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Space missions, exploration and tourism

December 6, 2021 | 11:51am
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Space missions, exploration and tourism
1 day ago

Russia on Wednesday will send Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa to the International Space Station in a move marking Moscow's return to the now booming space tourism business after a decade-long break.

One of Japan's richest men, Maezawa, 46, will blast off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan accompanied by his assistant Yozo Hirano. 

On Sunday morning, their Soyuz spacecraft with a Japanese flag and an "MZ" logo for Maezawa's name was moved onto the launch pad in unusually wet weather for Baikonur, an AFP journalist saw.

The mission will end a decade-long pause in Russia's space tourism programme that has not accepted tourists since Canada's Cirque du Soleil co-founder Guy Laliberte in 2009.

However, in a historic first, the Russian space agency Roscosmos in October sent actress Yulia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko to the ISS to film scenes for the first movie in orbit in an effort to beat a rival Hollywood project. — AFP

December 3, 2021

NASA on Thursday awards three companies hundreds of millions of dollars to develop commercial space stations it hopes will eventually replace the International Space Station, which is due to retire around the end of the decade.

"We are partnering with US companies to develop the space destinations where people can visit, live, and work, enabling NASA to continue forging a path in space for the benefit of humanity while fostering commercial activity in space," says NASA chief Bill Nelson in a statement.

"These awards will help ensure the United States has a continuous human presence" in low Earth orbit, says Phil McAlister, NASA's director of commercial spaceflight. "A gap would be bad." — AFP

November 25, 2021

Space tourism company Virgin Galactic on Wednesday announced a mother from the Caribbean won two tickets on a flight into Earth's orbit, worth $450,000 each. 

Keisha Schahaff, a health and energy coach, said she wanted to take the flight into orbit with her 17-year-old daughter, a science student living in Britain who dreams of one day working for NASA. 

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson surprised Schahaff with the news at her home in Antigua in early November. — AFP

November 24, 2021

A NASA mission to deliberately smash a spacecraft into an asteroid to see if its course can be altered blasted off Tuesday from California.

The SpaceX rocket carrying the experiment lifted off at 10:21 pm Pacific Time (0621 GMT Wednesday) from Vandenberg Space Force Base, NASA TV's livestream showed.    — AFP

November 23, 2021

The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, which astronomers hope will herald a new era of discovery, has been delayed until December 22 after an accident at its launch facility in French Guiana, NASA says Monday.

Technicians were preparing to attach the $10 billion observatory to a launch vehicle adapter, used to fix it to the upper stage of an Ariane 5 rocket.

"A sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band – which secures Webb to the launch vehicle adapter – caused a vibration throughout the observatory," the US space agency says in a blog post, adding that the incident occurred while operations were taking place "under Arianespace overall responsibility." — AFP

November 19, 2021

Japan is recruiting new astronauts for the first time in over a decade and applicants no longer have to hold a science degree.

Women are strongly encouraged to put themselves forward for the job, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) says, as all seven of the nation's current astronauts are men.

Successful applicants, who must be Japanese, will be trained and sent on missions -- potentially to the Moon, the Lunar Gateway or the International Space Station. — AFP

November 16, 2021

The return of humans to the Moon, already postponed last week by NASA from 2024 to 2025, will actually take place in 2026 "at the earliest", according to a government audit. 

The Artemis program to return Americans to the Moon is encountering "technical difficulties and delays heightened by the Covid-19 pandemic and weather events," NASA's auditing body, the Office of Inspector General, says in a report.

"NASA's goal to land astronauts on the Moon's South Pole in late 2024 faces multiple significant challenges including major technical risks, an unrealistic development schedule, and lower-than requested funding levels," the report says. — AFP

November 11, 2021

SpaceX launches four astronauts on the "Crew-3" mission to the International Space Station Wednesday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA live video shows.

The launch, met by applause in the SpaceX control room, took place at 9:03 pm local time (0203 GMT Thursday).  — AFP

November 9, 2021

Virgin Galactic has sold around 100 tickets since flying its founder Richard Branson to space over summer, with commercial service expected to begin by the end of 2022, the company says in its financial results Monday.

