Three Chinese Astronauts Return To Earth After Six Months In Space

Officials stand near the capsule of the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft after it returned to earth carrying three Chinese astronauts in China’s Inner Mongolia on April 16, 2022.  STR / AFP

 

Three Chinese astronauts returned to Earth on Saturday after 183 days in space, ending China’s longest crewed mission as it continues its quest to become a major space power.

The Shenzhou-13 spacecraft was the latest mission in Beijing’s drive to rival the United States, after landing a rover on Mars and sending probes to the Moon.

Live footage from state broadcaster CCTV showed the capsule landing in a cloud of dust, with the ground crew who had kept clear of the landing site rushing in helicopters to reach the capsule.

The two men and one woman — Zhai Zhigang, Ye Guangfu and Wang Yaping — returned to Earth shortly before 10 am Beijing time (0200 GMT), after six months aboard the Tianhe core module of China’s Tiangong space station.

Ground crew applauded as the astronauts each took turns to report that they were in good physical condition.

Zhai was the first to emerge from the capsule roughly 45 minutes after the landing, waving and grinning at cameras as he was lifted by the ground crew into a specially designed chair before being bundled into a blanket.

“I’m proud of our heroic country,” Zhai said in an interview with CCTV shortly after leaving the capsule. “I feel extremely good.”

The trio originally launched in the Shenzhou-13 from China’s northwestern Gobi Desert last October, as the second of four crewed missions during 2021-2022 sent to assemble the country’s first permanent space station — Tiangong, which means “heavenly palace.”

Wang became the first Chinese woman to spacewalk last November, as she and her colleague Zhai installed space station equipment during a six-hour stint.

Mission commander Zhai, 55, is a former fighter pilot who performed China’s first spacewalk in 2008, while Ye is a People’s Liberation Army pilot.

The trio have completed two spacewalks, carried out numerous scientific experiments, set up equipment and tested technologies for future construction during their time in orbit.

The astronauts spent the past few weeks tidying up and preparing the cabin facilities and equipment for the crew of the incoming Shenzhou-14, expected to be launched in the coming months.

China’s previous record spaceflight mission length was set by last year’s Shenzhou-12 deployment, which lasted 92 days.

Six months will become the normal astronaut residence period aboard the Chinese space station, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

Space race

The world’s second-largest economy has poured billions into its military-run space programme, with hopes of having a permanently crewed space station by 2022 and eventually sending humans to the Moon.

The country has come a long way in catching up with the United States and Russia, whose astronauts and cosmonauts have decades of experience in space exploration.

But under Chinese President Xi Jinping, the country’s plans for its heavily-promoted “space dream” have been put into overdrive.

Besides a space station, Beijing is also planning to build a base on the Moon, and the country’s National Space Administration said it aims to launch a crewed lunar mission by 2029.

China has been excluded from the International Space Station since 2011 when the US banned NASA from engaging with the country.

While China does not plan to use its space station for global cooperation on the scale of the ISS, Beijing has said it is open to foreign collaboration although the scope of that cooperation is not yet clear.

The ISS is due for retirement after 2024, although NASA has said it could remain functional until 2030.

AFP

SpaceX Craft Carrying Two Astronauts Departs ISS For Earth

This handout picture released courtesy of NASA shows SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour firing one of its thrusters to back away from the International Space Station photographed by Space Station Commander Chris Cassidy on August 1, 2020.  Chris Cassidy / NASA / AFP

 

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft shoved off from the International Space Station on Saturday with two US astronauts on board, beginning their journey back to Earth despite a storm threatening Florida.

NASA footage showed the capsule drifting slowly away from the ISS in the darkness of space, ending a two month stay for the first US astronauts to reach the orbiting lab on an American spacecraft in nearly a decade.

“And they are off!” the US space agency tweeted, with Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken set to splash down Sunday.

“(They) will spend one more night in space prior to returning to their homeland, Earth,” NASA tweeted.

Their proposed splash-down sites are off the coast of western Florida’s panhandle, while tropical storm Isaias is headed toward the state’s east coast.

NASA opted to go ahead with bringing the pair home despite the threat of Isaias, which was downgraded to a tropical storm from a hurricane on Saturday.

