Russian crew returns from shooting the first feature film on the ISS

Shooting for the first feature-length movie in space has wrapped. Space.comreports Russian actress Yulia Pereslid, producer Klim Shipenko and cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy have returned to Earth after the first two spent 12 days filming their movie The Challenge aboard the International Space Station. The three left the ISS in a Soyuz spacecraft at 9:14PM Eastern on October 16th and landed in Kazakhstan just a few hours later, at 12:35AM.

Pereslid and Shipenko arrived on October 5th through an agreement between the Russian space agency Roscosmos, the TV network Channel One and the production studio Yellow, Black and White. Novitskiy had been there since April 9th as part of his regular duties, although he also played a key role — the movie has Pereslid play a surgeon who makes an emergency visit to the ISS to operate on the cosmonaut.

The filming required significant sacrifices for some of the ISS crew. NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Russian cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov were originally slated to return aboard the Soyuz capsule, but both have had their stays extended by six months to accommodate the film producers. Vande Hei will set a record for the longest spaceflight by a US astronaut as a result, spending exactly one year in orbit. Pereslid also broke ground as the first professional actor to visit space, beating William Shatner by roughly a week.

It will be a while before The Challenge is ready to watch, and it's safe to say the production is aimed primarily at a Russian audience. It's a major milestone for private uses of space, though, and hints at a future when Tom Cruise and other stars are frequently blasting off to produce shows in orbit.

NASA launches mission to explore Solar System ‘fossils’

One of the more important missions to study the early Solar System is now underway. NASA has launched Lucy, a robotic spacecraft that will be the agency's first to explore the Trojan asteroids trapped near Jupiter's Lagrange points. They're considered "fossils" of planetary formation that will help understand the Solar System's evolution, much as Lucy the australopithecus helped humans understand their ancestors.

The spacecraft detached from a ULA Atlas V rocket about an hour after liftoff, successfully deploying its two 24-foot solar arrays. The vehicle is currently charging its batteries as it begins the first leg of its journey, an orbit around the Sun as it prepares for its first gravity assist around Earth in October 2022.

To call this a long mission would be an understatement. Lucy will return to Earth for another gravity assist in 2024, and won't see any asteroids until it swings by the Donaldjohanson asteroid (near the main asteroid belt) in 2025. The probe first visits its first swarm of Trojan asteroids, ahead of Jupiter, in 2027. It will then make four flybys before visiting Earth for a third gravity assist in 2031. It will finally visit the second swarm of asteroids in 2033.

You won't have to be quite so patient for every asteroid mission, at least. NASA will launch another explorer, Psyche, in 2022. The vehicle will arrive at the metallic asteroid (16) Psyche in 2026 and spend 21 months determining whether it represents the exposed core of an early planet or 'just' unmelted material. Lucy is the more ambitious of the two projects, though, and it may pay extra dividends if it sheds light on how the Solar System came to be.

NASA launches mission to explore Solar System ‘fossils’

One of the more important missions to study the early Solar System is now underway. NASA has launched Lucy, a robotic spacecraft that will be the agency's first to explore the Trojan asteroids trapped near Jupiter's Lagrange points. They're considered "fossils" of planetary formation that will help understand the Solar System's evolution, much as Lucy the australopithecus helped humans understand their ancestors.

The spacecraft detached from a ULA Atlas V rocket about an hour after liftoff, successfully deploying its two 24-foot solar arrays. The vehicle is currently charging its batteries as it begins the first leg of its journey, an orbit around the Sun as it prepares for its first gravity assist around Earth in October 2022.

To call this a long mission would be an understatement. Lucy will return to Earth for another gravity assist in 2024, and won't see any asteroids until it swings by the Donaldjohanson asteroid (near the main asteroid belt) in 2025. The probe first visits its first swarm of Trojan asteroids, ahead of Jupiter, in 2027. It will then make four flybys before visiting Earth for a third gravity assist in 2031. It will finally visit the second swarm of asteroids in 2033.

You won't have to be quite so patient for every asteroid mission, at least. NASA will launch another explorer, Psyche, in 2022. The vehicle will arrive at the metallic asteroid (16) Psyche in 2026 and spend 21 months determining whether it represents the exposed core of an early planet or 'just' unmelted material. Lucy is the more ambitious of the two projects, though, and it may pay extra dividends if it sheds light on how the Solar System came to be.

Surprise Soyuz thruster firing tilted and turned the ISS

The astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station had to initiate emergency protocols after the spacecraft tilted and turned by 57 degrees on Friday. All is well now, but the Roscosmos and NASA ground teams had to spring to action and alert their personnel in space after noticing the change in orientation. According to The New York Times, the incident happened while cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky was testing the engines aboard the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft that's currently docked with the station. 