The current price of the fare is $450,000 per seat, well above the $200,000-$250,000 paid by some 600 customers from 2005 to 2014.  

In total, the company has now sold 700 tickets, a spokesperson tells AFP.

"We are entering our fleet enhancement period with a clear roadmap for increasing the durability, reliability and predictability of our vehicles in preparation for commercial service next year," saysCEO Michael Colglazier in a statement. — AFP

November 8, 2021

Astronaut Wang Yaping becomes the first Chinese woman to walk in space, authorities said Monday, as her team completed a six-hour stint outside the Tiangong space station as part of its ongoing construction.

"This marks the first extravehicular activity of the Shenzhou-13 crew, and it is also the first in China's space history involving the participation of a woman astronaut," says the China Manned Space Agency in a statement early Monday.

"The whole process was smooth and successful," the agency adds, declaring it finished. — AFP

November 8, 2021

Four astronauts are scheduled to return to Earth from the International Space Station early Monday after spending more than six months in space, NASA announced.

The four members of the Crew-2 mission, including a French and a Japanese astronaut, will therefore return to Earth before the arrival of a replacement crew, whose take-off was delayed several times due to unfavorable weather conditions.

NASA said in a statement late Friday that Crew-2 members are due to return to Earth "no earlier than 7:14 am EST (1214 GMT) Monday, Nov. 8, with a splashdown off the coast of Florida." — AFP

November 6, 2021

Four astronauts are scheduled to return to Earth from the International Space Station early Monday after spending more than six months in space, NASA announces.

The four members of the Crew-2 mission, including a French and a Japanese astronaut, will therefore return to Earth before the arrival of a replacement crew, whose take-off was delayed several times due to unfavorable weather conditions.

NASA said in a statement late Friday that Crew-2 members are due to return to Earth "no earlier than 7:14 am EST (1214 GMT) Monday, Nov. 8, with a splashdown off the coast of Florida." — AFP

November 5, 2021

Four astronauts could leave the International Space Station on Sunday without their replacement team having arrived to take over, NASA announces Thursday, but the timing remains uncertain due to weather conditions.

The four members of the Crew-2 mission, including a French and a Japanese astronaut, are due to return to Earth this month after spending about six months on board the ISS. 

"The earliest possible opportunity for undocking" the capsule to bring Crew-2 back to Earth would be at 1:05 pm Sunday Florida time (1705 GMT), NASA says. — AFP

November 2, 2021

NASA and SpaceX delays for the second time a mission to send four astronauts to the International Space Station due to a "minor medical issue" with a crew member.

"The issue is not a medical emergency and not related to COVID-19," NASA says in a statement, without giving further details.

The members of "Crew-3" — US astronauts Raja Chari, Kayla Barron and Tom Marshburn, as well as German astronaut Matthias Maurer — will remain in quarantine at the Kennedy Space Center until their launch, the statement says. — AFP

October 24, 2021

France has successfully launched a state-of-the-art satellite into orbit, designed to allow all of France's armed forces across the globe to communicate swiftly and securely. 

Paris created a space force command in July 2019, amongst concerns that rival countries were heavily investing in space technology, seen as a new military frontier.

The satellite "is designed to resist military aggression from the ground and in space, as well as interference," French air and space force spokesman Colonel Stephane Spet told AFP. 

The Ariane 5 rocket carrying the Syracuse 4A satellite took off from Kourou, in French Guiana late Saturday, with the mission accomplished 38 minutes and 41 seconds after takeoff. — AFP

October 21, 2021

South Korea launched its first domestically-developed space rocket on Thursday, carrying a 1.5-ton payload as it seeks to join the ranks of advanced space-faring nations.

The Korea Space Launch Vehicle II, informally called Nuri, rose upwards from the launch site in Goheung trailing a column of flame, with a television commentator saying: "It looks like it's soaring into the sky without problems."

Within minutes it had reached 600 kilometers in altitude, the beginning of its targeted range.

