Tag Archives: ISS

Goddard engineers complete third robotic refueling test on ISS

Goddard engineers have successfully completed their third robotic refueling test on ISS, using the Canadian dual robot arm Dextre.

The operation were controlled from Goddard, using a variety of robots to view, inspect, and complete the operations remotely. The goal is to demonstrate robotic engineering that can later be used to repair and service a variety of already orbiting satellites.

One detailed mentioned at the very end of the article I thought very significant and did not involve robotic refueling: It appears this project also

…successfully stored liquid methane for four months with zero boil off, demonstrating a system which will dramatically lower fluid loss and eliminate the need for oversized tanks and extra propellant.

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NASA extends life of private BEAM module

Capitalism in space: Having found that Bigelow’s privately built ISS module BEAM has exceeded its design capabilities, NASA has now decided to leave it docked to ISS for at least five more years, using it as a storage bin.

BEAM cost NASA a whopping $17 million, considerably less than it has traditionally spent (a billion-plus) for its previous ISS modules, designed and built under full NASA supervision.

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Cygnus undocks from ISS, will remain in orbit for five more months

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo capsule has undocked from ISS, but will remain in orbit until December.

First, the capsule, dubbed the S.S. Roger Chaffee, will deploy a bunch of cubesats and nanosats. Then,

Northrop Grumman plans several months of long-duration spaceflight experiments using the Cygnus spacecraft after release of the CubeSats. Four miniaturized control moment gyroscopes are flying on the cargo freighter for the first time, and engineers will assess their performance in controlling the spacecraft’s pointing without consuming rocket fuel.

Ground teams also want to evaluate how the Cygnus spacecraft’s avionics function on a long-duration mission, and Northrop Grumman plans to demonstrate dual Cygnus operations for the first time after the launch of the company’s next resupply mission — NG-12 — in October.

Northrop Grumman has gotten a NASA contract to use Cygnus as the basis for the habitable module of NASA’s Lunar Gateway project, and this extended flight is a way to test the engineering for that module now during operations.

Though I continue to have many doubts about Gateway, I laud Northrop Grumman for this approach. It speeds things up and saves money.

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Russia launches and docks new Progress freighter to ISS

Russia today launched and quickly docked a new Progress freighter, to ISS, with the trip taking slightly over three hours.

I think this might have been the fastest flight to ISS, though if not it is certainly among the fastest.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

11 China
11 Russia
9 SpaceX
5 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India

The U.S. continues to lead in the national rankings, 15-11.

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Soyuz launches new crew to ISS

The Russians today launched and docked a new crew to ISS using their Soyuz rocket and capsule.

This launch puts Russia ahead of SpaceX in the 2019 launch race, the first time Russia has been ahead of SpaceX in almost two years. It also puts Russia in a tie with China for the lead, also something that has not been the case in two years. The leaders:

9 China
9 Russia
8 SpaceX
5 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. still leads 14-9 over China and Russia in the national rankings.

Posted from the south rim of the Grand Canyon after our hike out today.

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Faking gravity in space with a spinning table

Researchers at the University of Colorado in Boulder are experimenting with the use of a rotating table to give space-farers short doses of artificial gravity in order to mitigate the negative consequences of weightlessness.

In a series of recent studies, the pair and their colleagues set out to investigate whether queasiness is really the price of admission for artificial gravity. In other words, could astronauts train their bodies to tolerate the strain that comes from being spun around in circles like hamsters in a wheel?

The team began by recruiting a group of volunteers and tested them on the centrifuge across 10 sessions.

But unlike most earlier studies, the CU Boulder researchers took things slow. They first spun their subjects at just one rotation per minute, and only increased the speed once each recruit was no longer experiencing the cross-coupled illusion. “I present at a conference and everyone says, ‘she’s the one who spins people and makes them sick,'” Bretl said. “But we try to avoid instances of motion sickness because the whole point of our research is to make it tolerable.”

The personalized approach worked. By the end of 10th session, the study subjects were all spinning comfortably, without feeling any illusion, at an average speed of about 17 rotations per minute. That’s much faster than any previous research had been able to achieve.

The idea is that you could install this rotating table on a interplanetary ship, and have its occupants periodically spend time on it to get their daily dose of gravity. This way you would not have to build a giant spinning spaceship.

The research has potential. The one question that remains unanswered and is probably central to this concept is how little gravity is needed to avoid the problems of weightlessness. Right now, we do not know. It could be for example that 30 minutes at 1/10 g could do the job. Or maybe 1 g for 2 hours. If the former the engineering challenges become minor. If the latter the problems are more difficult.

I am aware of only one centrifuge experiment ever done in weightlessness, on a Russian space station. They rotated a plant at a very tiny percentage of g’s and found it might help plants prosper in space. The data point however is too small, with no followup. This is the kind of research that should be going on on ISS, and is not.

Hat tip Marcus A.

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Update on planned Russian additions to ISS

Link here. The article describes present status of Russia’s new modules to ISS, along with their tentative launch dates in the early 2020s.

We should not take these dates too seriously. Russia is literally decades behind schedule in launching this stuff. Whether they can finally get them in orbit now, with their present shortage in cash, remains unknown.

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Mold in space can tolerate very high doses of radiation

New research has discovered that the mold found on the International Space Station is able to tolerate very high doses of radiation.

Spores of the two most common types of mold on the ISS, Aspergillus and Pennicillium, survive X-ray exposure at 200 times the dose that would kill a human, according to Marta Cortesão, a microbiologist at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Cologne, who will present the new research Friday at the 2019 Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon 2019).

Pennicillium and Aspergillus species are not usually harmful, but inhaling their spores in large amounts can sicken people with weakened immune systems. Mold spores can withstand extreme temperatures, ultraviolet light, chemicals and dry conditions. This resiliency makes them hard to kill.

“We now know that [fungal spores] resist radiation much more than we thought they would, to the point where we need to take them into consideration when we are cleaning spacecraft, inside and outside,” Cortesao said. “If we’re planning a long duration mission, we can plan on having these mold spores with us because probably they will survive the space travel.”

While these findings likely mean an increase in the cost for sterilizing future planetary probes, they also mean that fungi will be available for future space travelers for the production of antibiotics, food, and other useful items.

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Soyuz has problem during return to Earth

In returning three astronauts safely to Earth yesterday from ISS the Soyuz spacecraft experienced a technical problem immediately after its engines had fired, causing it to go to a backup system.

Moments after the completion of the braking maneuver, the emergency signal was heard inside the Descent Module and the communications between the crew and mission control discussed a failure of the first manifold in the integrated propulsion system of the Soyuz spacecraft and the switch to the second manifold. Kononenko first reported K1B (Manifold DPO-B) emergency at 05:02:54 Moscow Time and subsequently confirmed a switch to the second manifold. NASA later confirmed the problem, but did not provide any details.

There is no explanation what the “first manifold” is, though I suspect it is a direct translation from Russian for their term for a primary system. That the system automatically switched to its back-up is a good thing. That there was a failure of the primary system is not.

Once again, this raises more questions about the quality control throughout Russia’s aerospace industry. While so far none of the recent Soyuz problems, which have also included a launch abort and a still-unexplained drilled hole, have caused a loss of life. I fear that soon or later they will.

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SpaceX reschedules manned Dragon demo flight to November

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has now apparently rescheduled its first manned Dragon demo flight to ISS to no earlier than November 1, 2019.

The information comes from a SpaceX application with the FCC, listing the launch window as sometime between November 1, 2019 and April 30, 2020.

This now gives us the time frame when both NASA and SpaceX expect to complete their investigation into the Dragon test explosion in March as well as institute changes as a result. It also suggests they now have a much better idea what happened and what they need to do, thus allowing them to create this time frame.

