth is, no one knows what happens to a body when it spends more than a year in space, or more than a year living on the surface of the moon.

What we do have is several very important, untested, and unresolved questions on what happens to the human body in space — and how we can protect the brave people who venture out there. Here are three of the biggest unknowns and the biggest risks.

1) How does the human body respond to radiation in space?

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. But since the Apollo program ended in the 1970s, human beings haven’t ventured very far out from our home planet.

The International Space Station is just 254 miles above the surface and is largely protected from the worst of cosmic radiation (streams of subatomic particles that spread through space like shotgun shot traveling at superfast speeds) by the Earth’s magnetism. The moon is nearly 240,000 miles away and offers no such protection. Neither does Mars.

“Radiation doses accumulated by astronauts in interplanetary space would be several hundred times larger than the doses accumulated by humans over the same time period on Earth, and several times larger than the doses of astronauts and cosmonauts working on the International Space Station,” physicists working with the European Space Agency reported in 2018.

When NASA sent the Curiosity Rover to Mars, it found that the one-way trip alone would expose unshielded astronauts to an extra 0.3 sieverts of ionizing radiation, equivalent to 24 CAT scans. That’s 15 times the annual radiation limit for workers at nuclear power plants, but not fatal. (For context, one sievert is associated with a 5.5 percent increase in cancer risk; eight sieverts can kill.)

The effects of this radiation — and how to mitigate them during spaceflight — aren’t entirely known. The only astronauts to have spent much time outside the protective bubble of Earth’s magnetism were the Apollo astronauts.

“There weren’t any genomics study done on astronauts in those days,” says Andy Feinberg, a Johns Hopkins epigenetics researcher who worked on the recent NASA “Twin Study,” which tracked astronaut Scott Kelly and his twin brother, Mark (who served as an on-the-ground control), for a year in space.

“It’s going to be very important to have an extended period outside of near-Earth orbit habitation by astronauts, for a long period of time,” he says, in order to study the effects of radiation on their genes.

NASA maintains a Human Research Roadmap that outlines the knowns and unknowns (the known ones) of risks to the human body in space. The list of gaps is currently very long. And many of them involve exposure to radiation — either in the deep reaches of space, or on the surface of the moon, which offers no protection from cosmic radiation.

For instance, on the road map, NASA reports it’s still working to determine the dose limits of radiation an astronaut can receive before getting seriously sick, and determining what, overall, this radiation does to an astronaut’s immune system. It also doesn’t know the probability that an astronaut will be sterilized (made unable to have children) in spaceflight. They don’t know how much radiation contributes to bone loss. Does radiation in space cause or worsen neurological diseases? That’s another gap.

2) Is there an upper limit for the amount of time a person can spend in space?

In 2015, NASA sought to increase their understanding of the risks of spaceflight by sending astronaut Scott Kelly up there for an entire year — double the length of the typical mission. Because of the mission, Kelly now holds the American record for number of consecutive days in space.

Aboard the space station, Kelly took part in 10 research projects in what NASA is calling the “Twin Study,” ranging from testing his cognitive abilities to assessing how changes to his genes are expressed.

The study is hard to draw conclusions from; after all, it had a subject pool of one. But some results raise new questions. When Scott Kelly returned to Earth after spending a year on the ISS, he wasn’t quite himself. For a year and a half afterward, he scored lower on tests of his cognitive abilities — tests that he actually improved on while in space. “It’s hard to concentrate when you’re not feeling well,” Kelly told the New York Times.

His doctors don’t really know why he had such a long time recovering his mental capabilities.

There are “so many things,” that could contribute to it, says Mathias Basner, a University of Pennsylvania psychiatrist who led Kelly’s cognitive testing. There’s the higher radiation exposure, but also just living in an isolated environment could play a role, he says. Plus, it might be mentally taxing going from a microgravity environment to a full-gravity environment on Earth.

“It takes some time for the brain to adapt to the [space] environment, and apparently it also takes some time to adapt back to the gravity environment,” he says. “There are 20 things going on at the same time” that could all result in changes in cognition.

Researchers also don’t know what it means for the future: On a trip to Mars, an astronaut will, after nearly a year-long voyage in space, have to descend to the surface of Mars. It won’t be ideal for that astronaut to set foot on Mars and have her thinking become clouded.

The overall lesson: There are many stressors in the space environment. They all impact the body and mind in hard-to-understand ways. And again, the twin study was just a year long. What happens to the human body in space on a two-year mission, a three-year mission? We don’t know. There are some clues, and concerns, that things just get worse for astronauts.

One intriguing finding in the twin study was that changes the researchers noted in Kelly’s genome and epigenome (markers on our genes that develop in response to environmental stressors) occurred in the last six months of the mission. What the researchers don’t know is whether those changes would continue to accelerate if the mission was extended beyond a year.

They also don’t know exactly what those genome changes mean for health. Mostly, they appear to be a general indicator of stress. But would researchers see even more — perhaps dangerous — changes if he were to stay longer? “We don’t know what the maximum is,” Lindsay Rizzardi, a Johns Hopkins biologist who studied Scott Kelly’s genome for the twin study, says.

There could be an upper limit for the amount of time a human body can spend in space. To find out, we’ll have to send up more astronauts for a year mission or longer. Including Kelly, only six humans have spent more than 340 consecutive days in space.

3) How does the human mind cope with the isolation and loneliness of space travel?

