NASA’s resupply mission honouring Kalpana Chawla on way to ISS

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NASA's resupply mission honouring Kalpana Chawla on way to ISS.

A NASA resupply spacecraft named in honour of late astronaut Kalpana Chawla was on way to the International Space station (ISS) on Saturday with nearly 8,000 pounds of scientific investigations, technology demonstrations and commercial products, and a new space toilet is part of the cargo.

Its features improve on current space toilet operations and help NASA prepare for future missions, including those to the Moon and Mars.

“The Universal Waste Management System (UWMS) demonstrates a compact toilet and the Urine Transfer System that further automates waste management and storage. The smaller footprint of the UWMS supports a possible increase in the number of crew members aboard the space station, as well as planning for future exploration missions,” NASA said in a statement on Saturday.

A new crop of vegetables was also headed to the space station.

While previous experiments have grown different types of lettuces and greens aboard the orbiting laboratory, the “Plant Habitat-02” investigation adds radishes to the mix, cultivating seeds to see how different light and soil conditions affect the growth.

“The findings could help optimise growth of the plants in space, as well as provide an assessment of their nutrition and taste”.

A Northrop Grumman Cygnus resupply spacecraft launched on an Antares rocket was scheduled to arrive at the space station around 5.20 a.m. on Monday.

Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy of NASA will use the space station’s robotic arm to capture Cygnus that will remain at the space station until mid-December before it disposes of several thousand pounds of trash as it burns up during a safe re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

Another investigation ‘Ammonia Electrooxidation’ onboard the spacecraft examines a process for ammonia oxidation in microgravity.

An electrochemical ammonia removal system could serve as an innovative water recovery system on long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars and provide vital drinkable water in remote and arid areas on Earth.

A medical investigation tests drugs based on messenger ribonucleic acids (mRNA) for treating leukemia.

In normal gravity, the drugs to be tested are onco-selective, meaning they can distinguish cancer cells from healthy ones.

“Researchers expect any drugs that also demonstrate this trait in microgravity could make good candidates for safer, more effective, and affordable medicines to treat leukemia and other cancers. This could improve survival rates for thousands of people every year,” NASA said.

The International Space Station Experience (ISS Experience) is also creating an immersive virtual reality series documenting life and research aboard the space station.

A new camera will be mounted to capture a spacewalk from start to finish as well as footage of Earth and the exterior of the space station.

The Cygnus spacecraft for this resupply mission is named in honour of Chawla, who made history at NASA as the first female astronaut of Indian descent.

Chawla, who dedicated her life to understanding flight dynamics, lost her life during the STS-107 mission when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon reentering Earth’s atmosphere in 2003.

Kalpana Chawla was born in Karnal, Haryana on March 17, 1962.

She received a bachelor’s of science degree in aeronautical engineering from the Punjab Engineering College in India in 1982. She then moved to the US to pursue her education.

Chawla began her career at NASA in 1988 as a powered-lift computational fluid dynamics researcher at the Ames Research Center in California. Her work concentrated on the simulation of complex air flows encountered by aircraft flying in “ground-effect.”

NASA launches $5mn competition to find power solutions for Moon

NASA is sponsoring a $5 million competition to find solutions for energy distribution, management, and storage that can be further developed for space flights and future operations on the lunar surface.

Solar energy is abundant on the surface of the Moon, but extended night hours – 350 consecutive hours — and the extreme environmental temperature change from daylight to nighttime, create problems for solar power use.

As NASA works to extend human exploration of the solar system, unprecedented capacity for energy distribution, management, and storage will be needed to support sustained human presence and the beginning of industrial activity.

Earth also addresses similar issues, where demand for additional renewable energy generation, including solar, is rising, but additional power management, distribution, and energy storage solutions are needed to address issues such as intermittency and resiliency.

NASA said that its “Watts on the Moon” competition could help facilitate new power options on Earth too.

HeroX, spin off of the XPRIZE Foundation, is the administrator of the challenge.

NASA’s goals for this challenge are twofold – to advance the technology for energy distribution, management, and storage for long term missions; and to engage with a broader community of energy and multidisciplinary experts for the advancement of space exploration.

A prize purse of up to $5 million will be awarded across two rounds of competition, HeroX said on its website.

Registration for Phase 1 opened on September 25. The winners of this phase will be announced on May 21 next year.

Space station crew narrows down search zone for air leak

The International Space Station (ISS) crew members have narrowed down the search zone for an air leak that was recently isolated to the Russian part of the station.

They have isolated the leak location to the transfer chamber in the Zvezda Service Module, according to latest information from Russian space agency Roscosmos.

Additional leak detection operations are being carried out using an ultrasonic leak detector.

Roscosmos said that the situation poses no danger to crew’s life and health.

The Zvezda Service Module, the first fully Russian contribution to the ISS, served as the early cornerstone for the first human habitation of the station.

In terms of design, it consists of four sections, three of them pressurised (transfer compartment, working compartment and transfer chamber), as well as the unpressurised assembly compartment housing the integrated propulsion unit.

“The leak, which has been investigated for several weeks, poses no immediate danger to the crew at the current leak rate and only a slight deviation to the crew’s schedule,” NASA said in a blog post on Wednesday.

The space station is actually not designed to be airtight.

The orbiting laboratory’s atmosphere is maintained at pressure comfortable for the crew members, and a tiny bit of that air leaks over time, requiring routine repressurisation from nitrogen tanks delivered on cargo resupply missions.

In September last year, NASA and its international partners first saw indications of a slight increase above the standard cabin air leak rate.

Due to routine station operations like spacewalks and spacecraft arrivals and departures, it took time to gather enough data to characterise those measurements.

Late Monday night, the Expedition 63 crew was awakened by flight controllers to continue troubleshooting the air leak on the space station that appeared to grow in size.

Meanwhile, the crew was preparing for Sunday’s scheduled space delivery of over 3,600 kgs of supplies and gear aboard Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter.