#GlobgalWarming; #ESA; #CarbonBudget; #CarbonStocks; #CarbonCounting
New York/Canadian-Media: A target for global warming not to exceed 1.5°C was adopted by the Paris Agreement setting a limit on the additional carbon we can add to the carbon budget, European Space Agency (ESA) reported.
Counting Carbon. Image credit: ESA
Only around 17 percent of the carbon budget is now left, which counts to about 10 years at current emission rates.
After each country reports its annual greenhouse gas emissions to the United Nations (UN), scientists then use the bottom-up approach to calculate the carbon budget by setting these emissions against estimates of the carbon absorbed by Earth’s natural carbon sinks.
About a quarter of our greenhouse gas emissions directly relies on the way we utilize our lands. Forests, being the largest store of carbon on the land, fire acts as a pipeline for carbon to pass from the land to the atmosphere, where as ocean color serves as an important carbon sink.
ESA’s Regional Carbon Cycle Analysis and Processes (RECCAP) project is using this information to reconcile the differences between the bottom-up and top-down approaches.
Phase 2 (RECCAP-2) is coordinated by the Global Carbon Project, and collects and synthesizes regional data for 14 large regions of the globe subject to sufficient harmonization to enable scaling these budgets to the globe and to compare different regions.
Combining these observations with atmospheric and biophysical computer models to deduce carbon fluxes at the surface not only improves the precision of each greenhouse gas budget but also helps separate natural fluxes from agricultural and fossil fuel emissions. This work will help us gauge whether we can stay within the 1.5°C carbon budget, or if more warming is in store.
#EuropeanSpaceAgency; #Peru; #EarthFromSpace; #UNESCO; #WorldHeritageSite
Peru/Canadian-Media: The commercial and industrial centre of Peru, Lima is located on the mostly flat terrain in the Peruvian coastal plain, within the valleys of the Chillón, Rímac and Lurín rivers. The city is bordered on the east by the foothills of the Andes Mountains and on the west by the Pacific Ocean, https://phys.org/news.
Lima can be seen directly on the south bank of the Rímac River, which flows for around 200 km through the Lima Region, before emptying near Callao – a seaside city and port in the Lima metropolitan area (the largest metropolitan area of Peru).
Although Lima is located at a tropical latitude, the cool offshore Humboldt Current (also known as the Peru Current) produces a year-round temperate climate. The cooling of the coastal air mass produces thick cloud cover throughout winter and the dense sea mist, known locally as garúa, often rolls in to blanket the city. In this image, captured on 20 April 2020, several cloud formations can be seen dotted along the coast.
Callao is Peru’s main seaport and home to its main airport, Jorge Chávez International Airport. Several small boats and vessels can be seen near the port. Callao has several islands: San Lorenzo Island (currently used as a military base), El Frontón (a former high security prison), the Cavinzas Islands, and the Palomino Islands, where numerous sea lions and sea birds live.
The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission consists of a pair of twin satellites that orbit Earth once every 100 minutes, together imaging a path on Earth’s surface 580 kilometres wide. The satellites observe in 13 spectral bands – from visible to infrared light – giving various perspectives on land and vegetation. This means that the mission can be used to retrieve a wealth of different information about Earth’s surface.
#ESA; #FeelTheForce; #HigherFidelityTesting; #BiAxialTesting; #EuropeanSpacecraft
New York/Canadian-Media: Going to space equals stress. As launcher propellant tanks are filled with fuel, or spacecraft structural panels experience the strain of orbital ascent, they undergo major force loading in multiple directions at once, the European Space Agency (ESA) reported.
Image: Feel the Force pillar. Image credit: ESA
ESA’s new Bi-Axial Test Facility – installed at the Agency’s Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory at its ESTEC technical centre in the Netherlands – replicates the bi-directional application of load, allowing higher-fidelity testing of candidate materials for space missions.
“This is a new add-on to our existing Instron hydraulic test system, which is able to apply up to 250 kilonewtons of force in a single direction,” explains ESA materials engineer Donato Girolamo, who commissioned the design of the new facility to fulfill space material testing requirements.