NASA spokesperson Leah Cheshier told the publication that "the thruster firing unexpectedly continued" when the engine testing was scheduled to end. By 5:13 AM Eastern time, the ISS lost control of its orbital positioning. Russian controllers in Moscow immediately told Novitsky that the station turned 57 degrees, while NASA's mission control in Houston told its astronauts to begin emergency procedures. Flight controllers were able to regain control of the station around 30 minutes later. The Soyuz spacecraft that caused the incident is expected to fly a Russian fillm crew — that same one that flew to the ISS to shoot the first feature film there earlier this month — back to Earth.

"During the Soyuz MS-18 engines testing, the station’s orientation was impacted. As a result, the International Space Station orientation was temporarily changed. The station’s orientation was swiftly recovered due to the actions of the ISS Russian Segment Chief Operating Control Group specialists. The station and the crew are in no danger," Roscosmos said in its announcement.

As The Times notes, this is the second such emergency on the station. Back in July, the thrusters on Russia's Nauka module fired "inadvertently and unexpectedly" causing the ISS to tilt by about 45 degrees. At the time, NASA spokesperson Rob Navias said the ISS lost "attitude control," which is also what happened in this case, and that the event was quite rare.

Surprise Soyuz thruster firing tilted and turned the ISS

The astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station had to initiate emergency protocols after the spacecraft tilted and turned by 57 degrees on Friday. All is well now, but the Roscosmos and NASA ground teams had to spring to action and alert their personnel in space after noticing the change in orientation. According to The New York Times, the incident happened while cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky was testing the engines aboard the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft that's currently docked with the station. 

NASA spokesperson Leah Cheshier told the publication that "the thruster firing unexpectedly continued" when the engine testing was scheduled to end. By 5:13 AM Eastern time, the ISS lost control of its orbital positioning. Russian controllers in Moscow immediately told Novitsky that the station turned 57 degrees, while NASA's mission control in Houston told its astronauts to begin emergency procedures. Flight controllers were able to regain control of the station around 30 minutes later. The Soyuz spacecraft that caused the incident is expected to fly a Russian fillm crew — that same one that flew to the ISS to shoot the first feature film there earlier this month — back to Earth.

"During the Soyuz MS-18 engines testing, the station’s orientation was impacted. As a result, the International Space Station orientation was temporarily changed. The station’s orientation was swiftly recovered due to the actions of the ISS Russian Segment Chief Operating Control Group specialists. The station and the crew are in no danger," Roscosmos said in its announcement.

As The Times notes, this is the second such emergency on the station. Back in July, the thrusters on Russia's Nauka module fired "inadvertently and unexpectedly" causing the ISS to tilt by about 45 degrees. At the time, NASA spokesperson Rob Navias said the ISS lost "attitude control," which is also what happened in this case, and that the event was quite rare.

Planet orbiting a dead star previews our own solar system’s fate

Scientists have spotted a Jupiter-like exoplanet orbiting a dead star that was once like our Sun, The New York Times has reported. According to a paper in the journal Nature, the white dwarf star and planet around 6,500 light years away provides a preview of what will happen to our own solar system in approximately 5 billion years. 

When a yellow dwarf star like our sun exhausts its helium supply, it expands into a red giant and incinerates its inner planets (bye-bye, Earth, Mars, Venus and Mercury). It then contracts from its own gravity into a white dwarf, a dim Earth-sized star with about half its original mass. Though the fate of inner planets is sealed, scientists aren't exactly sure what happens to planets farther away, like Jupiter and Uranus.

Using the Keck II telescope at the W. M. Keck observatory in Hawai'i, a team of researchers spotted a planet around 1.4 times the size of Jupiter orbiting a dim white dwarf star (about 60 percent the size of the Sun) in a Jupiter-like orbit. They discovered it using a technique called gravitational microlensing (thanks, Einstein), possible when a target and a nearer star align with Earth. The nearer star bends the light from the subject, allowing scientists to observe it with a telescope.

The team tried to find the planet's associated star, but eventually concluded that it must be a white dwarf too faint to directly observe. Scientists previously discovered a different Jupiter-like planet around a white dwarf, but its orbit was much closer — so it wasn't a great analog to our own solar system. 

The finding indicates that planets with wide orbits are probably more common than inner planets. It also shows that some of our solar system's worlds may survive the Sun's death. "Earth’s future may not be so rosy because it is much closer to the Sun,” co-author David Bennett said in a statement. "If humankind wanted to move to a moon of Jupiter or Saturn before the Sun fried the Earth during its red supergiant phase, we’d still remain in orbit around the Sun, although we would not be able to rely on heat from the Sun as a white dwarf for very long."

Planet orbiting a dead star previews our own solar system’s fate

Scientists have spotted a Jupiter-like exoplanet orbiting a dead star that was once like our Sun, The New York Times has reported. According to a paper in the journal Nature, the white dwarf star and planet around 6,500 light years away provides a preview of what will happen to our own solar system in approximately 5 billion years. 

When a yellow dwarf star like our sun exhausts its helium supply, it expands into a red giant and incinerates its inner planets (bye-bye, Earth, Mars, Venus and Mercury). It then contracts from its own gravity into a white dwarf, a dim Earth-sized star with about half its original mass. Though the fate of inner planets is sealed, scientists aren't exactly sure what happens to planets farther away, like Jupiter and Uranus.

Using the Keck II telescope at the W. M. Keck observatory in Hawai'i, a team of researchers spotted a planet around 1.4 times the size of Jupiter orbiting a dim white dwarf star (about 60 percent the size of the Sun) in a Jupiter-like orbit. They discovered it using a technique called gravitational microlensing (thanks, Einstein), possible when a target and a nearer star align with Earth. The nearer star bends the light from the subject, allowing scientists to observe it with a telescope.

The team tried to find the planet's associated star, but eventually concluded that it must be a white dwarf too faint to directly observe. Scientists previously discovered a different Jupiter-like planet around a white dwarf, but its orbit was much closer — so it wasn't a great analog to our own solar system. 

The finding indicates that planets with wide orbits are probably more common than inner planets. It also shows that some of our solar system's worlds may survive the Sun's death. "Earth’s future may not be so rosy because it is much closer to the Sun,” co-author David Bennett said in a statement. "If humankind wanted to move to a moon of Jupiter or Saturn before the Sun fried the Earth during its red supergiant phase, we’d still remain in orbit around the Sun, although we would not be able to rely on heat from the Sun as a white dwarf for very long."

Pioneering astronaut Sally Ride will appear on a limited-run US quarter

It's not just countries like Canada paying tribute to space exploration on their currency. The US Mint has unveiled the first coins in its American Women Quarters Program, and one of them features the late Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman astronaut. The quarter depicts Ride staring down at Earth, as she was fond of doing during spare moments aboard the Space Shuttle.

The quarters will be issued between 2022 and 2025. The other quarters celebrate similar women who pushed cultural and political boundaries, including Maya Angelou (the acclaimed writer), Wilma Mankiller (an advocate for Native American and women's rights), Nina Otero-Warren (a New Mexico suffrage leader) and Anna May Wong (the first Chinese-American Hollywood star).

Ride's place in American history is well-established. She's best known for smashing NASA's gender barrier with her first Space Shuttle flight in 1983, but she also founded the agency's Office of Exploration, led the California Space Institute and played key roles in the investigations of the Challenger and Columbia disasters. She fostered interest in space among kids, and girls in particular. Ride also broke new ground for the LGBTQ community as the first lesbian in space. It's no surprise Ride will have a quarter, then — she had an outsized influence on spaceflight and society at large.

Pioneering astronaut Sally Ride will appear on a limited-run US quarter

It's not just countries like Canada paying tribute to space exploration on their currency. The US Mint has unveiled the first coins in its American Women Quarters Program, and one of them features the late Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman astronaut. The quarter depicts Ride staring down at Earth, as she was fond of doing during spare moments aboard the Space Shuttle.

The quarters will be issued between 2022 and 2025. The other quarters celebrate similar women who pushed cultural and political boundaries, including Maya Angelou (the acclaimed writer), Wilma Mankiller (an advocate for Native American and women's rights), Nina Otero-Warren (a New Mexico suffrage leader) and Anna May Wong (the first Chinese-American Hollywood star).

Ride's place in American history is well-established. She's best known for smashing NASA's gender barrier with her first Space Shuttle flight in 1983, but she also founded the agency's Office of Exploration, led the California Space Institute and played key roles in the investigations of the Challenger and Columbia disasters. She fostered interest in space among kids, and girls in particular. Ride also broke new ground for the LGBTQ community as the first lesbian in space. It's no surprise Ride will have a quarter, then — she had an outsized influence on spaceflight and society at large.

Boeing’s next Starliner test flight moves to first half of 2022

Those murmurs of lengthy delays for Boeing's next Starliner test flight turned out to be true. Space.comreports Boeing and NASA are now targeting an Orbital Flight Test-2 launch sometime in the first half of 2022. Engineers have narrowed down the likely causes of the oxidizer isolation valve problem that forced the team to scrap the August 2021 launch, but it remains a "complex issue" that requires a "methodical approach" to solve, according to Commercial Crew Program manager Steve Stich.

Boeing has several possible solutions in the works, ranging from small tweaks to the existing crew capsule through to modifying a capsule still in production. The exact launch timing hinges on both the readiness of the hardware itself as well as the rocket manifest and access to the International Space Station.

While this does suggest Starliner is moving forward, the delay further hurts Boeing's chances to compete with SpaceX in crewed capsule missions. SpaceX has already sent two crewed missions to the ISS, and it may have sent two more by the time the Starliner OFT-2 mission lifts off — Elon Musk's outfit will be a seasoned veteran before Boeing is cleared for its first occupied Starliner flight. It could be a long while before the two companies are taking turns ferrying people to orbit.