This may be the biggest, most potentially unsettling unknown. On the NASA Human Research Roadmap, one of the listed knowledge gaps is “identify[ing] psychological and psychosocial factors, measures, and combinations thereof that can be used to compose highly effective crews for autonomous, long duration and/or distance exploration missions.”

That is, how do we make sure crews won’t kill each other on a long, cramped voyage?

The biggest unknown, potentially, is the risk to psychiatric health. A trip to Mars could take place aboard a ship smaller than the International Space Station, potentially with fewer people on board.

What’s more, there would be delayed communications with Earth as the astronauts travel farther and farther away. It will be a long, lonely, cramped journey with bad food, poor sleep, and unnatural light. What happens to people’s minds in those conditions when they last for years?

Basner has also studied what happens to the brains of people who’ve had to stay the winter confined in Antarctica — a perhaps similarly isolating experience. “You can actually see functional and structural changes in the brains of the people overwintering,” he says. “We have seen [brain] volume loss, basically widespread across the brain” in reaction to the stress.

These changes are reversed after the winter ends. But it’s unknown what brain changes might take place in the isolating, stressful conditions of deep space. And for that matter, we’re not sure how to treat them. “Astronauts are going to experience psychiatric problems, because they’re human,” Feinberg says. And not only does NASA need to figure out all the ailments that may befall the human mind in space, but it also has to learn how to cope with them.

Perhaps the scariest risks are unknown

It could be possible that the human body and mind simply cannot withstand living in space indefinitely. There may be an upper limit for the amount of time we spend there.

Whatever the case, we know any long-term mission to the moon, or Mars or beyond is going to be dangerous. It may push the human body to a new limit. But the only way we’re going to find out how to mitigate those risks is for astronauts to continue to undergo rigorous evaluation like in the Scott Kelly twin study. They’re going to have to spend long, lonely hours on the moon or in some place beyond low Earth orbit, and do tests on their bodies, brains, and genetics themselves (they won’t necessarily be able to ship back samples down to Earth for analysis).

There’s a lot to yet discover. Another research gap: NASA scientists would like to know how toxic moon dust is to breathe in. As the Apollo astronauts found out, moon dirt gets on everything, and irritated their noses and lungs.

Scientists would also like to know if the negative effects of low gravity are mitigated on the surface of the moon or on the surface of Mars, both of which have less gravity than Earth. Heck, they’d also like to know if medicines to treat kidney stones work in space. There’s so much to learn.

“The greatest unknowns, and perhaps the most dangerous,” says J.D. Polk, NASA’s chief medical officer, “are those we have not considered or are unaware of, colloquially termed the ‘unknown unknowns.’”

How do we find them? We venture out farther than before.

About Us

About Us, now in its 14th year of operations, is already a leading online news resource for everyone interested in space flight specific news, supplying our readership with the latest news, around the clock, with editors covering all the leading space-faring nations.

Breaking exclusive space flight related news stories and features, is dedicated to expanding the public’s awareness and respect for the space flight industry, which in turn is reflected in the many space industry visitors to the site, ranging from NASA to the commercial space flight arena, plus the international launch industry.

With a monthly readership of over 500,000 visitors and growing, the site’s expansion has already seen articles being referenced and linked by major news networks such as MSNBC, CBS, The New York Times, Popular Science, but to name a few.

Managing Editor: Chris Bergin.
Assistant Managing Editor/Team Admin: Chris Gebhardt.
NASA Centers Editor: Philip Sloss.
Unmanned Missions Editor: William Graham.
ISS Editor: Pete Harding.
Chinese Missions Editor: Rui C. Barbosa.
Reporters – Michael Baylor. Thomas Burghardt. Ian Atkinson. Tyler Gray. Tobias Corbett. Justin Davenport.

Photojournalists: Brady Kenniston. Nathan Barker. Mike Deep. Jack Beyer. Jay DeShetler.

Founder Directors:
Chris Bergin Robert Price, Bruce Stewart, Mark Gerrits, Gareth Maden.

Mark Gerrits and team. Community

This dual approach, of engaging the public with those that work in the field of space flight makes, via its news site and forum, a unique resource to all. The forum is the most visited Space Flight specific forum in the world, with over 50 million page views in 2017 – and has the largest amount of NASA, and space industry professionals visiting its pages. This figure has continued to increase into 2019. L2

Taking this a level higher – and a major reason for this news media’s site ability to break the news first – is the highly successful L2 sections, which is a first of its kind subscription service that allows previously unheard of access to the public. This subscription revenue is used directly – and solely – to cover the ENTIRE site’s running costs. takes pride in providing its readership with the best possible service, to the point of providing free access to the level of information you’d expect to pay for on other sites and then some. For more information on L2 click here.


“I visit the site frequently, not only to see the exclusive material that shows up there, but even more valuable, the high-quality comments from dozens of very experienced posters on the discussion boards. No vacuum-head pontificating and opinion-venting here like on too many other space-related boards — this is a council of the wise and well-informed who share their insights and their puzzlements with their respected internet associates, and anyone else smart enough to look here first. They find the best assessments of events, trends, policies, and best of all, they find light cast on otherwise-invisible gaps in official silences, half-disclosures and pseudo-explanations. ”

— Jim Oberg – MSNBC

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SpaceX Hires NASA Expert on Human Spaceflight as Crew Test Nears

SpaceX Hires NASA Expert on Human Spaceflight as Crew Test Nears

Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images



Space Exploration Technologies Corp. is turning to a longtime NASA spaceflight expert as it prepares to fly its first astronauts this year.

Bill Gerstenmaier has begun working as a consultant for the SpaceX reliability team, the company said Tuesday. He recently retired from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration after a 42-year career in which he worked on the Space Shuttle program, the International Space Station and most recently the Artemis project to return astronauts to the moon.

The hire deepens SpaceX’s expertise in human spaceflight ahead of a key test: the first trip by astronauts to the ISS aboard a U.S. vehicle since the shuttle program was retired in 2011. SpaceX, led by billionaire Elon Musk, is expected to carry NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley as soon as this spring in a Crew Dragon demonstration flight.

That voyage is tentatively set for May 7, Ars Technica reported Monday, citing discussions with space agency officials. SpaceX conducted a successful unmanned flight in March for NASA’s Commercial Crew program, which is designed to end U.S. reliance on Russia’s Soyuz program for trips to the space station.

The company is also working on its next Starship spacecraft in South Texas, designed to carry large numbers of travelers to Mars.

Gerstenmaier was ousted as NASA’s associate administrator for human spaceflight in July, after 14 years as an administrator overseeing space operations and flight.

That move came as NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine sought to speed work on Boeing Co.’s long-delayed and over-budget SLS rocket and to hasten the agency’s tempo for a human moon landing before 2025. Gerstenmaier was named special adviser to the deputy administrator.

Boeing Failure

A test flight by Boeing, NASA’s other partner in the Commercial Crew program, failed to reach the space station in December. The agency cited “critical software defects” in Boeing’s Starliner and opened a review of the company’s quality control. The Starliner’s next flight has yet to be scheduled.

At SpaceX, Gerstenmaier’s long experience could help the company navigate future NASA contract awards for ferry runs to the space station and potential transportation needs to and from the moon.

Known around the industry as Gerst, the NASA veteran is widely respected for his deep technical expertise. Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russian space agency Roscosmos, tweeted his congratulations to SpaceX for hiring “my friend” Gerstenmaier.

The SpaceX hiring was reported earlier Tuesday by CNBC.

Who Will the Famous Astronauts of the 21st Century Be? The Atlantic

How Christina Koch Could Become a Spaceflight Legend

One of the astronauts in NASA’s current corps could be the first in a generation to walk on the moon—or the first to walk on Mars.

When Christina Koch returned to Earth earlier this month, feeling the full force of the planet’s gravity for the first time in a long time, it was the middle of the night in the United States. Her capsule parachuted into the Kazakh desert, and by morning, her name was all over the news. After spending 328 days living on the International Space Station, Koch had set a new record for American women in space.

The volume of attention that morning, however warranted, was somewhat unusual for a modern astronaut. Missions to the space station are routine now, and the last astronaut to have his full name flashing across headlines, as if in marquee lights, was Scott Kelly, who nearly four years earlier broke the American record for long-duration spaceflight.

All of this is to say that, in this era of space travel, most astronauts don’t become household names. Asked to think of an astronaut, most people would probably default to Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon—not to one of the dozens of astronauts who have flown to space in this century, or even one of the three who are there right now. The public today is more likely to be familiar with nonhuman explorers, like the Mars rover Curiosity and the New Horizons spacecraft, which photographed Pluto.

But this century holds potential for new milestones in space exploration, the kind that can turn spacefarers into celebrities. The next Neil Armstrong could already be in NASA’s astronaut corps, which is more diverse now than ever before. This person will have charisma and steely resolve—and probably a very compelling Instagram account.

There is no distinct formula that makes astronauts famous, but an obvious component is novelty, says Margaret Weitekamp, a curator in the space-history department at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Firsts—Armstrong stepping onto the lunar surface, delivering his famous line after he put his boot down—become indelible in public memory. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, is probably the most well-known American female astronaut.

Other superlatives, especially of the Guinness World Records variety—the most, the longest, the oldest—can make astronauts, if not flat-out famous, at least memorable. Peggy Whitson, for example, holds the record for most spacewalks by a woman. Seconds can be even less sticky. Do you remember, for instance, what the commander of Apollo 12, the second moon-landing mission, said when he descended from the lander and touched the gray surface? Or what his name was? Twelve men have walked on the moon, and even those in the space community might struggle to name all of them. Many people don’t realize that there was a third astronaut on the Apollo 11 mission: Michael Collins, who stayed behind in the command module while Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin went to the surface.

Some firsts, of course, can be eclipsed by later, bigger firsts. Alan Shepard was heralded as a national hero when he became the first American to reach space in 1961, less than a month after Yuri Gagarin did it for the Soviet Union. When John Glenn flew a year later, he didn’t just pierce the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space; he circled the planet three times. It was a more intense mission, and Glenn came up with a memorable tagline for it, which he repeated for years to come: “Zero G and I feel fine.” Today, Glenn is arguably the more famous of the two. As NASA grew its astronaut corps in the 1960s, astronauts “needed slightly more extraordinary circumstances to break out of the pack and become that household name,” Weitekamp says. Even milestone “firsts” didn’t always make a lasting impression in the national imagination; the first NASA astronauts of color to travel to space—Guion Bluford, who flew on the shuttle in 1983, and Mae Jemison, who followed in 1992—are icons in the space community, but less well known to laypeople.

The first all-female spacewalk, conducted last fall by Koch and Jessica Meir, drew a great deal of attention, and if it ever materialized, so would the first all-female crew on the ISS. When NASA astronauts launch on a brand-new SpaceX transportation system sometime this year, the first endeavor of its kind, the passengers’ names will most certainly cut through the news cycle. But such milestones, on their own, are unlikely to bestow astronauts with mythical status.

“When you start thinking about who’s going to be the next Neil Armstrong, you’re going to be looking for that combination of achievement and that personality that catches the public’s attention, the person who has the ‘it’ factor,” Weitekamp says.

Armstrong, she adds, had it. After he flew a couple of missions for Gemini, NASA’s pre-Apollo program, the agency sent him on a publicity tour through South America. Armstrong took a Spanish conversation class to prepare for the trip and name-dropped important South American figures, particularly in aviation, in his speeches, according to James R. Hansen’s biography of the astronaut. “He never failed to choose the right words,” recalled George Low, a NASA executive who traveled with Armstrong and was impressed.

Low would later manage the Apollo program and its crew assignments, including which astronaut should be the first one out of the lander. Armstrong had proved to NASA leadership not only that he could master the mission—he was one of the agency’s best pilots—but that he could handle the attention, too. Armstrong is famous in part because NASA chose him to be famous and, after he finished the mission, turned him into a spokesman for American spaceflight. Aldrin, meanwhile, may be better remembered for the persona he cultivated after visiting the moon, where he followed Armstrong onto the lunar surface. Whereas Armstrong, who died in 2012, is remembered for his stoic and amiable personality, Aldrin became known for a feisty attitude he has maintained into his 90s. (In recent years, he punched a moon-landing denier outside of a hotel and made a GIF-worthy range of facial expressions behind President Trump as he spoke about space exploration.)

In some cases, the “it” factor can outweigh a record-setting superlative. Chris Hadfield is the first Canadian to do a spacewalk, but he’s best known for his floating rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” on board the ISS, which has more than 45 million views on YouTube. Scott Kelly holds the American record for the most consecutive days in space, but he built his fan base through frequent Instagram posts of beautiful Earth shots. NASA does plenty of work to promote astronauts, especially those involved in the flashiest missions. But thanks to social media—which astronauts are encouraged to use—the spacefarers can take that much more ownership of their public image.

Fans have always been eager for such personal glimpses of astronauts’ personalities, Weitekamp says; in the 1950s and ’60s, Life magazine ran stories about the lives of the Mercury astronauts, ghostwritten but published under the men’s bylines. These days, every NASA astronaut has a professional Twitter account—a very different kind of launchpad for name recognition, but potentially nearly as effective. A tweet from Koch featuring a heartwarming video of the astronaut greeting her dog, adorably overjoyed after their long separation, quickly went viral.

To be a spaceflight legend, an astronaut will likely need, as Weitekamp puts it, extraordinary circumstances. Imagine the first woman on the moon, or the first people to set foot on Mars. It is not unrealistic to think that at the end of this century, the name of the first person to step onto the red planet will be more prominently woven into collective memory than the name Neil Armstrong. By the end of this century, 1969 will be 130 years in the past, as distant a memory as 1890 is now, when Nellie Bly made headlines by circumnavigating the globe, by ship and by rail, in just 72 days.

These explorers are probably already within NASA’s ranks. (Or, perhaps, working for a private company: The 21st century’s most famous spacefarer could end up being Elon Musk.) NASA recently added 11 new members to its active astronaut corps, bringing the total to 48. The new class, fresh off training, “may be assigned to missions destined for the International Space Station, the Moon, and ultimately, Mars,” the space agency said in a statement. These new astronauts can’t predict which among their ranks might be chosen for the next big feat in spaceflight history, but they can start daydreaming about what they might say as they take their own first step. Or they could go the Armstrong route and wait until the moment is near. Days before Apollo 11 launched, a reporter asked whether Armstrong, being “destined to become a historical personage of some consequence,” had come up with “something suitably historical and memorable” to say when he stepped onto the moon. “No, I haven’t,” Armstrong replied. Better to make history first.

The Fallen Heroes of Human Spaceflight, Live Science

The Fallen Heroes of Human Spaceflight

Since the 1960s, spaceflight missions have resulted in the accidental deaths of more than 20 astronauts. The most recent disaster, occurring near the end of the space shuttle Columbia’s STS-107 mission in 2003, caused NASA to ground its shuttle program for more than two years.

Here, a list of the men and women who have lost their lives during spaceflight.

Mission: Apollo 1Date: Jan. 27, 1967Fatalities: Gus Grissom, Edward White II, Roger ChaffeeWhat happened: During a launch-sequence rehearsal for NASA’s AS-204 Apollo mission, the cabin was filled with pure oxygen as part of its environmental control system. An electrical fault sparked a flash fire in the cabin. The fire spread quickly in the pure oxygen atmosphere, suffocating all three Apollo 1 crew members through smoke inhalation. The launch pad test site was renamed Apollo 1 in honor of the crew, and the accident led to major design and engineering modifications as well as revisions to test planning operations and manufacturing procedures.

Mission: Soyuz 1Date: April 24, 1967Fatalities: Vladimir KomarovWhat happened: Soyuz 1, the Soviet space program’s one-day mission, launched on April 23, 1967, but soon began experiencing various mechanical issues the solar panels did not unfold, and the vessel experienced stability problems. After the Soyuz module re-entered the atmosphere April 24, its parachute did not open properly, causing it to crash to Earth at almost full speed. Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov died on impact.