South Korea has risen to become the world's 12th-largest economy and a technologically advanced nation, home to the planet's biggest smartphone and memory chip maker, Samsung Electronics. — AFP

October 21, 2021

South Korea is aiming to join the ranks of advanced spacefaring nations on Thursday when it attempts to put a one-tonne payload into orbit using its first fully homegrown rocket.

The South will become the seventh if the Korean Satellite Launch Vehicle II, informally called Nuri, succeeds in putting its 1.5-tonne dummy cargo into orbit from the launch site in Goheung, with an altitude of 600 to 800 kilometres being targeted.

The three-stage rocket has been a decade in development at a cost of 2 trillion won ($1.6 billion). It weighs 200 tonnes and is 47.2 metres (155 feet) long, fitted with a total of six liquid-fuelled engines. — AFP

October 17, 2021

A Russian actress and director were set to return to Earth on Sunday after spending 12 days in the International Space Station (ISS) shooting scenes for the first movie in orbit.

If the project stays on track, the Russian crew will beat a Hollywood project announced last year by "Mission Impossible" star Tom Cruise together with NASA and Elon Musk's SpaceX.

Actress Yulia Peresild, 37, and film director Klim Shipenko, 38, blasted off from the Russia-leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in ex-Soviet Kazakhstan earlier this month, travelling to the ISS with veteran cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov to film scenes for "The Challenge". 

The movie's plot, which has been mostly kept under wraps along with its budget, centres around a female surgeon who is dispatched to the ISS to save a cosmonaut.

Shkaplerov, 49, and the two Russian cosmonauts who were already aboard the ISS are said to have cameo roles in the film. — AFP

October 16, 2021

NASA is set Saturday to launch a spacecraft called Lucy on a 12-year mission to explore for the first time a group of rocky bodies known as the Jupiter Trojan asteroids, gathering new insights into the solar system's formation.

The Atlas V rocket responsible for propelling the probe was scheduled to take off on Saturday at 5:34 am local time (9:34 am GMT) from Cape Canaveral.

Named after an ancient fossil of a pre-human ancestor, Lucy will become the first solar-powered spacecraft to venture so far from the Sun, and will observe more asteroids than any probe before it -- eight in all. — AFP

October 16, 2021

State media says three astronauts successfully docked with China's new space station on what is set to be the country's longest crewed mission to date. 

The Shenzhou-13 vessel carrying the three had docked with the radial port of the space station, state-run news agency Xinhua quotes the China Manned Space Agency as saying in a brief dispatch. — AFP

September 21, 2021

NASA announces it would land an ice-seeking rover on a region of the Moon's south pole called the Nobile Crater in 2023.

The space agency hopes the robot will confirm the presence of water ice just below the surface, which could one day be converted into rocket fuel for missions to Mars and deeper into the cosmos.

"Nobile Crater is an impact crater near the south pole that was born through a collision with another smaller celestial body," Lori Glaze, director of NASA's planetary science division tells reporters. — AFP

September 19, 2021

Four SpaceX tourists returned to Earth safely on Saturday after spending three days in space, successfully concluding the first orbital mission in history with no professional astronauts on board.

The SpaceX Dragon capsule, whose heat shield allowed it to withstand descent, was slowed down by four large parachutes before splashing into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida at 7:06 pm (2306 GMT), according to a video feed by the company.

"That was a heck of a ride for us, and we're just getting started," billionaire captain Jared Isaacman, who financed the trip with a goal of making space a bit more accessible, said shortly after landing.

A SpaceX boat immediately retrieved the capsule, before its hatch was opened and the space tourists, smiling broadly and waving their arms in the air, exited one by one.  — AFP

September 17, 2021

SpaceX's all-civilian Inspiration4 crew are "healthy, happy and resting comfortably," the company says Thursday in its first update since the pioneering mission blasted off from Cape Canaveral the night before.

The four American space tourists "traveled 5.5 times around Earth, completed their first round of scientific research, and enjoyed a couple of meals" before going to bed, Elon Musk's company says.

Musk tweets that he had personally spoken with the crew and "all is well." — AFP

September 16, 2021

Three Chinese astronauts have completed the country's longest crewed mission and started their journey home on Thursday after 90 days at the Tiangong space station conducting spacewalks and scientific experiments.

"The Shenzhou-12 manned spacecraft has successfully separated from the space station's core module," state broadcaster CCTV said Thursday.

The mission was part of China's heavily promoted space programme, which has already seen the nation land a rover on Mars and send probes to the moon.

The craft carrying the three taikonauts is expected to return to earth on Friday, state-run China Aerospace news reported.

The launch of Beijing's first crewed mission in nearly five years coincided with the 100th anniversary of the ruling Communist Party on July 1, and was the highlight of a massive propaganda campaign. — AFP

Tiangong, meaning "heavenly palace", is expected to last at least 10 years.

September 16, 2021

A SpaceX Dragon carrying four tourists separated from the second stage of a Falcon 9 rocket 12 minutes after liftoff, with the four tourists on board now in orbit, a video feed showed.

The Inspiration4 mission, the first to send an all-civilian crew to orbit, will venture deeper into space than the International Space Station. — AFP

September 16, 2021

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying four space tourists blasted off Wednesday night from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the first mission to orbit the globe with an all-civilian crew.

A huge fireball illuminated the sky as the rocket's nine engines began to pull away from Earth. — AFP

September 13, 2021

SpaceX is set to launch four people into space Wednesday on a three-day mission that is the first to orbit the Earth with exclusively private citizens on board, as Elon Musk's company enters the space tourism fray. 

The "Inspiration4" mission caps a summer that saw billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos cross the final frontier, on Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin spaceships respectively, a few days apart in July.

The SpaceX flight has been chartered by American billionaire Jared Isaacman, the 38-year-old founder and CEO of payment processing company Shift4 Payment. He is also a seasoned pilot. — AFP/Lucie AUBOURG

August 20, 2021

Chinese astronauts edged into space on Friday to add the finishing touches to a robotic arm on the Tiangong space station.

On Friday, astronauts Nie Haisheng and Liu Boming successfully exited the Tianhe core module to install foot stops and a workbench on the station's robotic arm, said the China Manned Space Agency in a statement.

Video footage showed the astronauts working outside the spacecraft while tethered to it with a long rope. — AFP

August 17, 2021

Blue Origin, the space company owned by Jeff Bezos, is suing the US government over its decision to award a massive Moon exploration contract to its competitor SpaceX, it says in a statement Monday.

The company has filed a suit with the US Court of Federal Claims "in an attempt to remedy the flaws" in how the contract was awarded, according to the statement. 

The human landing system (HLS) contract, worth $2.9 billion, was given to SpaceX, owned by Bezos's billionaire rival Elon Musk, in April. — AFP

August 6, 2021

After flying its founder Richard Branson to space, Virgin Galactic is restarting ticket sales beginning at $450,000, the company announced Thursday.

The new price is about double the $200,000 to $250,000 paid by around 600 people who previously booked seats on Virgin's spaceship between 2005 and 2014, as the company looks to cash in on the success of last month's fully-crewed test flight.

"We are excited to announce the reopening of sales effective today," said CEO Michael Colglazier in a statement, with first dibs going to people on a waiting list.

"As we endeavor to bring the wonder of space to a broad global population, we are delighted to open the door to an entirely new industry and consumer experience."

On July 11, Branson beat Blue Origin owner Jeff Bezos to space in a battle between the billionaires. Bezos achieved the feat nine days later. — AFP

July 20, 2021

The wealthiest man on the planet Jeff Bezos will ride his own rocket to outer space on Tuesday, a key moment for a fledgling industry seeking to make the final frontier accessible to elite tourists.

Blue Origin has planned its first crewed mission, an 11-minute hop from west Texas to beyond the Karman line and back again, to coincide with the 52nd anniversary of the first Moon landing.

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson made the voyage on July 11, narrowly beating the Amazon magnate in their battle of the billionaires.