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Bigelow announces four tourist bookings to ISS using Dragon

Capitalism in space: The private space station company Bigelow Aerospace announced yesterday that it has booked four tourists to spend from one to two months on ISS.

The bookings will fly to ISS using SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule. Though the company did not say how much these tourists have agreed to pay, it said that it intends to charge $52 million per ticket.

This announcement follows directly from NASA’s announcement last week that it will allow commercial tourist flights to ISS. Previously Bigelow had said it would fly tourists to its own space station using Boeing’s Starliner capsule. Now it is going to take advantage of NASA’s new policy to send the tourists to ISS, and it will use Dragon, probably because Dragon is closer to becoming operational.

I also suspect that Bigelow’s long term plans are to add its own hotel modules to ISS for these flights, and then later follow-up by building its own independent space station.

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White House to allow ISS commercialization, including tourists

Capitalism in space: The White House today released an interim proposal [pdf] that would allow private enterprise on ISS, including allowing American private companies to fly tourists to the station.

A new interim directive from NASA allows private companies to buy time and space on the ISS for producing, marketing, or testing their products. It also allows those companies to use resources on the ISS for commercial purposes, even making use of NASA astronauts’ time and expertise (but not their likeness). If companies want, they can even send their own astronauts to the ISS, starting as early as 2020, but all of these activities come with a hefty price tag.

This fits with the Trump administration’s overall push to shift the American space effort from a NASA “program” to an independent and profitable American space industry.

Will this work? I cannot see how it can’t. At a minimum, it will tell us if there really is a viable market for space tourism and industry on the space station.

For the Russians this is another disaster. They had planned to sell the available seats on their Soyuz, no longer used by NASA astronauts, to tourists. It is very likely that business will shift to the U.S. manned capsules being built by SpaceX and Boeing.

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Dragon cargo capsule successfully returns to Earth

Capitalism in space: After a month docked to ISS SpaceX’s seventeenth Dragon cargo freighter successfully splashed down yesterday.

I think that makes eighteen successful splashdowns. While NASA keeps demanding SpaceX do more tests of its manned Dragon parachute system, which has been made even more robust than the cargo capsule in that it includes four chutes, not three, for greater redundancy, the company keeps demonstrating that they already know how to do this.

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Astronauts recover towel left on outside of ISS ten years ago

During a spacewalk this week Russian astronauts recovered a towel that had been left on the outside of ISS during an earlier spacewalk ten years ago.

The towel was originally meant to clean astronauts’ spacesuits during their work in outer space. It was left by a Russian cosmonaut about a decade ago. Mr Kononenko and Mr Ovchinin removed the towel from the station’s surface and placed it in a special container. It will be sent back to Earth and delivered to a group of experts for further examination.

Though unplanned, this towel will provide some good data on the ability of microorganism to survive in space. It almost certainly had such things within it when it was taken outside a decade ago, and the question now will be whether they survived or not, and their condition in either case.

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Russians say ISS threatened by debris from India’s anti-satellite test

According to one Russian official, data from the U.S. Air Force suggests that ISS now faces an increased risk from the debris produced from India’s anti-satellite test in March.

The probability that debris from an Indian satellite shot down earlier may puncture the International Space Station (ISS) has risen by 5%, Executive Director of Russia’s State Space Corporation Roscosmos for Manned Space Programs Sergei Krikalyov said on Wednesday.

“The Americans have carried out calculations on the probability of the station getting punctured because of more debris surfacing and being dispersed. There are numerical estimates raising the probability of a puncture by about 5%,” Krikalyov said at a session of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Space Council.

It is unclear what this means, since Krikalyov did not say what the estimated overall risk is now thought to be. Increasing a 1% risk by 5% is far less significant that increasing a 10% risk by 5%. In fact, without knowing what the overall risk is, this story is practically meaningless, and instead suggests there are political reasons for making this statement.

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NASA releases industry studies of future commercial viability of low-Earth orbit

NASA today released summaries of the studies it had asked twelve private space companies to write looking into the future commercial viability of low-Earth orbit.

I’ve looked at those summaries, and found them nothing more than single view-graphs from each company selling its wares to NASA and the public. This overall analysis is quite accurate:

ISS Deputy Director Robyn Gatens told the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations (NAC/HEO) committee today that the companies are “counting on NASA still to be an anchor tenant. Our desire is not to be an anchor tenant.”

She conceded that based on these studies, it does not appear that “we’ll see a dramatic reduction in what NASA will spend.” Her conclusion matches a 2017 independent analysis by the Science and Technology Policy Institute (STPI) at the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) that concluded “it is unlikely that a commercially owned and operated space station will be economically viable by 2025.”

In other words, at the moment everyone in this industry remains too dependent on government money. A private commercial industry in low-Earth orbit, including private space stations , might be possible, but it can’t get a foothold as long as NASA and ISS are in the game.

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SpaceX investigation into test explosion ongoing

A NASA update yesterday into SpaceX’s investigation into the test explosion that destroyed a manned Dragon capsule revealed that while the company is still working to launch humans by the end of the year, this schedule remains tentative until the investigation is completed.

The update included two important details. First, SpaceX is going to use for its launch abort test the Dragon capsule it had previously planned to fly on its first manned demo mission, and for that mission will use the capsule intended for the first operational manned flight. That first operational flight will then use a new capsule from their assembly line.

Second, the update confirmed that the anomaly that caused the explosion occurred as they were activating the SuperDraco thruster system, but prior to the firing of the thrusters. While this suggests once again that the failure might have not have involved the capsule but the test procedures, we will not know for sure until they release their investigation conclusions.

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New Falcon 9 successfully launches used Dragon cargo ship

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has successfully launched a used Dragon cargo ship to ISS using a new Falcon 9 rocket.

They also successfully landed the first stage, the 39th time they have done so. Dragon will arrive at ISS in two days.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

6 China
5 SpaceX
4 Europe (Arianespace)
3 Russia

The U.S. has extended its lead over China 9-6 in the national rankings.

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ISS power repaired, SpaceX launch early tomorrow

Using the station’s robot arm astronauts on ISS have replaced a failed electrical component, restoring the station to full power and allowing a Dragon cargo launch to go forward early tomorrow morning.

The failure had reduced the station’s power by 25%. It also shut down some redundancy in the system that ran the robot arm that will grab and berth Dragon. NASA did not want to do that berthing without that redundancy, which they once again have.

The SpaceX launch is set for 3:11 am (eastern) tonight, or just past midnight on the west coast.

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Partial power outage on ISS today delays Dragon cargo mission

A partial power failure on the International Space Station has forced NASA to delay for at least two days the Dragon cargo mission that had been scheduled to launch early tomorrow morning.

The delay will allow time for NASA flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston to continue troubleshooting an issue with a distribution box in the space station’s electrical power system. Engineers detected an issue with the Main Bus Switching Unit on Monday morning, and ground teams plan to replace the component later this week, ahead of the SpaceX cargo launch. “Teams are working on a plan to robotically replace the failed unit and restore full power to the station system,” NASA said in a statement Tuesday. “The earliest possible launch opportunity is no earlier than Friday, May 3.”

The Main Bus Distribution Unit is one of several that routes power from the space station’s U.S. solar arrays to the research outpost’s electrical channels. The suspect unit distributes power to two of the eight electrical channels on the station, including a power supply for the space station’s robotic arm, which the station astronauts will use to capture the Dragon cargo craft as it approaches the complex.

While the robotic arm remains powered through a separate channel, NASA flight rules require redundant power supplies for the arm during critical operations, such as the grapple of a free-flying spacecraft.

Since the cargo Dragon freighter is berthed to the station using the robot arm, they want to get this fixed before launching Dragon. Right now the new launch date will occur no earlier than the wee hours of Friday, May 3.

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NASA announces ISS manned launch schedule through February 2020

In announcing its planned ISS manned launch schedule through February 2020, NASA revealed a schedule that calls for one female astronaut to spend almost eleven months in orbit, a new record, but no planned commercial manned launches during that period.

The planned record-setting mission would have Christina Koch spend 328 days in space.

Koch, who arrived at the space station March 14, and now is scheduled to remain in orbit until February 2020, will set a record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman, eclipsing the record of 288 days set by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson in 2016-17. She will be part of three expeditions – 59, 60 and 61 – during her current first spaceflight. Her mission is planned to be just shy of the longest single spaceflight by a NASA astronaut – 340 days, set by former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly during his one-year mission in 2015-16.

Part of the reason that NASA will do this is to gather more data on the long-term effects of weightlessness. Much of this research is repeating and confirming what the Russians already did on Mir more than two decades ago, but with today’s more sophisticated knowledge. It is also exactly what we should be doing on ISS, from the beginning. That NASA has only started to do it now, two decades after ISS’s launch, is somewhat frustrating.

NASA is also extended Koch’s stay to give itself breathing room should the first manned flights of its commercial manned capsules, Dragon from SpaceX and Starliner from Boeing, get delayed. This schedule does not include manned missions from either, but that only illustrates the difference between NASA’s operational and test schedules. I expect that the first manned Dragon flight will occur in 2019, and that SpaceX will be able to begin manned operations before Koch returns.

Boeing is farther behind. It is unclear right now when it will do its first manned launch.

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Antares launches Cygnus freighter to ISS

Capitalism in space: Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket today successfully launched a Cygnus freighter to ISS.

This was Northrop Grumman’s first launch in 2019. The company hopes to complete 4 launches this year.

Meanwhile the leaders in the 2019 launch race remain unchanged:

4 SpaceX
4 China
4 Europe (Arianespace)
3 Russia

The U.S. however has widened its lead in the national rankings, 8 to 4.

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UAE names astronaut to fly to ISS in September

The new colonial movement: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has named the man who will fly on a Soyuz rocket in September to become that country’s first astronaut.

“The Emirati astronaut Hazzaa AlMansoori will fly for an eight-day space mission to ISS aboard a Soyuz-MS 15 spacecraft on 25 September 2019,” the organization said in a Twitter post late on Friday.

The UAE astronaut’s flight to the ISS is scheduled for September 25. He will spend about a week on board the ISS and will return back to the Earth with the Soyuz crew. Currently, there are two Emirati nationals prepping for the flight in the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center. The other astronaut, Sultan Al Neyadi, will serve as a backup.

No background was given on this man, but we will find out more with time.

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Progress freighter launches and docks with ISS

Russia today successfully launched a Progress freighter to ISS, docking two orbits later.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

4 China
3 SpaceX
3 Europe (Arianespace)
3 Russia

The U.S. still leads the pack in the national rankings 6 to 3.

This list will change, as there is a Arianespace Soyuz commercial launch scheduled for later today.

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Rogozin: Investigation into Soyuz sabotage to continue on ISS

In his remarks to journalists today Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin also said that the Russian investigation into the hole that was drilled in a Soyuz capsule last year is not over, and that they plan to do further “experiments” on ISS.

“The samples collected on the ISS are insufficient for final conclusions. Apparently, additional experiments in orbit will be required,” Rogozin said.

What those “additional experiments in orbit” will be was not explained. I suspect he is referring to the security cameras the Russians are installing on their part of ISS, with the hope of catching the saboteur in the act.

What I think is going on here is that they have not been able to uncover who did this on the ground, and are now trying to imply it might have been sabotage by a U.S. astronaut. Rogozin can’t say this outright, because he wants to keep good relations with the U.S. in the partnership on ISS. He can hint at it, however, and let his own press run with it.

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Russia offers to take over ISS if US exits

How kind of them! Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos, told journalists today that Russia has formulated a proposal to take over ISS operations completely should the U.S. withdraw from the station.

“This is Roscosmos’ proposal. We believe that we can keep the station in case the Americans decide to withdraw from this project, through other countries and partners. We have technological and technical capabilities to keep the station on the orbit and fully provide both electric energy and water there,” Rogozin said.

Roscosmos’ director general explained that the Russian section may add new modules on the basis of the Science-Power Module (SPM), the first version of which will be launched to the station in 2022. “Here the Russian Federation has a unique opportunity. We can duplicate the SPM. Its design makes it possible to turn into home for other states – there can be the SPM-2, SPM-3, SPM-4, they may grow further, extending the international part of the station. We formulated this proposal, and we suggest our new partners doing it,” Rogozin said. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted text reveals Russia’s real goal. They take over station operations, and then sell to other nations modules for the station. Does the UAE want its own space station manned program? Buy a Russian-built module of your own, get it attached to ISS, and “Voila!” you have a very sophisticated and relatively permanent in-space facility all your own. And Russia will provide you the manned ferrying services!

This idea makes great sense. The Russians could even do it should the U.S. stick with ISS. It allows them to offer something far superior to the private, small, and short-lived separate station modules that a variety of private American companies are developing and offering for purchase or rent.

Of course, NASA could do the same, by allowing our private companies to attach modules of their own to ISS, for their own purposes. Historically, however, NASA’s management has been hostile to private enterprise, and in the past has frequently acted to oppose independent commercial activities on ISS. For example, when Russians wanted to fly Dennis Tito to ISS NASA strongly opposed this, and tried to stop it.

NASA has been changing in the past decades, however, so it could be that if the Russians push this hard, the competition could help the factions in NASA who are favor of private and free competition gain control of station management.

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Rogozin: Russia and U.S. to use both countrys’ manned capsules to ISS

According to statements made today by Roscosmos head Dmitri Rogozin, Russia and the United States now plan to send their astronauts to ISS using both the Russian and American capsules.

“We agreed with the NASA leadership to preserve our agreements and principles of cooperation. Astronauts will fly on board Soyuz, and we will use US spacecraft,” he said, adding that US spacecraft will need to get certification first.

According to the Roscosmos head, this will create an alternative in manned space missions to the International Space Station.

This suggests that once the U.S. commercial capsules are operational the two countries will return to the situation that existed when the shuttle was flying, with Americans sometimes flying on Russian spacecraft and Russians sometimes flying on American spacecraft. Under that set-up however, there was no direct payment by the U.S. for its seats on those Russian spacecraft, since it was a straight embargo deal.

Will this be the case now? We shall see. NASA for the past two decades has increasingly worked to keep the Russian space effort operating, sometimes even to the detriment of American efforts.

If Russia no longer gets money from the U.S. for its space flights it simply might not be able to afford to fly. We really won’t need them, but for a number of reasons we might decide to pay them to keep them in the game, both from a foreign policy perspective as well as some underhanded motives that are divorced from considerations of the national interest.

Unfortunately, separating these two issues has become increasingly difficult, especially because of the spreading corruption that is taking over the Washington establishment. This establishment more and more cares little for this country. Instead, it puts its own interests and power first, often in direct violation of the Constitution and the fundamental principles that founded the United States. Under these conditions that establishment might decide it is better to help the Russians, even if it hurts America and its citizens.

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Russia successfully launches manned Soyuz to ISS

Update: The Soyuz rocket has successfully placed the manned Soyuz capsule into orbit.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

3 SpaceX
3 China
2 Europe (Arianespace)
2 Russia

The U.S. still leads China 4 to 3 in the national rankings.

Initial post: The Russians are right now counting down to a 3:14 pm (eastern) manned Soyuz launch to ISS.

A live video stream of the launch is available at the link from both NASA and the Russians. I have embedded the Russian stream below the fold. It has little narration, and so avoids the annoying propaganda stuff that the NASA feed is littered with.

This manned launch is a bit more interesting in that it is attempting to put in space the three astronauts who were on the aborted October launch. This is also only the second manned Soyuz launch since that abort, so there remains a bit of nervousness about it.
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