Such bi-axial testing is especially valuable for composite structures, widely used in space, which can possess differing material properties along different directions.
The custom-made tooling for the new facility was designed and built by Enduteq in the Netherlands.
The Bi-Axial Test Facility will begin by investigating the performance of solid rocket motor cases. It would also be suited to testing materials making up structural panels, as well as those for pressure chambers of all kinds, from propellant tanks to crewed modules.
“This expansion of our capabilities allows us to reproduce the real load conditions facing our test materials and structures more closely than ever,” remarks Tommaso Ghidini, heading ESA’s Structures, Mechanisms and Materials Division.
#MexicoYucatánPeninsula; #Tsunami, #GulfOfMexico
Mexico/Canadian-Media: When a giant space rock struck the waters near Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula 66 million years ago, it sent up a blanket of dust that blotted out the Sun for years, sending temperatures plummeting and killing off the dinosaurs, www.sciencemag.org/news reported.
Some 66 million years ago an asteroid slammed into what is now the Gulf of Mexico, triggering the dinosaurs’ extinction—and a massive tsunami. Image credit: Mark Garlick/Science Source.
he impact also generated a tsunami in the Gulf of Mexico that some modelers believe sent an initial tidal wave up to 1500 meters (or nearly 1 mile) high crashing into North America, one that was followed by smaller pulses. Now, for the first time, scientists have discovered fossilized megaripples from this tsunami buried in sediments in what is now central Louisiana.
“It’s great to actually have evidence of something that has been theorized for a really long time,” says Sean Gulick, a geophysicist at the University of Texas, Austin. Gulick was not involved in the work, but he co-led a campaign in 2016 to drill down to the remains of the impact crater, called Chicxulub.
To look for ancient buried structures, researchers rely on seismic imaging techniques to “see” underground. They set off explosives or use industrial hammers to send seismic waves into the earth, and listen for reflections from the layers of sediment and rock below. Companies use the technique to search for oil and gas, and they have mountains of data—especially in areas such as the Gulf of Mexico.
More than 10 years ago, Gary Kinsland, a geophysicist at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, obtained seismic imaging data for central Louisiana from Devon Energy. At the time of the dino-killing impact, sea levels were higher, and Kinsland thought information from this region would hold clues to what happened in the shallow seas off the coastline.
When Kinsland and his colleagues analyzed a layer about 1500 meters underground—one associated with the time of the impact--they saw fossilized ripples. These “megaripples” were spaced up to 1 kilometer apart and were an average of 16 meters tall, they reported in an Earth & Planetary Science Letters study posted online on 2 July.
Seismic images of underground layers in Louisiana revealed megaripples associated with a tsunami. Image credit: Kaare Egedahl
Kinsland believes the ripples are the imprint of the tsunami waves as they approached the shore in waters about 60 meters deep, disturbing the seafloor sediments. (Tidal waves gain their massive height only when they reach the ramp of the coastline.)
Kinsland says the orientation of the ripples was also consistent with the impact. When he drew a line perpendicular to their crests, he says, it went right to Chicxulub. He adds that the location was perfect for preserving the ripples, which would have eventually been buried in sediment. “The water was so deep that once the tsunami had quit, regular storm waves couldn’t disturb what was down there.”
The discovery is the latest in a flurry of research about the Chicxulub impact, which was first hypothesized in the 1980s. Cores from the 2016 drilling expedition helped explain how the impact crater was formed and charted the disappearance and recovery of Earth’s life. In 2019, researchers reported the discovery of a fossil site in North Dakota, 3000 kilometers north of Chicxulub, that they say records the hours after the impact and includes debris swept inland from the tsunami.
“We have small pieces of the puzzle that keep getting added in,” says Alfio Alessandro Chiarenza, a paleontologist at the University of Vigo who was not involved with the new study. “Now this research is another one, giving more evidence of a cataclysmic tsunami that probably inundated [everything] for thousands of miles.”
#Washington; #NASA; #TropicalStormElsa; #ISS; #MeganMcArthur
Washington/Canadian-Media: As tropical storm Elsa made its way through the Caribbean Sea, NASA astronaut Megan McArthur shared a series of four images of the storm taken from her vantage point aboard the International Space Station (ISS) on July 4, 2021. She wrote, "Tropical Storm Elsa from the @Space_Station today. Stay safe everyone."
Image credit: NASA
The series of four images shared by Megan McArthur are shown below
Image credit: NASA.
#Washington; #humanmadeGreenhouseGasEmissions; #NASASatelllites
Washington/Canadian-Media: The sky isn’t falling, but scientists have found that parts of the upper atmosphere are gradually contracting in response to rising human-made greenhouse gas emissions.
Combined data from three NASA satellites have produced a long-term record that reveals the mesosphere, the layer of the atmosphere 30 to 50 miles above the surface, is cooling and contracting. Scientists have long predicted this effect of human-driven climate change, but it has been difficult to observe the trends over time.
“You need several decades to get a handle on these trends and isolate what’s happening due to greenhouse gas emissions, solar cycle changes, and other effects,” said Scott Bailey, an atmospheric scientist at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, and lead of the study, published in the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics. “We had to put together three satellites’ worth of data.”
Together, the satellites provided about 30 years of observations, indicating that the summer mesosphere over Earth’s poles is cooling four to five degrees Fahrenheit and contracting 500 to 650 feet per decade. Without changes in human carbon dioxide emissions, the researchers expect these rates to continue.
Since the mesosphere is much thinner than the part of the atmosphere we live in, the impacts of increasing greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, differ from the warming we experience at the surface. One researcher compared where we live, the troposphere, to a thick quilt.
“Down near Earth’s surface, the atmosphere is thick,” said James Russell, a study co-author and atmospheric scientist at Hampton University in Virginia. “Carbon dioxide traps heat just like a quilt traps your body heat and keeps you warm.” In the lower atmosphere, there are plenty of molecules in close proximity, and they easily trap and transfer Earth's heat between each other, maintaining that quilt-like warmth.
That means little of Earth's heat makes it to the higher, thinner mesosphere. There, molecules are few and far between. Since carbon dioxide also efficiently emits heat, any heat captured by carbon dioxide sooner escapes to space than it finds another molecule to absorb it. As a result, an increase in greenhouses gases like carbon dioxide means more heat is lost to space — and the upper atmosphere cools. When air cools, it contracts, the same way a balloon shrinks if you put it in the freezer.
This cooling and contracting didn’t come as a surprise. For years, “models have been showing this effect,” said Brentha Thurairajah, a Virginia Tech atmospheric scientist who contributed to the study. “It would have been weirder if our analysis of the data didn’t show this.”
While previous studies have observed this cooling, none have used a data record of this length or shown the upper atmosphere contracting. The researchers say these new results boost their confidence in our ability to model the upper atmosphere’s complicated changes.
The team analyzed how temperature and pressure changed over 29 years, using all three data sets, which covered the summer skies of the North and South Poles. They examined the stretch of sky 30 to 60 miles above the surface. At most altitudes, the mesosphere cooled as carbon dioxide increased. That effect meant the height of any given atmospheric pressure fell as the air cooled. In other words, the mesosphere was contracting.
Earth’s Middle Atmosphere
Though what happens in the mesosphere does not directly impact humans, the region is an important one. The upper boundary of the mesosphere, about 50 miles above Earth, is where the coolest atmospheric temperatures are found. It’s also where the neutral atmosphere begins transitioning to the tenuous, electrically charged gases of the ionosphere.
Even higher up, 150 miles above the surface, atmospheric gases cause satellite drag, the friction that tugs satellites out of orbit. Satellite drag also helps clear space junk. When the mesosphere contracts, the rest of the upper atmosphere above sinks with it. As the atmosphere contracts, satellite drag may wane — interfering less with operating satellites, but also leaving more space junk in low-Earth orbit.
The mesosphere is also known for its brilliant blue ice clouds. They’re called noctilucent or polar mesospheric clouds, so named because they live in the mesosphere and tend to huddle around the North and South Poles. The clouds form in summer, when the mesosphere has all three ingredients to produce the clouds: water vapor, very cold temperatures, and dust from meteors that burn up in this part of the atmosphere. Noctilucent clouds were spotted over northern Canada on May 20, kicking off the start of the Northern Hemisphere’s noctilucent cloud season.
Because the clouds are sensitive to temperature and water vapor, they’re a useful signal of change in the mesosphere. “We understand the physics of these clouds,” Bailey said. In recent decades, the clouds have drawn scientists’ attention because they’re behaving oddly. They’re getting brighter, drifting farther from the poles, and appearing earlier than usual. And, there seem to be more of them than in years past.
“The only way you would expect them to change this way is if the temperature is getting colder and water vapor is increasing,” Russell said. Colder temperatures and abundant water vapor are both linked with climate change in the upper atmosphere.
Currently, Russell serves as principal investigator for AIM, short for Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere, the newest satellite of the three that contributed data to the study. Russell has served as a leader on all three NASA missions: AIM, the instrument SABER on TIMED (Thermosphere, Ionosphere, Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics), and the instrument HALOE on the since-retired UARS (Upper Atmospherics Research Satellite).
TIMED and AIM launched in 2001 and 2007, respectively, and both are still operating. The UARS mission ran from 1991 to 2005. “I always had in my mind that we would be able to put them together in a long-term change study,” Russell said. The study, he said, demonstrates the importance of long-term, space-based observations across the globe.
In the future, the researchers expect more striking displays of noctilucent clouds that stray farther from the poles. Because this analysis focused on the poles at summertime, Bailey said he plans to examine these effects over longer periods of time and — following the clouds — study a wider stretch of the atmosphere.
#NASA; #SnowCampaign; #SnowExTeams
Washington/Canadian-Media: As the last snow melts, NASA’s SnowEx teams are packing up the snowshoes, skis, and scientific instruments they’ve used all winter to study snow in mountains and prairies. Now, they’re turning their attention to a different kind of mountain – all of the data they collected.
This year, SnowEx teams took snow measurements at six sites across the Western United States, on the ground and with drones and airplanes flying overhead. This information will help scientists determine how much water the winter snowpack holds, which is crucial for managing water resources for drinking, agriculture, hydropower, flood forecasting, drought and wildfire management and more.
In addition to studying snow, SnowEx researchers are also evaluating how accurately various techniques can measure snow in different environments. In the future, NASA hopes to launch a satellite dedicated to studying snow – and the water it stores – from space, in order to understand how changes in the snowpack affect droughts, wildfires, and more. One of the main goals of the multi-year SnowEx campaign is figuring out which instruments may be best suited for the job.
“We’re not going to solve the snow monitoring problem from space with one technology,” said HP Marshall, an associate professor at Boise State University and SnowEx 2021’s co-project scientist. “A big part of SnowEx is figuring out the best way to combine field work, remote sensing, and modeling into one framework.”
In 2020, the SnowEx campaign was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the team couldn’t finish their airborne experiments. For 2021, the science team had three major goals: conduct a time series of L-band Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) observations in diverse snow conditions, measure the reflectivity of the snow surface, and study snow distribution in a prairie landscape.
A Gulf Stream 3 aircraft, carrying the Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR) instrument from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, flew over seven sites in Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Montana from mid-January until the end of March. UAVSAR is an L-band InSAR, a special kind of radar, that SnowEx is using to measure changes in the mass of the snowpack.
Randall Bonnell and Lucas Zeller, graduate students at Colorado State University, collect a snow-water equivalent core sample at the site in Cameron Pass, Colorado. Image Credits: Courtesy of Dan McGrath, Colorado State University
The snowpack’s mass can change drastically from one UAVSAR flight to the next. For example, a large snowstorm may dump massive amounts of snow in one area over a short period of time. Some of the snow may melt or sublimate – skipping the liquid phase and going straight from solid to gas. It may also get redistributed by high winds.
The SnowEx team is testing how well the UAVSAR sensor can detect these different changes in the snow’s mass. Summing up the changes in snow mass over the winter season will help the team calculate how much water is stored in the seasonal snowpack, or snow-water equivalent (SWE). “With UAVSAR, what we’re looking at is change in SWE from one flight to the next,” said Carrie Vuyovich, lead snow scientist for NASA’s Terrestrial Hydrology Program, at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Scheduled for 2022, NASA and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) plan to launch the NISAR satellite to study changes in Earth’s surface from space. NISAR will carry an L-band radar instrument similar to UAVSAR, and the SnowEx team is testing how they may use NISAR observations to study snow.
Ella Bump, a graduate student at Colorado State University, examines snow crystals within a snow pit near Cameron Pass, Colorado. Image Credits: Courtesy of Dan McGrath, Colorado State University
As the planes flew overhead, scientists collected data on the ground below. They measured snow characteristics such as snow depth and density, the size of individual snow grains, temperature, how reflective the snow surface is, and how much of the snowpack is ice, snow or liquid water. The team collected these measurements from snow pits – car-sized holes dug in the snow. From inside the pits, scientists took samples at different depths to see how the characteristics of the snowpack varied from layer to layer.
The SnowEx observers also measured the snowpack using ground-based remote sensing tools similar to those used from the air and space. The data collected during SnowEx is publicly available from the National Snow and Ice Data Center; more datasets are published every month as scientists from across the country complete processing each of the raw datasets and carefully checking them for errors.
Scientists on snowshoes or skis also used handheld spectrometers to measure albedo, or how bright and reflective the snow surface is. Albedo plays a huge role in how fast the snow melts. It depends on a range of factors, such as the size and shape of individual snow crystals, how much of the snow has melted already, and impurities like dust on top of the snow.
From the air, researchers measured albedo using the Airborne Visible / Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS) Next Generation instrument from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Comparing the airborne and ground measurements will help the scientists identify how different factors contribute to the snow albedo.
All of the experiments went smoothly despite the pandemic, said Marshall. “There are always challenges,” he said, citing risks of hypothermia, avalanches and dangerous roadway conditions. “But COVID was a big additional challenge that we weren’t used to dealing with.” To ensure that everyone was safe, the team implemented routine COVID-19 testing, masks, social distancing protocols, and limited passengers in vehicles.
SnowEx teams also recruited local snow scientists to help collect data in the field. “These teams were completely instrumental in making this campaign a success,” said Vuyovich. “That was the only way we were able to continue SnowEx this winter.”
After a successful winter in the field, the SnowEx team is changing their focus from snowshoes and spectrometers to laptops and high performance computers. In mid-July, 90 members of the community will participate in a week-long hackathon, which will provide tutorials for working with SnowEx data and group projects to build software for analysis of the large datasets. Next winter, the SnowEx team plans to conduct experiments in the Alaskan tundra and boreal forest. Full data analysis involving broader community participation will continue into the future.
#ESA; #Moonlight; #Connectivity; #Moon
New York/Canadian-Media: As international teams across the world forge plans to revisit the Moon, ESA is elaborating how best to facilitate this exploration. As part of its Moonlight initiative, the agency is encouraging European space companies to put a constellation of telecommunications and navigation satellites around the Moon.
To succeed, the proposed lunar missions will require reliable navigation and telecommunication capabilities. Building these independently would be costly, complex and inefficient.
If this work were outsourced to a consortium of space companies, each individual mission would become more cost-efficient.
Having one system dedicated to lunar telecommunications and navigation could reduce design complexity, liberating missions to concentrate on their core activities.
Because missions could rely on this dedicated telecommunications and navigation service, they would be lighter. This would make space for more scientific instruments or other cargo.
An accurate and reliable telecommunications and navigation service would enable missions to land wherever they wanted. Radio astronomers could set up observatories on the far side of the Moon.
Rovers could trundle over the lunar surface more speedily. It could even enable the teleoperation of rovers and other equipment from Earth.
Finally, lowering the ticket price to lunar exploration could empower a wider group of ESA member states to launch their own national lunar missions. Even on a relatively low budget, an emerging space nation would be able to send a scientific cubesat mission to the Moon, inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers.
#ArcticSea; #Atlantification, #EuropeanSpaceAgency
New York/Canadian-Media: With alarm bells ringing about the rapid demise of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, satellite data have revealed how the intrusion of warmer Atlantic waters is reducing ice regrowth in the winter. In addition, with seasonal ice more unpredictable than ever, ESA’s SMOS and CryoSat satellites are being used to improve sea-ice forecasts, which are critical for shipping, fisheries and indigenous communities, for example.
CryoSat Sateite. Image credit: ESA
The amount of sea ice floating in the Arctic Ocean varies enormously as it grows and shrinks with the seasons. Although some of the older thicker ice remains throughout, there is an undeniable trend of declining ice as climate change tightens its grip on this fragile polar region.
Arctic sea ice reaches a maximum around March after the cold winter months and then shrinks to a minimum around September after the summer melt. However, these seasonal swings are not only linked to the changing seasons – it transpires that along with our warming climate, the temperature of adjacent ocean seawater is now also adding to the ice’s vulnerability.
Previous research suggested that sea ice can partly recover in the winter following a strong summer melt because thin ice grows faster than thick ice. However, new findings indicate that heat from the ocean is overpowering this stabilising effect – reducing the volume of sea ice that can regrow in the winter. This means that sea ice is more vulnerable during warmer summers and winter storms.
The research published recently in the Journal of Climate describes how scientists used satellite data from ESA’s Climate Change Initiative to calculate changes in the volume of Arctic sea ice between 2002 and 2019.
Robert Ricker, from the AWI Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Germany, and colleagues mapped regional changes in sea-ice volume owing to drift and calculated how much ice grows because of freezing each month. They also used model simulations to explore the causes of change, which corroborated their findings.
Dr Ricker said, “Over the last decades we observed the tendency that the less ice you have at the beginning of the freezing season, the more it grows in the winter season.
This new process is called Atlantification, meaning that heat from the Atlantic Ocean carried to higher latitudes is causing the edge of the sea ice to retreat.
“Importantly, this also means that if you have a warm summer or strong winds, the sea ice is less resilient,” added Dr Ricker.
The researchers believe that the stabilising mechanism in other regions of the Arctic could also be overpowered in the future.
While it is clearly essential to continue monitoring Arctic sea ice for evidence to support climate policies, satellite observations are put to practical use such as sea-ice forecasting.
Ice-thickness data from the CryoSat mission played an important contribution to the Atlantification findings, but the mission’s data combined with data from the SMOS satellite are also key to improving forecasts of the thinner more fragile thin sea ice.
SMOS in orbit. Image credit: ESA
The Alfred Wegner Institute (AWI) in Germany merge weekly CryoSat data with daily SMOS data to generate a weekly-averaged product every day.
As well as being used for forecasts, these combined data show that the volume of sea ice in the 2020-21 winter season was at its lowest since these sea-ice data products began in 2010.
Stefan Hendricks from AWI said, “The driver of this low volume of sea ice is the region north of Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago, where the thickest ice usually resides. Last winter, thick sea ice was almost absent. The rest of the Arctic sea ice is a mix of above and below average.”
The information can also potentially improve forecasts of the weather and climate.
Many seasonal forecasting centres provide dynamic predictions of sea ice. While assimilating sea-ice concentration is common, constraining initial conditions of sea-ice thickness is in its early stages. However, first assimilation studies at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) indicate a significant improvement in the seasonal forecast system.
Beena Balan Sarojini from ECMWF said, “Our results demonstrate the usefulness of new sea-ice observational products in both data assimilation and forecasting systems, and they strongly suggest that better initial sea-ice thickness information is crucial for improving sub-seasonal to seasonal sea-ice forecasts.”
#NASA; #InternationalSpaceStation; #NASAFirstCommercialCrew
Washington/Canadian-Media: Four astronauts splashed down safely in the Gulf of Mexico Sunday, completing NASA’s first commercial crew, long-duration mission aboard the International Space Station. The return comes nearly six months after the crew members arrived at the microgravity laboratory and also marks the longest-duration mission of a crewed American spacecraft to date.
NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, left, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi, right are seen inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft onboard the SpaceX GO Navigator recovery ship shortly after landing in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City, Florida, at 2:56 a.m. EDT May 2, 2021. Image Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, carrying NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi, returned to Earth in a parachute-assisted splashdown at 2:56 a.m. EDT off the coast of Panama City, Florida. Crews aboard SpaceX recovery vessels successfully recovered the spacecraft and astronauts. After returning to shore, the astronauts will fly back to Houston.
“Welcome home Victor, Michael, Shannon, and Soichi, and congratulations to the teams at NASA and SpaceX who worked so hard to ensure their safe and successful splashdown,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, who was confirmed by the Senate to serve as NASA Administrator on April 29. “We’ve accomplished another incredible spaceflight for America and our commercial and international partners. Safe, reliable transportation to the International Space Station is exactly the vision that NASA had when the agency embarked on the commercial crew program.”
NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission launched Nov. 15, 2020, on a Falcon 9 rocket from the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The astronauts named the spacecraft Resilience, in honor of their families, colleagues, and fellow citizens and highlighting the dedication displayed by the teams involved with the mission and demonstrating that there is no limit to what humans can achieve when they work together. Crew Dragon Resilience docked to the Harmony module’s forward port of the space station Nov. 16, nearly 27 hours after liftoff.
Overall, Hopkins, Glover, Walker, and Noguchi traveled 71,242,199 statute miles during their 168 days in orbit (with 167 days aboard the space station), completing 2,688 orbits around Earth. With splashdown, the crew also broke the American crewed spacecraft mission duration record of 84 days, 1 hour, 15 minutes, set by the final Skylab crew in February 1974.
Crew-1 also is the first night splashdown of a U.S. crewed spacecraft since Apollo 8’s predawn return in the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 27, 1968, with NASA astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders.
Throughout their mission, the Crew-1 astronauts contributed to scientific investigations and technology demonstrations, in addition to spacewalks and public engagement events, while aboard the orbiting laboratory. From studying protein crystal development to advance new drug discoveries, to demonstrating robotic assistant technologies, their work advances exploration of the universe while bringing benefits back to Earth.
They also grew crops in both the Advanced Plant Habitat and Veggie plant growth facilities, and conducted tests of a new method for producing semiconductor crystals. The astronauts contributed hundreds of pictures of Earth as part of the Crew Earth Observation investigation, one of the longest-running investigations aboard the space station, which contributes to tracking of natural disasters and changes to our home planet. The crew also tested a new tape dispenser, designed and produced by students as part of the High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware (HUNCH), during the mission.
In early 2021, the Crew-1 astronauts had significant roles to play in five spacewalks outside the orbiting laboratory. Glover completed his first four spacewalks, including three alongside Hopkins, whose total number of spacewalks is now five. Noguchi joined NASA’s Kate Rubins on the fourth spacewalk of each of their careers. During the spacewalks, the astronauts connected cables on the recently installed Bartolomeo science platform, prepared the station for upcoming solar array upgrades, serviced the station’s cooling system, and completed other station maintenance tasks.
On April 5, all four Crew-1 astronauts boarded Resilience for a port relocation maneuver, moving their spacecraft from the forward-facing port to the space-facing port on the Harmony module. The move allowed for the forward-facing port to receive four Crew-2 astronauts upon their arrival to the station April 24. Later this year, SpaceX’s 22nd Commercial Resupply Services mission is scheduled to dock at the newly vacant zenith port, bringing with it the first pair of new solar arrays.
The Crew-1 flight is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which has worked with the U.S. aerospace industry to launch astronauts on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil to the space station.
The second splashdown of the Commercial Crew Program comes just over one week after the launch of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission, the second long-duration mission. The Crew-2 astronauts launched April 23 and will live and work aboard the station until their return to Earth in about six months.
Resilience will return to SpaceX’s Dragon Lair in Florida for inspection and processing. There, teams will examine the spacecraft’s data and performance throughout the flight. The next NASA and SpaceX crewed mission is Crew-3, currently targeted for launch no earlier than Oct. 23. Crew-2 astronauts are scheduled to return to Earth Oct. 31, about a week after welcoming their Crew-3 colleagues to the orbiting outpost.
The goal of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is safe, reliable, and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station. This has already been proven to provide additional research time and increase the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s testbed for exploration, including helping us prepare for human exploration of the Moon and Mars.