But Bezos, like Branson, insists it wasn't a contest.

"There's one person who was the first person in space — his name was Yuri Gagarin — and that happened a long time ago," he told the TODAY show on NBC on Monday, referencing the Soviet cosmonaut's 1961 milestone. — AFP

July 12, 2021

Champagne flowed, guests cheers and Grammy-nominated singer Khalid debuted a new single: British billionaire Richard Branson threw himself a party in the desert to mark his successful first flight into space.

The eccentric septuagenarian founder of Virgin Galactic arrived before dawn at Spaceport America, built in large part at his initiative, in the US state of New Mexico.

The sun rose on the building's futuristic glass facade, located in a region that boasts 340 days of good weather per year.

A small crowd of invited guests, baking under the hot sun, cheered as the space crew climbed into a black SUV and headed for the rocket, which sat at the end of a 3.6 kilometer (2.2 miles) track. On board were Branson, two pilots and three other Virgin Galactic employees.

Also on hand, though unseen by the cameras, was SpaceX founder Elon Musk, another billionaire with galactic aspirations.

A TikTok star, a celebrity television presenter and a Canadian astronaut were among those poised, ready to commentate on the momentous event.

After the launch, the huge carrier plane climbed through the air for about 50 minutes. The guests took refuge under a white tent, eating passed hors d'oeuvres while children ran about.

But they soon rushed back out again to witness the main event: the spaceship released from the plane, igniting its engine for a supersonic ascent to shouts of joy from the Earth-bound watchers.

"Welcome to space!" the commentator announced a few minutes later, just before the ship began its descent.

Branson's face filled the big screen, streamed in from the rocket: "I was once a child with a dream, looking up to the stars. Now I'm an adult in a spaceship!" he said to the crowd. — AFP

July 4, 2021

Astronauts at China's new space station conducted their first spacewalk Sunday, state media reported, as Beijing presses on with its extraterrestrial ambitions.

It was only the second time the country's astronauts have stepped out of their craft while in space.

Three Chinese spacemen blasted off in June, docking at the Tiangong station where they are to remain for three months in China's longest crewed mission to date. — AFP

June 15, 2021

The first crew for China's new space station prepared to blast off this week for the latest step in Beijing's ambitious programme to establish itself as a space power.

The mission is China's first crewed spaceflight in nearly five years, and a matter of prestige for the government as it prepares to mark the 100th birthday of the ruling Communist Party on July 1 with a propaganda blitz.

A Long March-2F rocket carrying three astronauts in the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft is slated to lift off from a base in northwest China's Gobi desert on Thursday, according to experts with knowledge of the matter.

They plan to spend three months on the Tiangong station, China's longest crewed space mission to date, with spacewalks among their tasks.

The astronauts will aim to "get their new home in space kitted out and ready to use," said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. — AFP

June 13, 2021

An unnamed bidder pays $28 million at auction Saturday for a seat on board the first crewed spaceflight of Jeff Bezos' company Blue Origin on July 20, as one of four passengers including the Amazon founder himself.

The winner, whose identity will be disclosed in coming weeks, beat out some 20 participants in an auction launched in late May, and wrapped up with a 10-minute online bidding frenzy, livecast by Blue Origin. —  AFP

May 11, 2021

The US space probe Osiris-Rex on Monday left the orbit of the asteroid Bennu, from which it collected dust samples last year, to begin its long journey back to Earth.

The probe still has a vast distance to cover before it lands in the Utah desert on September 24, 2023. 

Osiris-Rex is "now moving away over 600 miles an hour from Bennu, on its way home," Dante Lauretta, head of the mission, said on NASA's video broadcast of the event. 

The spacecraft's thrusters were engaged without incident for seven minutes to put the probe on the correct trajectory home, a journey of 1.4 billion miles (2.3 billion kiometers).

It is carrying more than 60 grams of dust and fragments from the asteroid, the largest sample collected by NASA since the Moon rocks brought back by the Apollo missions. — AFP

May 10, 2021

SpaceX will launch a satellite to the Moon next year funded entirely with the cryptocurrency Dogecoin, Canadian company Geometric Energy Corporation, which will lead the lunar mission, announced Sunday.

The satellite, dubbed DOGE-1, will be launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the first quarter of 2022, the Calgary-based company said in a statement.

The cubic satellite, weighing 88 pounds (40 kilograms), will aim to obtain "lunar-spatial intelligence from sensors and cameras on-board," according to the statement.

The "DOGE-1 Mission to the Moon" will be "the first-ever commercial lunar payload in history paid entirely with" Dogecoin, Geometric Energy Corporation said, without specifying how much the project cost.

"We're excited to launch DOGE-1 to the Moon!" Tom Ochinero, SpaceX vice president of commercial sales, said in the statement. — AFP

May 9, 2021

A large segment of a Chinese rocket re-entered the Earth's atmosphere and disintegrated over the Indian Ocean on Sunday, the Chinese space agency said, following fevered speculation over where the 18-tonne object would come down.

Officials in Beijing had said there was little risk from the freefalling segment of the Long March-5B rocket, which had launched the first module of China's new space station into Earth orbit on April 29.

"After monitoring and analysis, at 10:24 (0224 GMT) on May 9, 2021, the last-stage wreckage of the Long March 5B Yao-2 launch vehicle has reentered the atmosphere," the China Manned Space Engineering Office said in a statement, providing coordinates for a point in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives. —  AFP

May 6, 2021

The Pentagon says it is following the trajectory of a Chinese rocket expected to make an uncontrolled entry into the atmosphere this weekend, with the risk of crashing down in an inhabited area. 

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is "aware and he knows the space command is tracking, literally tracking this rocket debris," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby says. 

China on Thursday launched the first of three elements for its space station, the CSS, which was powered by the Long March 5B rocket that is now being tracked. —  AFP

May 6, 2021

SpaceX successfully landed its prototype Starship rocket on its fifth attempt, a livestream Wednesday shows.

There was however a small fire at the base of the rocket, dubbed SN15, which announcers said was not unusual. —  AFP

April 27, 2021

Blue Origin, the US space company founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, files a protest against NASA's choice of rival SpaceX to build the module that will land the next US astronauts on the Moon.

"NASA has executed a flawed acquisition for the Human Landing System program and moved the goalposts at the last minute," Blue Origin says in a statement sent to AFP.

The decision "eliminates opportunities for competition, significantly narrows the supply base, and not only delays, but also endangers America's return to the Moon" by 2024 as the US space agency plans, the private space company says. —  AFP

April 23, 2021

SpaceX is set to launch its third crew to the International Space Station early Friday, reusing a rocket and crew capsule in a human mission for the first time. 

The Crew-2 mission blasts off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:49 am Eastern Time (0949 GMT), after being delayed a day by adverse weather along the flight path. 

"It seems the weather is cooperating, so looks like we will try to launch tomorrow!!!" tweeted French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who will become the first European to fly on a SpaceX Crew Dragon. —  AFP

April 12, 2021

Russians on Monday celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first manned flight to space carried out by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin as the Soviet hero remains one of the most admired figures in the country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to travel to Engels, a city in the south of the country on the banks of the Volga river, to the site of the cosmonaut's landing where a memorial stands to honour the historic flight.

The anniversary of the spaceflight is a "day of national pride" for Russia, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday. — AFP

April 9, 2021

A three-man crew blasted off to the International Space Station Friday in a capsule honouring the 60th anniversary of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becoming the first person in space.

Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei lifted off from Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at the expected time of 0742 GMT, footage broadcast by NASA TV showed, with docking expected at 1107 GMT. —  AFP

April 6, 2021

NASA's Ingenuity mini-helicopter has survived its first night alone on the frigid surface of Mars, the US space agency said, hailing it as "a major milestone" for the tiny craft as it prepares for its first flight.

The ultra-light aircraft was dropped on the surface on Saturday after detaching from the belly of the Perseverance rover, which touched down on the Red Planet on February 18.

