Zinnia Flowers from International Space Station Yield Seeds for Future Experiments

Zinnia flowers are dissected in the SSPF at Kennedy Space Center.
Zinnia flowers were dissected inside the Veggie flight laboratory in the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

A baker’s dozen of zinnia flowers that were grown on the International Space Station were unpacked and recently dissected inside the Veggie flight laboratory in the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. An additional dozen zinnias were given to the six crew members on the space station as souvenirs.

A team of NASA and contractor scientists in the ISS Ground Processing and Research Project Office carefully removed the seeds from each of the thirteen zinnia plants and the zinnias from a ground control experiment. The seeds were examined under a microscope and then packaged in small vials and labeled for further analysis.

At Kennedy, the seeds will undergo a microbial analysis and a germination test to determine if they could be sent to the space station for another growth cycle in the Veggie system.

The zinnia seeds were delivered to the space station as part of the Veg-01 experiment in April 2014. The plant pillows containing the zinnia seeds were activated Nov. 16, 2015, in the Veggie plant growth system by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly during his one-year mission. The zinnias were watered and their growth was monitored for 90 days. The plants were harvested on Feb. 14, 2016, packaged and returned to Earth on the SpaceX CRS-8 Commercial Resupply Services Mission. Funding for Veggie is provided by the Space Life and Physical Sciences Research Applications Division at NASA Headquarters.

NASA is maturing Veggie technology aboard the space station to provide future pioneers with a sustainable food supplement – a critical part of NASA’s Journey to Mars. As NASA moves toward long-duration exploration missions farther into the solar system, Veggie will be a resource for crew food growth and consumption. It also could be used by astronauts for recreational gardening activities during long-duration space missions.

Platform Milestone Reached at Kennedy Space Center for NASA’s Space Launch System

The first half of the F platforms is installed in the Vehicle Assembly Building High Bay 3.
A crane lowers the first half of the F platforms into place July 15, in High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Bill White

Installation of new work platforms for NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and the journey to Mars reached the halfway point this week inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The F North and South platforms were lifted by crane from the transfer aisle floor of the VAB, slowly raised into position, and attached to rail beams on the north and south walls in High Bay 3 on July 15 and 19. The rail beams provide structural support and contain the drive mechanisms to retract and extend the platforms.

Each platform weighs between 300,000 and 325,000 pounds and measures about 38 feet long and close to 62 feet wide.

The F-level platforms will provide access to the SLS Core Stage (CS) Intertank and facilitate CS Intertank Umbilical mate operations. Located on Platform F, the “F-1” multi-level ground support equipment platform will be used to access the booster forward assemblies and the CS to booster forward attach points. The upper level of F-1 will be used to remove the lifting sling used to support forward assembly mate for booster stacking operations.

A total of 10 levels of work platforms, 20 platform halves altogether, will surround the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft and enable testing and processing for the uncrewed Exploration Mission 1, and deep-space missions, including the journey to Mars.

Liftoff of Falcon 9 Rocket on SpaceX CRS-9

Liftoff of SpaceX CRS-9 from Cape Canaveral Air Force StationThe SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 12:45:29 a.m. EDT and Dragon has begun its journey to the International Space Station with an arrival on Wednesday, July 20. (Photo credit: NASA/Tony Gray)

For more information on the SpaceX CRS-9 mission, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/spacex. For more information about the International Space Station, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/station.

Falcon 9 on Track for 12:45 A.M. EDT Liftoff

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The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft are standing today at Space Launch Complex 40 awaiting liftoff. Launch is scheduled for 12:45 a.m. EDT. The weather forecast calls for a 90 percent chance of acceptable conditions at launch time. Continuous countdown and launch coverage will begin at 11:30 p.m. EDT on the NASA Launch Blog and on NASA TV.

The Dragon spacecraft is loaded with about 5,000 pounds of experiments and materials for the International Space Station. The payloads include a docking adapter needed for future spacecraft headed to the station including those from partners Boeing and SpaceX for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The spacecraft also carries hardware and experiment elements needed for dozens of research investigations that will take place in orbit during Expeditions 48 and 49. You can read details about the experiments here and details about the docking adapter, IDA-2, here. Photo credit: SpaceX

SpaceX CRS-9 Launch Set for Early Monday

Launch of SpaceX CRS-9 is set for 12:45 a.m. EDT Monday, July 18, from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. This is the company’s ninth scheduled cargo delivery mission to the International Space Station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract.

For the latest information on launch status, visit NASA’s SpaceX Launch Blog or the Commercial Resupply website. Live countdown coverage begins at 11:30 p.m. Sunday, July 17 on NASA Television as well as on the blog.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is carrying the Dragon spacecraft, packed with nearly 5,000 pounds of supplies and payloads to the station, including critical materials to directly support dozens of the more than 250 science and research investigations that will occur during Expeditions 48 and 49. For more details about the mission, you can look over the press kit at https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/spacex_crs9_press_kit.pdf.

The Tiles that Bond

technicians prepare to bond thermal protection system tiles on the Orion crew module for the agency’s first uncrewed flight test with the Space Launch System (SLS) on NASA’s Journey to Mars.In the photo above, technicians prepare to bond thermal protection system tiles on the Orion crew module for the agency’s first uncrewed flight test with the Space Launch System (SLS) on NASA’s Journey to Mars. The work is taking place inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

While similar to those used on the space shuttle, Orion only requires about 1,300 tiles compared to more than 24,000 on the shuttle. The tiles, along with the spacecraft’s heatshield, will protect Orion from the 5,000 degree Fahrenheit heat of re-entry.
Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

Nearly Five Years After Launch, Juno Reaches Jupiter

NASA's Juno planetary probe, enclosed in its payload fairing, launches atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
NASA’s Juno planetary probe, enclosed in its payload fairing, launches atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Photo credit: NASA/Kenny Allen

The sun rises over Space Launch Complex 41 prior to liftoff of the United Launch Alliance Atlas rocket carrying NASA's Juno spacecraft.NASA’s Juno spacecraft is arriving at its destination with fanfare and fireworks.