The agency later added the capsule was confirmed to be “on a safe trajectory.”

“Now is the entry, descent and splashdown phase after we undock, hopefully a little bit later today,” Hurley said in a farewell ceremony aboard the ISS that was broadcast on NASA TV.

“The teams are working really hard, especially with the dynamics of the weather over the next few days around Florida,” he said.

The first US astronauts to reach the International Space Station on an American spacecraft in nearly a decade might not come home this weekend as scheduled because of Hurricane Isaias, NASA said July 31, 2020. Credit: AFP

 

Earlier, during the ISS ceremony, Behnken said that “the hardest part was getting us launched. But the most important part in bringing us home.”

Addressing his son and Hurley’s son, he held up a toy dinosaur that the children chose to send on the mission and said: “Tremor The Apatosaurus is headed home soon and he’ll be with your dads.”

Behnken later tweeted: “All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go.”

 ‘Exciting day’ 

Mission chief Chris Cassidy called it an “exciting day” and hailed the importance of having a new means to transport astronauts.

The mission, which blasted off May 30, marked the first time a crewed spaceship had launched into orbit from American soil since 2011 when the space shuttle program ended.

It was also the first time a private company has flown to the ISS carrying astronauts.

The US has paid SpaceX and aerospace giant Boeing a total of about $7 billion for their “space taxi” contracts.

But Boeing’s program has floundered badly after a failed test run late last year, which left SpaceX, a company founded only in 2002, as the clear frontrunner.

For the past nine years, US astronauts travelled exclusively on Russian Soyuz rockets, for a price of around $80 million per seat.

AFP

Possible New ‘Minimoon’ Discovered Orbiting Earth

A handout artist’s impression released on September 11, 2019, by ESA/Hubble shows the K2-18b super-Earth, the only super-Earth exoplanet known to host both water and temperatures that could support life.  AFP

 

Earth has acquired a second “mini-moon” about the size of a car, according to astronomers who spotted the object circling our planet.

The mass — roughly 1.9-3.5 meters (6-11 feet) in diameter — was observed by researchers Kacper Wierzchos and Teddy Pruyne at the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona on the night of February 15.

“BIG NEWS. Earth has a new temporarily captured object/Possible mini-moon called 2020 CD3,” likely to be a C-type asteroid, Wierzchos tweeted on Wednesday.

The astronomer said it was a “big deal” as “this is just the second asteroid known to orbit Earth (after 2006 RH120, which was also discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey).”

Its route suggests it entered Earth’s orbit three years ago, he said.

The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Minor Planet Center, which collects data on minor planets and asteroids, in an announcement said “no link to a known artificial object has been found,” implying it was likely an asteroid captured by Earth’s gravity.

“Orbit integrations indicate that this object is temporarily bound to the Earth.”

Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk said the car-sized object was not the Telsa Roadster he launched into space in 2018, which is now orbiting the Sun.

“It’s not mine,” he tweeted.

Earth’s new neighbour is not in a stable orbit around the planet and is unlikely to be around for very long.

“It is heading away from the Earth-moon system as we speak,” Grigori Fedorets, a research fellow at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland, told New Scientist magazine and was likely to escape in April.

The only other asteroid is known to orbit Earth, 2006 RH120, rotated the planet from September 2006 to June 2007.

AFP

‘Rubble Pile’ Asteroid Holds Clues To Earth’s Water Story

'Rubble Pile' Asteroid Holds Clues To Earth's Water Story
This handout photograph taken and released by the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on February 22, 2019, shows Yuichi Tsuda (centre R), project engineer of the Hayabusa2 mission, hugging his collegue in the control room in Sagamihara, after the touchdown of the probe on the Ryugu asteroid.  Handout / ISAS-JAXA / AFP

 

An asteroid described as a “pile of rubble” is rich in hydrated minerals that could help solve the mystery of how Earth got its water, scientists said Tuesday.

The Ryugu asteroid, around 300 million kilometres (185 million miles) from Earth, is estimated to be between 100 million and one billion years old.

It appears to have broken off from a parent body, according to observations from a Japanese probe that landed on the space rock.

Kohei Kitazato, from The University of Aizu in Fukushima, told AFP that images taken by the Hayabusa2 craft showed that hydrated minerals — which contain traces of water in their crystal structure — were “ubiquitous” on Ryugu’s surface.

“Asteroids like Ryugu are considered as a potential source of Earth’s water, so we are expecting that our results and the future analysis of Ryugu samples would provide new insights about the origin of Earth’s water,” he said.

Several previous studies suggested that meteorites or similar extraterrestrial bodies from our Solar System’s asteroid belt may have been responsible for bringing water to Earth.

Scans of the rock, which is shaped like a spinning top roughly 3.2 kilometres around its equator — about a 45-minute stroll — showed its interior to be highly porous.

The team behind several studies of the asteroid published in the journal Science said this suggested it had lost moisture over time.

“Our preferred scenario suggests that Ryugu’s parent body once had much more water in the beginning and subsequently lost a large fraction of it,” said Sheji Sugita, one of the studies’ authors.

He said Ryugu’s parent body was roughly 4.6 billion years old — dating from the very earliest days of our Solar System.

In February, officials from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said the Hayabusa2 probe touched down on Ryugu, fired a bullet into its surface and collected the dust before blasting back to its holding position.

Hayabusa2, which is about the size of a large fridge, travelled for three and a half years to reach the space rock.

Next month it will fire an “impactor” to blast out material from beneath Ryugu’s surface, allowing the collection of “fresh” materials unexposed to millenia of wind and radiation.

AFP

Mars Makes Closest Approach To Earth In 15 Years

The “super blue blood moon” is seen over Los Angeles, California. The longest “blood moon” eclipse this century will coincide with Mars’ closest approach in 15 years to offer skygazers a thrilling astronomical double bill on Friday, astronomers say. 

 

Earth’s neighbouring planet, Mars, is closer than it has been in the past 15 years, offering unusually bright views of the Red Planet’s auburn hues.

“The Red Planet and Earth haven’t been this close since 2003, and won’t be again until 2035,” NASA said.

Astronomers around the world trained their telescopes on the sky on July 31, when the Red Planet was 35.8 million miles (57.6 million kilometres) away.

One popular public viewing spot was the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, where Mars was visible with the naked eye as a bright orange spot in the sky, according to a live broadcast held to mark the celestial event.

“Mars is invading us tonight,” said Observatory director Ed Krupp.

The nearest point to Earth in Mars’ elliptical orbit came at around 1100 GMT on Tuesday, NASA said.

Astronomers are interested in Mars’ travel path because it helps decide the best times for spacecraft to launch.

When the Sun, Eart and Mars are lined up, with Earth sitting in between, a phenomenon called “opposition” is in effect, giving the brightest view of Mars.

But also, “around the time of opposition, a planet is at its closest distance to Earth for a given year,” the US space agency explained.

Since the Earth and Mars align in opposition about every two years, “this is why most NASA missions to the Red Planet are at least two years apart -– to take advantage of the closer distance.”

This year’s close approach is not a record-breaker.

The minimum distance from the Earth to Mars is about 33.9 million miles (54.6 million kilometres), and is rarely achieved.

The last closest approach was in 2003 when Mars was 34.6 million miles (55.7 million kilometres) from Earth “and the closest it had been in nearly 60,000 years,” said NASA.

Another close encounter like 2003’s will not happen until the year 2287.

For those who missed the closest approach, not to worry. Mars will still be visible in the night sky for the next few months.

AFP

Nigeria To Experience Lunar Eclipse

lunar-eclipseA lunar eclipse is expected to be visible in Nigeria on Monday September 28, 2015 for five hours and eleven minutes.

According to a statement signed by the Deputy Director in charge of Media and Communications at the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA), Dr. Felix Ale, the natural occurrence will start by 1:11am and end by 6:22 am.

The lunar eclipse is an astronomical event that occurs when the earth comes in-between the Sun and the Moon, and the Earth casts its shadow on the Moon, so that the Moon appears reddish.

The agency said the event will be visible in Abuja and in locations with the absence of cloud cover.

Other regions of the world that will experience the event include Europe, the Americas and South East Asia.

The agency advised Nigerians not to panic, and to go about their normal activities.