Mission: Soyuz 11Date: June 30, 1971Fatalities: Georgi Dobrovolski, Viktor Patsayev, Vladislav VolkovWhat happened: Soyuz 11 launched on June 6, 1971, and docked with the space station Salyut 1 for a three-week stay. When the vehicle undocked, a valve on the Soyuz 11 accidentally opened, causing a pressure leak in the cabin. The three cosmonauts were killed as the capsule depressurized during preparations for atmospheric re-entry on June 30. The malfunctioning valve was discovered only when the module was opened by a recovery team.

Mission: STS-51-LDate: Jan. 28, 1986Fatalities: Greg Jarvis, Christa McAuliffe, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Michael J. Smith, Dick ScobeeWhat happened: During the Space Shuttle Challenger’s 10th mission, STS-51-L, the rockets propelling the vessel exploded 73 seconds after launching from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. All seven crew members were killed. President Ronald Reagan formed the Rogers Commission to investigate the accident, and its analysis concluded it had been caused by the failure of an O-ring seal on one of the solid rocket boosters. The Challenger disaster resulted in a 32-month hiatus for the shuttle program .

Mission: STS-107Date: Feb. 1, 2003Fatalities: Rick D. Husband, William McCool, Michael P. Anderson, David M. Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel B. Clark, Ilan RamonWhat happened: At the end of its two-week mission, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere. The accident was determined to have been caused by damage that had occurred during liftoff, when a chunk of insulating foam broke off from the external tank and hit the orbiter’s left wing. The structural failure of the shuttle’s leading wing ultimately resulted in the spacecraft breaking apart, killing the seven-person crew. All of the NASA space shuttle program’s flight operations were delayed for 29 months following the disaster.

Got a question? Send us an email and we’ll crack it. Follow Remy Melina on Twitter @RemyMelina

What’s the X-37 Doing Up There, Space, Air – Space Magazine

What’s the X-37 Doing Up There?

The Air Force isn’t saying, so we asked other spaceplane experts.

It’s been five years since the first launch of the Air Force’s X-37B mini-shuttle, and outside observers—meaning those who lack the proper security clearances—still know little more about this mysterious unmanned vehicle than they did in 2010 (see “Space Shuttle Jr.,” Dec. 2009/Jan. 2010). But after three completed flights and a fourth launch last May (the spaceplane was still in orbit as of mid-December), they’re at least able to make educated guesses.

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This story is a selection from the February-March issue of Air & Space magazine

Despite the project’s general secrecy, the Air Force has been perfectly willing to release photos of the vehicle sitting on top of its Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral, Florida, and on the runway at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California where it lands, autonomously. The spaceplane’s dimensions are known: It’s small, about 29 feet long, with a cargo bay not much bigger than a pickup truck’s. Project officials have revealed that the X-37B’s maneuvering engine runs on hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide, and that it uses a different kind of thermal protection than NASA’s space shuttle did. The durations of the first three missions are a matter of public record (224 days, 469 days, and 674 days), and while the orbital parameters aren’t officially disclosed, amateur astronomers have been able to spot the mini-spaceplane through telescopes and figure out that it’s been orbiting at relatively low altitudes.

At an aerospace meeting in 2011, Arthur Grantz, a chief engineer with Boeing, the company that built the X-37B, said that the program had been evaluating the vehicle’s autonomous navigation and other systems. While he didn’t say what the Air Force wanted with an operational spaceplane, he speculated that the vehicle could be modified in the future to carry passengers.

Before the most recent launch, the Air Force and NASA even revealed two of the payloads for the first time: a NASA materials science experiment and an ionizing thruster being tested for the Air Force. Those clues have led analysts to speculate with a little more confidence about the X-37B’s purpose.

It’s clear that any technologies tested on an Air Force spaceplane will have some military application, but that doesn’t narrow things down much. In space, it could mean communications, navigation, surveillance, or even anti-satellite and counter-anti-satellite operations. The smart money is on advanced surveillance sensors. The Air Force has never mentioned them directly, but everyone seems confident that they’re flying.

“I think that’s probably what they’re not telling you, that there are payloads in there that might be part of the design for future reconnaissance satellites,” says James Andrew Lewis, director and senior fellow in the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The Air Force has great interest in developing small, advanced sensors, he says, because it’s “looking to figure out how to transition from big, expensive satellites to smaller but equally capable satellites.”

The Hall thrusters on the current flight use an electric field to accelerate xenon propellant, producing a small but steady thrust that’s useful for many types of spacecraft, including military communications satellites already in orbit. Brian Weeden, technical adviser for the Secure World Foundation, thinks the Air Force might also be testing the thrusters with an eye toward placing reconnaissance satellites in lower orbits, so that imaging sensors could take higher-resolution pictures of targets on the ground.

“I think the clue is how low an orbit [the X-37B] is in,” says Weeden. The spaceplane is orbiting at an altitude of about 320 kilometers (a little under 200 miles), which is lower than the International Space Station. Low orbits require more maneuvering, and therefore more fuel, to maintain. And fuel adds weight. “One of the reasons that the traditional exquisite imaging satellites are so hard to launch is because they’re big and they’re heavy,” says Weeden. Hall thrusters could enable lighter, cheaper reconnaissance satellites to be orbited.

Right now the Air Force has two X-37B research vehicles. Are we likely to see an operational fleet, without the “X” designation? Weeden doesn’t think so: “My guess would be that [the spaceplane] itself would probably not move into an operational-type role, but that a lot of the technologies that it’s demonstrating, like the Hall effect thrusters, or whatever the sensor payloads are, are going to move into the operational role. That’s how it went with the X-planes of the 1950s and 1960s.”

If the Air Force does go for an operational fleet, “they could add different versions of the vehicle, larger versions in particular,” says Todd Harrison, a defense budget analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Harrison speculates that a bigger version of today’s X-37B, with a larger cargo bay, could conceivably bring military satellites back to Earth for maintenance or repairs, then return them to orbit.

That is, if a scaled-up vehicle fits inside a conventional rocket. Like most satellites, today’s X-37B is placed inside a protective shroud, then launched on a large Atlas V rocket. “I would guess that it’s going to be really hard to make a bigger version of the X-37B that can still fit inside a fairly standard shroud,” Weeden says.

Another option for the Air Force would be to update the two experimental spaceplanes. For example, to make them more flexible and possibly cheaper to operate, the Air Force could make them compatible with other launch vehicles, such as the SpaceX Falcon 9 or one of Orbital Sciences’ rockets.

Such modifications would depend on the budget the X-37B program receives as it moves out of the experimental phase. And those numbers are likely to remain every bit as secret as the spaceplane’s missions.

Future of Spaceflight and NASA Missions Information, Facts and Photos, National Geographic

Future of Spaceflight

NASA aims to travel to the moon and beyond—again. This time they may have some company.

Welcome to the 21st-century space race – one that could potentially lead to recycled rockets, 10-minute space vacations, and humans on Mars.

Private Spaceflight

Private spaceflight is not exactly a new concept. Private companies have played a part in the industry since 1962, when NASA launched the first privately-built satellite.

In recent years, companies such as SpaceX and Boeing have started vying for more large-scale government contracts. The launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy this February aims to demonstrate the world’s most powerful rocket since the Saturn V by placing SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s very own Tesla roadster in the Sun’s orbit.

Others, such as Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, have shown interest in specializing in space tourism. Test launch video from inside the cabin of Blue Origin’s New Shepard shows off breathtaking views of our planet and a relatively calm journey for its first passenger, a test dummy cleverly dubbed “Mannequin Skywalker.” The New Shepard is expected to have its first manned launch later this year.

Countless dreams of zero-gravity somersaults could soon become a reality. With the possibility of low-cost, reusable rockets and ambitious NASA plans for exploration on Mars, the coming years are set to be a major turning point in the history of spaceflight.

Looking to the Moon

Moon missions are essential to the exploration of more distant worlds. Extended lunar stays build the experience and expertise needed for the long-term space missions required to visit other planets. The moon may also be used as a forward base of operations on which humans learn how to replenish essential supplies, such as rocket fuel and oxygen, by creating them from local material.

Such skills are essential to the future expansion of human presence into deeper space.

Although humans have visited the moon before, our closest neighbor still harbors its own scientific mysteries to be explored—including the investigation of water ice near the moon’s poles.

Future human moon missions will be preceded by robotic reconnaissance launches, between 2008 and 2011, to scout landing sites that may have the most resources available to astronauts. The moon’s south pole is considered particularly promising because it is rich in hydrogen and may be home to water ice as well.

A New Spacecraft

These new NASA missions are being spearheaded by the development of a state-of-the-art new spacecraft—but one with a retro feel.

The Orion crew exploration vehicle echoes the design of the original Apollo missions but updates its systems with modern technology. The new capsules will also be larger, with three times the volume capacity and the ability to accommodate a four-person crew. The new size has led NASA officials to describe the mission as “Apollo on steroids.”

The Orion capsule, which launches attached to a solid rocket booster and Apollo-like upper stage, is seen as a safer and more reliable design for future space exploration than the now-familiar space shuttle.

Once in space the flexible Orion vehicles will take astronauts to and from the International Space Station. They will also enter lunar orbit, a position from which landers can repeatedly visit the moon’s surface.

The Orion capsules, which may be reused up to ten times, will parachute to Earth like those of yesterday—though they will arrive on dry land rather than via ocean splashdowns.

The Orion exploration vehicle was first launched in an unmanned test flight in December 2014, with the aim of sending a manned mission in the early 2020’s.

In the years beyond 2020, these spacecrafts may aid in assembling Mars-bound vehicles in orbit to take the first humans to the red planet.

3D beating heart tissue experiment heads to Space Station, Newsroom

3D beating heart tissue experiment heads to Space Station

News Release

3D beating heart tissue experiment heads to Space Station

Part of the Tissue Chips in Space program, this study will measure how microgravity affects human heart muscle

Note to editors and reporters: Live coverage on NASA Television of the SpaceX CRS-20 cargo launch carrying this experiment is scheduled at 8:30 p.m. EST, 11:30 p.m. PST March 6 and will be replayed twice on March 7. Coverage of the rendezvous with the International Space Station will be at 5:30 a.m. EST Monday, March 8, with installation at 8:30 a.m. All times are subject to change due if weather or launch conditions are unfavorable


Space exploration can take a toll on the human heart. Astronauts are at risk for changes in their cardiac function and rhythm. To learn how microgravity and other physical forces in space exact their effects on heart muscle, a Tissue Chips in Space project has now been packed and is awaiting launch to the International Space Station.

The experimental equipment consists of small, compact devices, a little bit larger than cell phone cases. The holders contain a row of tiny, 3-D globs of beating heart tissue grown from pluripotent stem cells, generated from human adult cells. The heart muscle tissue is supported between two flexible pillars that allow it to contract freely, in contrast to the rigid constraints of a Petri dish.

The devices also house a novel invention from the University of Washington. It automatically senses and measures the contractions of the heart tissues, and reduces the amount of time the astronauts will need to spend conducting this study.

The flexible pillars contain tiny magnets, explained UW graduate student Ty Higashi, one of the inventors. When the muscle tissue contracts, the position of the embedded magnets changes, and the motion can be detected by a sensor, he said. That information is then sent down to a laboratory on Earth.

This model will recapitulate, on a miniature scale, what might be happening to the architecture and function of heart muscle cells and tissues in astronauts during a space mission.

The project head is Deok-Ho Kim, a professor in bioengineering, who recently joined the Johns Hopkins University faculty in Baltimore. He and co-investigator, Nathan Sniadecki, a professor in mechanical engineering, began this study two years at the UW Medicine Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine (ISCRM). Jonathan Tsui, a postdoc in bioengineering, Ty Higashi, a graduate student in mechanical engineering , and other members of the UW project team, continue the cross-country collaboration in Seattle. The team is working with several NASA and National Institutes of Health groups, and researchers at other universities, on this effort.

Sniadecki said that each of the tissues heading to the International Space Center contain about a half million heart cells.

“They act like a full tissue,” he explained. “They contract, they beat and you can actually see them physically shorten in the dish. We’re actually able to see little heart beats from these tissues.”

The SpaceX shuttle delivering this scientific payload is expected to leave from Cape Canaveral no earlier than 8:50 p.m. PST (11:50 p.m. EST) Friday, March 6. The exact departure schedule depends on the weather and other factors.

Once on board, the experiment will run for 30 days before being returned to Earth for further analysis. A related space-based experiment will follow skyward later, to see if medications or mechanical interventions can offset what the heart muscle endures during extended space missions.

“The space program is looking at ways to travel longer and farther,” Sniadecki said. “To do so, they need to think about protecting their crews. Having treatments or drugs to protect astronauts during their travel would make long term space travel possible.

“Guarding against cardiac problems would be especially critical during space travel at distances never attempted before, such as a mission to Mars,” said Sniadecki. “This opportunity to really kind of push the frontier for space travel is every engineer’s dream.”

He added, “We also hope to gather information that will help in preventing and treating heart muscle damage in people generally, as well as in understanding how aging changes heart muscle.”

Microgravity is known to speed up aging, and likely influence other cell or tissue properties. Because aging is accelerated in space, studies on the International Space Station is a way to more quickly assess this process over weeks, instead of years.

“I think the medicine side of it is extremely helpful on Earth, too, because what we discover could potentially lead to treatments for counteracting aging,” Sniadecki said.

This space medicine research project is funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. This heart tissue study is part of the national “Tissue Chips in Space” program.

Boeing: Space Launch System


Space Launch System

NASA’s Space Launch System is the backbone for a permanent human presence in deep space, for multiple missions to the moon and eventually to Mars and beyond.

Building the Future of Human Spaceflight Beyond Earth

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) provides a critical heavy-lift capability built to rigorous human-rated safety standards to carry people and cargo back to the moon – this time to stay – and on to Mars.

SLS will launch larger payloads farther in our solar system, faster than ever before possible. It will be the most powerful rocket ever built, enabling diverse exploration, science and security missions. SLS is also the world’s only super heavy rocket capable of safely transporting astronauts to deep space with major payloads like landers, habitats and Gateway elements.

Boeing is the prime contractor for the design, development, test and production of the launch vehicle core stage, as well as development of the flight avionics suite.

Core Stage 101


The first test flight, Artemis I, will carry an uncrewed Orion space capsule to the moon to test the performance of the integrated system. SLS also will carry 13 small satellites, each about the size of a shoebox, that will be deployed in deep space.

Additional missions are planned with this configuration as the even more powerful Block 1B version of the rocket is designed and built. This follow-on, evolved two-stage configuration will provide a lift capability of more than 105 metric tons, using the Boeing-built Exploration Upper Stage. Boeing has delivered flight hardware for the first Artemis mission and is producing flight hardware for both the second and third missions.

Download the SLS Artemis I infographic


Feature Stories

Space Launch System gets green light for green run

Boeing and NASA test team members send shock waves through the 212-foot SLS core stage to confirm engineering models and pave the way for hot-fire testing later this year.

Artemis I Core Stage Prepped for Dress Rehearsal

NASA and Boeing prepare for a giant leap toward returning humans to the moon and beyond. NASA will use flight hardware for its initial test of the SLS core stage.

First NASA Space Launch System Core Stage Rolls Out

Boeing completes and delivers first Space Launch System core stage, the next step toward NASA’s Artemis I mission to lunar orbit.

Engines Installed on Space Launch System Artemis I Rocket

November 12, 2019 in Space

Boeing team begins integrated testing of core stage structure.

Boeing Begins Engine Install on SLS Core Stage

Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne technicians are installing the four powerful RS-25 engines modified for the Space Launch System at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility, while ramping up to support the full core stage hot fire testing at Stennis Space Center next year.

Fresh ideas from the factory floor

Innovation is built into the Space Launch System from the ground up, as technicians and engineers work together to improve the rocket by incorporating ideas from the shop floor into future design and build plans, making each rocket core stage come together faster, and more efficiently.

Space Launch System Core Stage Structure Complete

Boeing teams in New Orleans connected the first Space Launch System (SLS) engine section to the rest of the rocket’s core stage.

SLS Engine Section Complete; Prepares for Join

September 10, 2019 in Space

Production of the first Space Launch System core stage approaches final join as teams prep the engine section using new tooling and a new maneuver.

Testing the Limits

Space Launch System liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen tanks undergo testing at Marshall Space Flight Center to ensure the rocket can withstand launch and ascent.

More than a Rocket

As Boeing prepares for final element join on the first Space Launch System core stage, the second core stage of the advanced launch system is underway, and the design of a powerful Exploration Upper Stage is taking shape.

Full Throttle for Rocket Production

The second of three major joins that make up the Space Launch System core stage is underway in New Orleans, taking America a giant leap closer to launching NASA’s Artemis missions.

Stacking NASA’s Giant Rocket

Boeing employees at NASA’s Michoud facility complete a forward join on the SLS rocket core stage.

Rocket testing lifts off at NASA Marshall

The liquid hydrogen tank for Space Launch System is lifted in place in preparation for testing.

Committed to the Core

Testing, installation and integration of the Space Launch System core stage is underway.

Monumental Journey

Space Launch System employees move closer to completing core stage of world’s most powerful rocket.

Far Out

Boeing’s next big adventures into deep space ride with new super rocket.

The Path to Mars: Deep Space Mission

December 4, 2014 in Innovation, Space

NASA is setting its eyes on the exploration of Mars, an over two year-long journey that will make history. Today’s children will be the first explorers of our neighboring planet with help from Boeing technology to discover ground humans humans have yet to see.

The Rocket Makers

November 19, 2014 in Space

With cutting-edge technology, Boeing employees once again are helping build a mighty rocket.

38 Stories of Power

November 13, 2014 in Innovation, Space

With cutting-edge technology, Boeing employees once again are helping build a mighty rocket.

Aerospace’s largest tool unveiled

September 22, 2014 in Space

Take a ride on the new Space Launch System built by Boeing and ignite your human spirit.

Tanks for a great idea

March 18, 2014 in Space, Technology

Boeing has designed and built two composite liquid-hydrogen fuel tanks for heavy-lift launch vehicles that will propel future air and space missions.

Building the Biggest Rocket with the Biggest Tools

Boeing has designed and built two composite liquid-hydrogen fuel tanks for heavy-lift launch vehicles that will propel future air and space missions.

Space Launch System Gallery

Space Launch System Customer

NASA is Boeing’s customer for the Space Launch System, the largest rocket ever built, which will take humans and crew well beyond low-Earth orbit and into deep space.

The Boeing SLS Program is managed out of the company’s Space and Launch division in Huntsville, Ala., and employs Boeing’s workforce in Huntsville, at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, and at other Boeing sites and with suppliers across the country. The Boeing Exploration Launch Systems office supports NASA on strategy and policy for Space Exploration programs procured by the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.

Technical Specifications

Stage Core Stage Block 1 Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage Block 1B Exploration Upper Stage
Length 212 ft (64.6 m) 38.0 ft (11.58 m) 57.6 ft (11.5 m)
Diameter 27.6 ft (8.4 m) 16.4 ft (5.0 m) 27.6 ft (8.4 m)
Propellant Weight 2,175,423 lbs 63,206 lbs 278,000 lbs
Empty Weight 188,000 lbs 7,700 lbs 33,156 lbs
Material Aluminum 2219 Aluminum Aluminum
Engines 4 RS-25 1 RL 10-C1 4 RL-10
Thrust per Engine 512,000 lbf 24,854 lbf 24,340 lbf
Total Thrust at Max Power 2.2 million lbf (1.09%) 24,854 lbf (1.00%) 97,360 lbf (1.00%)
Fuel Liquid Hydrogen Liquid Hydrogen Liquid Hydrogen
Oxidizer Liquid Oxygen Liquid Oxygen Liquid Oxygen

Space Launch System Quick Facts

  • Designed to be flexible and evolvable for crew or cargo missions
  • Safe, affordable and sustainable to advance America’s exploration of space
  • Three capabilities: 95 metric tons, 105 metric tons and 130 metric tons of payload capacity to low Earth orbit
  • The 130 metric tons of capacity would take 22 fully grown elephants into orbit
  • The 95 and 105 metric ton configurations have 8.8 million pounds of thrust, equal to the horsepower produced in 160,000 Corvette engines, or 13,400 locomotive engines
  • The 130 metric ton configuration has 11.9 million pounds of thrust, equal to the horsepower produced in 208,000 Corvette engines, or 17,400 locomotive engines
  • Each solid rocket booster burns 5 tons of propellant per second
  • The power generated from four RS-25 engines on the SLS equals the output of 12 Hoover Dams

Human Landing System

Boeing in November 2019 submitted a proposal to NASA for an integrated Human Landing System (HLS) designed to safely take astronauts to the surface of the moon and return them to lunar orbit as part of the Artemis space exploration program.

The company’s proposal calls for delivering the lander’s Ascent Element and Descent Element to lunar orbit in one launch of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, to ensure the lander can be tailored for maximum capability and crew safety. As part of Boeing’s “Fewest Steps to the Moon” approach, the HLS also can carry itself from lunar orbit to the surface without an additional transfer stage.

The lander’s flexible design allows it to dock with the Gateway lunar orbiter or directly with NASA’s Orion, both on time to meet NASA’s goal of a 2024 human mission to the lunar surface. The HLS and Gateway combination is essential to sustained lunar exploration and for future missions to Mars.

Human Landing System launching on Space Launch System

Human Landing System docked to Gateway

Human Landing System lifting off from the moon

Watch U.S. Fly

Want to learn more about SLS and its role in Boeing’s space exploration business? Visit Watch U.S. Fly for more information.



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