Detached from the Perseverance, Ingenuity had to rely on its own solar-powered battery to run a vital heater to protect its unshielded electrical components from freezing and cracking during the bitter Martian night, where temperatures can plunge as low as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius). —  AFP

April 5, 2021

NASA's Ingenuity mini-helicopter has been dropped on the surface of Mars in preparation for its first flight, the US space agency said.

The ultra-light aircraft had been fixed to the belly of the Perseverance rover, which touched down on the Red Planet on February 18.

"MarsHelicopter touchdown confirmed!" NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory tweeted Saturday. —  AFP

March 4, 2021

An unmanned SpaceX rocket exploded on the ground Wednesday after carrying out what had seemed to be a successful flight and landing.

It was the third straight flub involving the prototype of the Starship rocket, which SpaceX hopes one day to send to Mars. The last two test flights ended in crashes.

As seen on SpaceX video, this time the rocket appeared to have landed properly after its flight, although flames were coming out at the bottom and crews were trying to put them out. 

The rocket exploded a few minutes later. It was thrown into the air and crashed back to the ground.  —  AFP

February 19, 2021

US President Joe Biden hails the "historic" landing of the Perseverance rover on Mars as proof of the power of science and "American ingenuity." 

"Congratulations to NASA and everyone whose hard work made Perseverance's historic landing possible. Today proved once again that with the power of science and American ingenuity, nothing is beyond the realm of possibility," he tweets.

February 19, 2021

NASA says the Perseverance rover has touched down on the surface of Mars after successfully overcoming a risky landing phase known as the "seven minutes of terror."

"Touchdown confirmed," says operations lead Swati Mohan at around 3:55 pm Eastern Time (2055 GMT) as mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory headquarters erupted in cheers.

The autonomously-guided procedure was completed more than 11 minutes earlier, which is how long it takes for radio signals to return to Earth. —  AFP

December 6, 2020

A Chinese probe carrying samples from the lunar surface successfully docks Sunday with a spacecraft orbiting the moon, in another space first for the nation, state media reports.

The manoeuvre was part of the ambitious Chang'e-5 mission — named after a mythical Chinese Moon goddess — to bring back the first lunar samples in four decades.

The cargo capsule carrying lunar rocks and soil lifted off from the surface on Thursday, and docked with the orbiter on Sunday morning, the official Xinhua news agency says, citing the China National Space Administration. —  AFP

December 3, 2020

A Chinese space probe sent to gather material from a previously unexplored part of the moon has completed its mission and is preparing to send back the world's first lunar samples in four decades, Beijing says Thursday.

China has poured billions into its military-run space programme, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022 and eventually sending humans to the Moon.

The Chang'e-5 spacecraft, named after the mythical Chinese moon goddess, landed on the moon Tuesday and has now completed its gathering of lunar rocks and soil, the China National Space Administration says. —  AFP

November 16, 2020

A SpaceX rocket successfully lifts off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sunday with four astronauts on board, bound for the International Space Station.

It is the second manned flight by SpaceX, a private company founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk that will now carry NASA astronauts into space after nine years of American dependence on Russian Soyuz rockets. — AFP

 

September 22, 2020

NASA reveals its latest plan to return astronauts to the Moon in 2024, and estimated the cost of meeting that deadline at $28 billion, $16 billion of which would be spent on the lunar landing module.

US Congress, which faces elections on November 3, will have to sign off on the financing for a project that has been set by President Donald Trump as a top priority. The $28 billion would cover the budgetary years of 2021-25. 

In a phone briefing with journalists Monday on the Artemis mission to return human beings to the Moon, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine notes that "political risks" were often the biggest threat to NASA's work, especially before such a crucial election. — AFP

August 3, 2020

SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico Sunday afternoon on time after re-entering the Earth's atmosphere and deploying its parachutes without any glitches.

Pilot Doug Hurley, one of the two astronauts on board, said: "It's truly our honor and privilege" as radio communications became choppy and cut out.

It was the first water landing for a US spacecraft since the Apollo-Soyuz mission of 1975. — AFP

July 31, 2020

NASA's latest rover Perseverance launched for Mars on Thursday, blasting off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on schedule.

The first stage of rocket separation took place a few minutes later for the second stage Centaur rocket to take over, boosting it into orbit.

Perseverance is now preparing for a second burn that will put it on a trajectory toward Mars, a trip that will take around seven months and cover 300 million miles (480 million kilometers). — AFP

July 20, 2020

The first Arab space mission to Mars blasts off Monday aboard a rocket from Japan, after weather delays set back the launch of the probe dubbed "Hope."

A live feed of the launch showed the rocket carrying the unmanned probe, known as "Al-Amal" in Arabic, lifting off from the Tanegashima Space Centre in southern Japan.

"We have launched the H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 42 (H-IIA F42) carrying aboard the Emirates Mars Mission's (EMM) HOPE spacecraft... at 6:58:14 (JST) (2158GMT)," rocket manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries said in a statement shortly after the launch. — AFP

June 1, 2020

NASA astronauts enter the International Space Station on Sunday after a landmark 19-hour journey on the first crewed US spacecraft in nearly a decade, a triumph for SpaceX and private enterprise.

The hatch opened at 1:02 pm Eastern Time (1702 GMT) as Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley carried out final close out procedures, crossing the threshold about twenty minutes later.

Wearing black polo shirts and khaki pants, Behnken entered first, followed by Hurley. 

They were greeted by fellow US astronaut Chris Cassidy, as well as cosmonauts Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, all in the blue jumpsuits of the space station, which was launched in 1998 and first inhabited in 2000. — AFP

May 28, 2020

SpaceX's landmark launch to the International Space Station was postponed Wednesday due to poor weather with around 20 minutes to go until takeoff.

"Unfortunately, we are not going to launch today," SpaceX launch director Mike Taylor told NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. 

The next launch window is on Saturday. — AFP

 

December 28, 2019

NASA's Mars 2020 rover will head off for the Red Planet next year. But like Voyager, Galileo and Cassini before it, the mission's epic journey began in a "clean room" in California.

One of two ultra-sterile labs used for spacecraft assembly at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, on the outskirts of Los Angeles, the eggshell-white room was briefly and exceptionally opened to journalists Friday.

"We need to keep the hardware as pristine and as safe as possible until we get to Mars," says David Gruel, operations manager for Mars 2020. --- AFP

August 14, 2019

To prepare for the next mission to Mars in 2020, NASA has taken to the lava fields of Iceland to get its new robotic space explorer ready for the job.

With its black basalt sand, wind-swept dunes and craggy peaks, the Lambahraun lava field at the foot of Iceland's second biggest glacier, Langjokull, was chosen as a stand-in for the Red Planet's surface.

July 21, 2019

Houston's Space Center counts down to the exact moment 50 years ago that Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the Moon, marking one of humanity's greatest achievements.

Thousands celebrate the "Moonversary" with fireworks and music as a giant screen showed footage of the era-defining moment.

After spending a few moments at the foot of the ladder of lunar module Eagle, where he and Buzz Aldrin had landed six hours earlier, Armstrong stepped onto the surface of our natural satellite at 10:56 pm on July 20, 1969.

"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

July 12, 2019

India will step up the international space race when it launches a low-cost mission to become only the fourth country to land a probe on the Moon.

Just five days before the 50th anniversary of man's first lunar landing, Chandrayaan-2 -- or Moon Chariot 2 -- will blast off from a tropical island off Andhra Pradesh state after a decade-long build-up.

The mission will also highlight how far space travel has advanced since Neil Armstrong's giant leap for mankind during the Apollo 11 mission. — AFP

June 25, 2019

The first crew to blast off to the International Space Station following a launch accident that deepened doubts over Russia's space program returned to earth on Tuesday.

NASA astronaut Anne McClain, veteran cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos and Canadian Space Agency record-holder David Saint-Jacques touched down on the Kazakh steppe at 2:47 a.m. GMT (10:47 a.m. Tuesday, Philippine time).

Monitor major developments on space explorations and the status of missions.

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