As Americans celebrate Independence Day, Juno will slip into orbit around Jupiter. The solar-powered, 4-ton probe launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Aug. 5, 2011.

In August 2007, a team led by NASA’s Launch Services Program based at Kennedy Space Center selected an Atlas V 551 rocket for the task of launching Juno. After four more years of mission integration and analysis, Juno was lofted into space with a nearly perfect ascent. At that point the Juno team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. took over control of the mission, deploying the spacecraft’s huge solar arrays and beginning a thorough checkout of all its systems and instruments to make sure all was well at the start of the long journey.

In the Astrotech payload processing facility near Kennedy Space Center in Florida, twin sections of the Atlas payload fairing are moved closer to the Juno spacecraft during work to enclose the spacecraft for launch.Now five years and some 1.75 billion miles later, Juno will enter into an orbit around Jupiter that gradually will get closer and closer to the planet during its mission lifetime. At about 9 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on the Fourth of July, the spacecraft will fly within 2,900 miles of the cloud tops of Jupiter. It will conduct a 35-minute burn of its main engine, slowing by about 1,200 mph so it can enter the polar orbit of our solar system’s largest planet.

“I’m sure it will be a tense 35 minutes on July Fourth during the main engine firing necessary to slow Juno down enough to achieve orbit around Jupiter,” said John Calvert, Juno’s mission manager for the Launch Services Program (LSP) at Kennedy Space Center. “We are all excited to finally start revealing the mysteries of the origins and evolution of Jupiter.”

Juno’s goal is to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter, look for a solid planetary core, map magnetic fields, measure water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere, and observe auroras.

For the latest status and information on Juno’s arrival at Jupiter, visit the mission’s website at https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/juno/main.

Photo credits: NASA/Kenny Allen (top and middle) and NASA/Kim Shiflett (bottom)

Asteroid Sampler Comm System Testing Complete

deepspacenetwork2015A spacecraft designed to sample an asteroid and return that sample to Earth will depend greatly on its communications systems with Earth to relay everything from its health and status to scientific findings from making a detailed survey of the asteroid known as Bennu. That’s why engineers from NASA’s Deep Space Network spent the past couple of weeks performing detailed tests of the various communications systems on the OSIRIS-REx spaceraft.

More than a simple on-off evaluation, the tests call for analyses that simulate the millions of miles of distance that signals from the spacecraft will have to traverse to reach the gigantic antennas of the Deep Space Network placed in California, Spain and Canberra, Australia. With dishes measuring up to 230 feet in diameter, the Earthbound communications network is geared to pick up faint transmissions from probes that are exploring the solar system.

The recent tests were completed inside a long, single-story building at Kennedy known as MIL-71. Its name harkens back to the time when Kennedy was known as the Merritt Island Launch Annex, or MILA. Communications systems allow only three letters, so it was shortened the MIL. In much the same way, the asteroid sampling mission called OSIRIS-REx by its management is known in Deep Space Network and communications circles by its own three-letter acronym, ORX.

It takes a roomful of specialized gear to perform the testing which calls for simulating the vast distances of space though the spacecraft and instruments are in buildings next door to each other. The team heads back to California soon to apply their work to the system and get ready to use it for launch.

They won’t know until about 20 minutes after liftoff whether their testing was performed correctly and the spacecraft will effectively communicate with Earth. It is around that time that the OSIRIS-REx will separate from the upper stage of the Atlas V rocket. Assuming they get a signal like they expect, the spacecraft will unfurl its solar arrays and head for the asteroid, keeping Earth updated to the progress throughout its journey. Photo credit: NASA/ Dimitri Gerondidakis

Platform D North Arrives at Kennedy Space Center for NASA’s Space Launch System

Platform D North arrives at the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.The second half of the D-level work platforms for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), D North, arrived at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center on June 27. The D work platforms are the seventh set of new platforms to arrive at Kennedy. A total of 10 levels of work platforms will surround the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and provide access for processing.

The platform was transported from Sauer Corp. in Orlando, Florida, by Tillett Heavy Haul of Titusville, Florida. Sauer is a subcontractor to VAB general contractor Hensel Phelps. Tillett Heavy Haul is a subcontractor to Sauer. The platform was placed on a stand in a staging area near the VAB, where some final assembly will be performed before it is transferred into the building.

The Ground Systems Development and Operations Program is overseeing upgrades and modifications to the VAB, including installation of the new platforms, to prepare for Exploration Mission 1, deep-space missions and the journey to Mars.

Photo credit: NASA/Bill White

Fourth Set of New Work Platforms Installed in Vehicle Assembly Building High Bay 3

The g-level work platforms are installed in the Vehicle Assembly Building High Bay 3.The G-level work platforms for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, were installed this week in High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. A heavy-lift crane was used to raise G south and G north platforms up from the transfer aisle, then over and down to about the 14th floor level for installation.

The G-level work platforms are the fourth of 10 levels of work platforms that will surround and provide access to the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft for Exploration Mission 1. The Ground Systems Development and Operations Program is overseeing upgrades and modifications to VAB High Bay 3, including installation of the new work platforms, to prepare for deep space missions, including NASA’s journey to Mars.

Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky