European Mars Conference 2014: Vision for Mars Rovers

Typical “real colour” image of the Martian surface (left) and VNIR “false colour” visualisation (right). Credit: Yosef Akhtman/EPFL

Seeing is believing. Our great visions of space exploration require also a trustable vision system. Curiosity rover snapping dozens of pictures daily sees the Red Planet different than the eye.

Needless to say, human vision is highly adapted to the specific conditions here on Earth. “The exploration of Mars will require radically different qualities of the vision system because of both the Mars atmospheric properties and the range of things that this vision system will need to be able to see.” Yosef Akhtman of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) told astrowatch.net.

“In particular using an RGB camera, which was developed to mimic human vision on Earth is a bit naive and far from optimum.” Akhtman will give a speech on Sept. 7 regarding adaptive vision system for extraterrestrial exploration at the European Mars Conference (EMC) that will take place in Podzamcze, Poland.

Akhtman is the founder and the Chief Executive Officer of VISNX – an innovative Swiss start-up company in the field of optical sensing. He is the author of several inventions, one manuscript and more than forty scientific papers, spanning the subjects of information theory, mobile robotics and remote environmental sensing.

Akhtman points out that vision, and the sensation of color in particular, is a strictly subjective, contextual capability that has evolved over billions of year to serve the needs of the various species in a very effective, but highly specialized manner.

Bees have their vision system optimized for navigation and orientation around flowers. The vision of many mammals is optimized for the sensing of motion at the expense of the less resolved color information. Birds see more distinctive colors than humans, which is probably optimized for their airborne lifestyle. Yet another species like the mantis shrimp perceive up to twelve distinctive spectral bands.

Many of today’s imaging technologies are designed to replicate the capabilities of the human vision. The goal of these systems is to record color information in a way that would facilitate faithful reproduction ­ “real color” that would resemble the original object when observed by humans.

“We don’t yet know what is it exactly that we will need to look for on Mars and therefore we cannot develop an effective static vision system in advance. That is the reason that the adaptive approach that we are developing at VISNX has so much potential in my view.”

Akhtman said. “We have developed a fundamentally different vision system that can be dynamically reconfigured to collect imaging data that is optimized for the specific environment. In particular, the spectral characteristics of the proposed imaging system may be adjusted in post processing to maximize the informational content of data collected.”

He added that the proposed vision system opens new and compelling possibilities for optical sensing both on Earth and other planets with the exploration of Mars being the clear and straightforward application. Along with the EMC, an international Mars rover contest will be held – the European Rover Challenge. The challenge involving analogues of Mars rovers is a competition for teams of students and recent graduates of higher education institutions, who, with the help of their faculty, try to first design and build and then field the best rover.

The core of the challenge are four practical tasks: a science task involving obtaining and analyzing samples, a “blind” navigation task, in which the team will have to guide the rover to a certain destination using just GPS coordinates and no camera input, and two engineering tasks that will require using and repairing equipment. During all of the tasks, the teams will have to control their rovers without seeing them directly.

Asked about what will be the most important to win the competition, Akhtman, who was the main developer of the control software for the Southampton Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, which took the 1st place at the SAUC-E competition in 2007 (sauc-europe.org), said: “I think flexibility and robustness of both hardware and software is very important.

I am a big believer of redundant, asynchronous control architecture. These days you have wonderful platforms, such as ROS (ros.org) that are almost plug-n-play, so you don’t need to develop such software from scratch the way we did in 2007.

From my experience in these types of challenges, it is very common for the entire system to fail because of an expected failure of a small, but critical component. The challenge for the developers is to think through and eliminate any potential weak links and failure points.”

ESA Celebrates 50 Years at the European Space Operations Centre

VIPs celebrate 50 years of European space cooperation at ESOC. Credit: ESA/J. Mai

In the presence of media, invited dignitaries, former astronauts, ESA’s Director General and colleagues past and present, the workforce at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, celebrated 50 years of European cooperation in space on Thursday. In 1964, the Conventions of ELDO (launchers) and ESRO (science and later applications) entered into force. A decade later, a single European Space Agency was established, taking over from these two organisations.

For 50 years, ESA and its precursor organisations together with partners in the 20 Member States, space industry and the scientific community have served European cooperation and innovation in space based on competence, cooperation, continuity and integration. At ESOC Thursday, the Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations, Thomas Reiter, welcomed ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain to a gala programme celebrating ESA past, present and future.

“Through our dedicated employees and with concrete examples, our goal today was to emphasise the strategic dimension of space as a cross-sector driver for innovation and an essential part of our interconnected society of the future,” said Thomas Reiter, who is also Head of the ESOC Establishment. “The event highlighted the significance of cooperation between 20 ESA Member States as well as the numerous space innovations and spin-offs.”

In his address, the Director General spoke about Europe’s 50 years of achievements in space, and looked forward to continued success in the next 50 years. “I am proud to be here today at ESOC, where for decades Europe has cooperated in the development of spacecraft operations expertise,” said Director General Dordain. “The experts here are among Europe’s best and most capable across satellite control, ground station technology and ground systems engineering. If ESOC cannot do it, nobody can do it.”

Distinguished keynote speakers included Brigitte Zypries, Parliamentary State Secretary and German Aerospace Coordinator; Tarek Al-Wazir, Deputy Hesse Minister-President and Hesse Minister of Economics; Jan Wörner, Chair of the Executive Board of DLR; Jochen Partsch, Lord Mayor of Darmstadt; and, Silvia Castañer, Director of Administration at Eumetsat. The programme included presentations and video greetings from current and former staff, moderated panel discussions on technology trends and the future of space flight, videoconferences with ESA’s Columbus and ATV control centres near Munich and Toulouse, and a talk with the CEO of cesah, the managing partner of ESA’s Business Incubation Centre (BIC) in Darmstadt.

The ESOC Chorus and ESOC Theatre Group were also on stage; the two organisations have been part of the international community in Darmstadt for over 25 years. ESOC’s own house band performed a wrap-up medley of classic space-themed hits. Teams at ESA’s operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany, comprise engineers, scientists, mathematicians and IT specialists from across Europe working on Earth observation, solar, planetary and astronomy missions. They are responsible for operating ESA satellites and development of the corresponding ground segment infrastructure and for the development, operation and maintenance of the Agency’s worldwide Estrack ground station network.

Since September 1967, ESOC has operated 70 ESA satellites and has supported numerous missions of other national and international organisations. Its highly developed infrastructure, technologies and specialised teams enable the Centre to simultaneously operate over a dozen spacecraft, plus conduct critical launch and early orbit activities for ESA and other agencies. ESOC is a globally recognised competence centre for space debris, ground system engineering, software development and satellite navigation. Credit: ESA

Developing Low Cost Tools for Astronomy in India

As a subject that acquaints us with the vast universe and our place in it, any mention of Astronomy draws the attention of many. It is also good to attract students towards Science.

And its  hence is a very useful tool for teachers. Yet, as something to practice for oneself, hardly anything beyond watching the moon and stars can be done without needing a telescope. This is a hurdle that Astronomy communicators and teachers come across when they want to share all these objects and beautiful sights that they talk about in their presentations etc. These optics and other resources are often costly and not easy to come by.

Many colleges too have started courses in Astronomy connected to a Physics syllabus. The instruments bought for the practical sessions are however seldom used due to their high cost and a demand for time consuming maintenance. This is a serious problem that can be addressed by the availability of cheaper, DIY alternatives that people could relate to. With these people could also concentrate more on the observations and the Science rather than whether they are going to break the instrument.

One case to mention, in the perspective of India, is a small DIY telescope. There a many examples available to buy as kits, like the wonderful Galileoscope. Built on the same idea (and hence a similar name – (Galileoscope++), it however aimed to get people to know how to make a telescope in a programme carried out India by the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy & Astrophysics(IUCAA) and many associated Universities. This is a telescope made using a 2 inch achromat objective lens, an eyepiece and a lot of small parts that are sourced from the local plumbing raw materials supplier. Each part in this, that can be “broken” (except the lenses, which people have to learn to respect anyway), is easily replaceable, even by a child! These cost ~ US$ 45, with the lens covering ¾ of the cost and made locally in India too. The two plus-points are that it uses an achromatic lens and that at this cost it also includes an Alt-Az mount! Source: Astronomers Without Borders

ESA Astronaut Drives Car-Sized Rover from Space

Inside the Rover communications control room at ESOC, Darmstadt, Germany. Credit: ESA

Looking down from orbit, ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst steered ESA’s Eurobot rover through a series of intricate manoeuvres on the ground Thursday, demonstrating a new space network.

One that could connect astronauts to vehicles on alien worlds. During an intense 90-minute live link on 7 August, Alex used a dedicated controller laptop on the International Space Station to operate Eurobot, relying on video and data feedback to feed commands from 400 km up, orbiting at 28 000 km/h.

The link was provided by a new network that stores commands when signals are interrupted if direct line of sight with Earth or the surface unit is lost, forwarding them once contact is re-established. In the future, controlling robots on Mars or the Moon will require a sort of ‘space Internet’ to send telecommands and receive data. Such networks must also accommodate signal delays across vast distances, considering that astronauts and rovers on Mars will have to be linked with mission controllers on Earth.

Thursday’s demonstration was the second in a series of experiments under the Meteron project, following the 2012 test by NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, who used an initial version of the network by steering a model rover at ESA’s ESOC operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany. “This was the first time Eurobot was controlled from space as part of an experiment to validate communication and operations technologies that will ultimately be used for future human exploration missions,” noted Kim Nergaard, head of Advanced Mission Concepts at ESOC.

During the session, which started at 16:35 GMT (18:35 CEST), Alexander Gerst commanded Eurobot to move and take pictures based on telemetry and pictures streaming to the Station from the rover. Eurobot was inching around a test facility at ESA’s ESTEC technology centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, while ‘ground control’ was at ESOC and the disruption-tolerant network was routed via Belgium’s Station User Support and Operations Centre in Brussels, and NASA.

Simulations to prepare for yesterday’s link included live connections between Darmstadt, Noordwijk and Brussels to the Space Station throughout July. “Today’s result is even better than the simulations we conducted,” said Daniela Taubert, Meteron’s operations coordinator. “The whole experiment ran extremely smoothly. Alex was faster and more efficient that we had expected.” William Carey, ESA’s Meteron project engineer, agreed: “It is great to have a hands-on test of part of ESA’s long-term strategy to send humans and robots to explore our Solar System.”

Future space exploration will most likely involve sending robotic explorers to check out alien surfaces before landing humans. To prepare for this, ESA is running the Meteron human–robot exploration programme: Multi-Purpose End-To-End Robotic Operations Network. Credit: ESA

Rosetta Takes Comet’s Temperature as the Spacecraft Closes in

Crop from the 1 August processed image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, to focus on the comet nucleus. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft has made its first temperature measurements of its target comet, finding that it is too hot to be covered in ice and must instead have a dark, dusty crust. The observations of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko were made by Rosetta’s visible, infrared and thermal imaging spectrometer, VIRTIS, between 13 and 21 July, when Rosetta closed in from 14 000 km to the comet to just over 5000 km.

At these distances, the comet covered only a few pixels in the field of view and so it was not possible to determine the temperatures of individual features. But, using the sensor to collect infrared light emitted by the whole comet, scientists determined that its average surface temperature is about –70ºC.

The comet was roughly 555 million kilometres from the Sun at the time – more than three times further away than Earth, meaning that sunlight is only about a tenth as bright. Although –70ºC may seem rather cold, importantly, it is some 20–30ºC warmer than predicted for a comet at that distance covered exclusively in ice.

“This result is very interesting, since it gives us the first clues on the composition and physical properties of the comet’s surface,” says VIRTIS principal investigator Fabrizio Capaccioni from INAF-IAPS, Rome, Italy. Indeed, other comets such as 1P/Halley are known to have very dark surfaces owing to a covering of dust, and Rosetta’s comet was already known to have a low reflectance from ground-based observations, excluding an entirely ‘clean’ icy surface.

The temperature measurements provide direct confirmation that much of the surface must be dusty, because darker material heats up and emits heat more readily than ice when it is exposed to sunlight. “This doesn’t exclude the presence of patches of relatively clean ice, however, and very soon, VIRTIS will be able to start generating maps showing the temperature of individual features,” adds Dr Capaccioni. In addition to global measurements, the sensor will study the variation of the daily surface temperature of specific areas of the comet, in order to understand how quickly the surface reacts to solar illumination.

In turn, this will provide insight into the thermal conductivity, density and porosity of the top tens of centimetres of the surface. This information will be important in selecting a target site for Rosetta’s lander, Philae. It will also measure the changes in temperature as the comet flies closer to the Sun along its orbit, providing substantially more heating of the surface.

“Combined with observations from the other 10 science experiments on Rosetta and those on the lander, VIRTIS will provide a thorough description of the surface physical properties and the gases in the comet’s coma, watching as conditions change on a daily basis and as the comet loops around the Sun over the course of the next year,” says Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta project scientist. “With only a few days until we arrive at just 100 km distance from the comet, we are excited to start analysing this fascinating little world in more and more detail.” Credit: ESANASA

UAE’s Space Programme Could Inspire Innovation

Credit: gulfnews.comThe United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) space programme could inspire innovation and spur further diversification of the country’s economy. A mission to Mars wouldmake the world sit up and take notice. It would promote a focus on making breakthroughs in the development of new technologies, which could be patented and sold to foreign space agencies. It could also inspire thousands of Emiratis to pursue careers in the space industry, opening the door to new research bodies and university courses in aerospace engineering.

Robert Zubrin, the president of the Mars Society, said the government was encouraging Emiratis to “become a pioneer and an explorer of new worlds”. “Out of that challenge, you’ll get millions of young scientists and engineers,” he said. Although only a minority will end up participating in the space programme, there are opportunities for others to do all kinds of things. “They’ll contribute to the energy industry, will contribute to medical research and they will become technological entrepreneurs. This could lead to the development of a Silicon Valley in the UAE.

“The 40-year-old men and women who built the computer industry here in the US in the 1990s were the little 10- and 12-year-old boys in the 1960s who were inspired to enter science by our Apollo programme.” Dr Zubrin said it was not only desirable but essential for the UAE to pursue technological innovation. “Having oil wealth is all well and good, but ultimately, if it wants success in the long term, the wealth of a nation has to come from developing its talent.”

The UAE is to launch its first unmanned probe to Mars by 2021. Very little is yet known about the mission. But during the seven years before launch, experts have advised the UAE to draw on past models and experiences as reference points to study before devising its own mission. Credit: thenational.ae

The UAE has invested Dh20 billion in space technology, through the Emirates Institute for Advanced Science and Technology in Dubai, and Al Yah Satellite and Al Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications in Abu Dhabi. Strata, a Mubadala Aerospace subsidiary in Abu Dhabi, provides parts for global aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Airbus. Abdul Ismail, the chief executive of the consultancy Interplanetary Expeditions, said the key parts were there.

“Spacecraft technology is essentially just an extension of aviation-related technologies,” he said. “What will they eventually do is just mimic what they’ve done successfully with their aviation elements, and introduce new space-related technologies. With space technologies you do get breakthroughs, and with breakthroughs you get new intellectual property.” When Canada’s space programme first started, a firm called Spar Aerospace developed a robotic arm that could extend the antenna on a basic communications satellite.

The technology was patented and has since been upgraded to act as a key component on the Nasa shuttle, as well as on the International Space Station, at a benefit of billions of dollars to the Canadian economy. In addition, a modified version of the arm is used to conduct brain surgery. Former commander Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut who was visiting the UAE last week, said there was still a lot of scope for innovation. “Every one of those pieces of hardware that are currently being used is new and is ripe for improvement,” he said. “There’s not an assembly line churning out Mars vehicles. If this was the automotive industry, it’s currently 1904.

“If we’re talking about launching a satellite to orbit the Earth, we understand it very well. But going to Mars? We’re way behind in inventing it all. The person who comes up with the designs will control the industry. It’s inevitable that in this process the UAE will invent some things that the rest of the world is going to use.” Credit: thenational.ae


The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has signed an agreement with the Copperbelt University (CBU) in Zambia to host a Southern African regional node of the IAU Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD). This is the second regional node to be established on the African continent and forms part of the IAU’s decadal strategic plan, which aims to realise the global societal benefits of astronomy. The signing follows the approval of a proposal from CBU which enjoyed the support of astronomy collaborators in Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and South Africa, including the South African Square Kilometre Array Project Office.

The IAU strategic plan was ratified by its members in 2009, at its General Assembly. Since then a global coordinating office (the OAD) was established in Cape Town, South Africa, and has led the implementation of this plan. Other regional nodes have already been established in China for the East Asian region, Thailand for the South East Asian region and Ethiopia for the East African region.

The establishment of this Southern African regional node is significant as this part of the continent is currently very active in terms of the development of world-class astronomy facilities, including the optical Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), the radio Karoo Array Telescope (MeerKAT), the gamma-ray High Energy Stereoscopic System (HESS) as well as the Square Kilometre Array. The office in Zambia will exploit all these advantages to benefit the region at large.

Director of the OAD, Kevin Govender, comments on the signing of this agreement: “Zambia is ideally positioned to play a leadership role in this field. Not only is it a part of the Square Kilometre Array project, but its consistent commitment to develop astronomy capacity nationally serves as an example to other countries in the region. Since the International Year of Astronomy in 2009 we have seen Zambia represented in various global astronomy education and outreach projects. Their experience and dedication to the field of astronomy will be a great benefit to the region.”

This office will also reach out to other countries in Africa which, like Zambia, form part of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project. This is a key task to ensure that all countries involved in the SKA have the skills and personnel required both to derive maximum benefit from the major telescope project and to help make the SKA a scientific success.

The Dean of the School of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at Copperbelt University, Professor F. P. Tailoka adds: “The Copperbelt University and the country at large are delighted to host the Southern African Regional Office of Astronomy for Development. We are pleased to be part of the implementation of the IAU’s strategic plan. We are a partner country of the Square Kilometre Array which gives us an opportunity to participate in world-class astronomy research. We look forward to see the Zambian community, and the rest of the region, realising the benefits of astronomy.”

Signing the agreement on behalf of the IAU, Assistant General Secretary Piero Benvenuti said:

“Astronomy is possibly the most ancient science and the IAU is committed to maintain and spread worldwide this precious heritage. But astronomy is not only pure science, it is a fascinating cultural adventure that engages the entire society and brings many benefits. It has a powerful attraction for young people, encouraging them to follow mathematical and scientific curricula, and it fosters advanced technological developments.”

This agreement follows the IAU’s Announcement of Opportunity which remains open to letters of intent and proposals from all around the world to host similar nodes. The partners of this regional node will establish a steering committee which consists of relevant expertise and representation.

UAE Plans First Arab Spaceship To Mars in 7 years

The United Arab Emirates, already home to the world’s tallest tower, is now reaching for the stars, with plans to send the first Arab spaceship to Mars in 2021. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreil)

Having scaled the heights of Earth with the world’s tallest tower, the United Arab Emirates is now aiming for the stars, or just a little bit closer, with an ambitions trip to the Red Planet Mars.  The energy-rich country on the eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula announced plans Wednesday to send the first unmanned Arab spaceship to Mars in 2021. The ruler of the UAE’s emirate of Dubai, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, said the mission will prove the Arab world is still capable of delivering scientific contributions to humanity, despite the many conflicts across the Middle East. “Our region is a region of civilization. Our destiny is, once again, to explore, to create, to build and to civilize,” said Al Maktoum, who is also UAE’s vice president, in a statement.

For years, the UAE has been pushing Arab League nations to create a pan-Arab space agency similar to the European Space Agency. The government did not say how much the program is expected to cost, but said the space agency would report to the Cabinet and be financially and administratively independent otherwise. The UAE said that its unmanned probe will take nine months and travel more than 37 million miles to Mars (60 million kilometers), making the emirates one of only nine countries with space programs to try and explore the Red Planet.

A UAE Cabinet statement said the project aims to advance human knowledge and develop Emirati human capital and economy, but did not list specific scientific goals for the probe. The journey is complicated and many missions to Mars have failed. Countries first trying to launch into space usually fail more often than they succeed and that’s just getting into Earth’s orbit. Getting to Mars is the hardest job for even veteran space countries. Russia – the first country to go to space – failed frequently with landers, got one ship to land but only got 20 seconds of data.

The world’s overall success rate in Mars missions since the 1960s is less than 50-50. NASA has the best success rate at around 70 percent. It has sent 21 missions to Mars since the 1960s, and all but six have succeeded. The U.S. is the only nation so far to land and operate long-term an unmanned ship on Mars. The UAE, which is comprised of seven emirates, says that its investments in space technologies already exceed 20 billion dirham, or roughly $5.4 billion. That includes investments in satellite data, mobile satellite communications and earth mapping and observation.

The Cabinet statement said the space technologies industry is estimated to be worth around $300 billion globally, and is increasingly important to the security of nations. For hundreds of years up until the mid-13th century, Islamic advancements in science and technology experienced a golden age, but later fell behind. The ruler of the emirate of Abu Dhabi and UAE President Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nayhan said the Mars probe “represents the Islamic world’s entry into the era of space exploration.”

Several Muslim-majority nations such as Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey Indonesia, Pakistan and Iran already have space agencies or programs. Iran sent a monkey into space for the second time last year, returning it safely to earth, and says it aims to send an astronaut into space. There have also been several Muslim astronauts from around the world. Saudi-born Prince Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud became the first Muslim and Arab to travel to space in 1985.

Meanwhile, Egypt became the first Arab country to launch its own communications satellite in 1998, dramatically transforming the broadcasting landscape in the region. The Dubai ruler said his country chose the epic challenge of reaching Mars because it inspires and motivates. “The moment we stop taking on such challenges is the moment we stop moving forward,” he said. Daily Star

First Female Space Station Cosmonaut Preparing For Launch

Expedition 41/42 Flight Engineer Elena Serova of Russia's Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) direct her attention to infrared camera equipment as an instructor (out of frame) discusses it during a training session in the Astronaut Office at the Johnson Space Center on April 16, 2014. The camera is to be used on spacewalks at the Earth-orbiting International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA

Russia is preparing to launch its first woman to the International Space Station (ISS). Elena Serova, 38, is slated to serve as a flight engineer, along with NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Samokutyaev.

The trio is due to launch aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on September 25 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. She is expected to spend up to six months in space performing biophysics and medical experiments.

Serova will become only the fourth Russian woman to fly in space and the first since cosmonaut Elena Kondakova joined a 1997 U.S. space shuttle crew (STS-84) to visit the now-defunct Mir space station. “I don’t think I’m doing anything extraordinary,” Serova said in a NASA interview.

“It is undoubtedly very important that we have all kinds of people working on the international space station — people from different countries, people from different professions, because the international space station is the beginning of something tremendous, something outstanding especially in light of further exploration, when people will be exploring other planets and other worlds.” she added.

Serova was selected as a test cosmonaut at the age of 30 in October 2006 while working as a flight engineer. She completed basic training at Star City in 2009.  “Her work programme at the ISS will not be anything extraordinary. It will be the usual research programme. A space walk is not planned,” said Alexei Temerov, an official at Russia’s Star City space training centre.

Russian cosmonaut Elena Serova, Expedition 41/42 flight engineer, poses for a portrait following an Expedition 41/42 preflight press conference at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Stafford
Russian cosmonaut Elena Serova, Expedition 41/42 flight engineer, poses for a portrait following an Expedition 41/42 preflight press conference at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Stafford

The former Soviet Union launched the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, aboard a Vostok rocket on June 16, 1963. Almost 20 years later, the Soviets flew Svetlana Savitskaya to their Salyut 7 space station. Savitskaya returned for a second mission in 1984, during which she became the first woman to make a spacewalk.

By then, NASA had launched the first American woman in space, Sally Ride, who was a crew member on the June 1983 STS-7 shuttle mission.  Serova’s flight to the ISS will make her only the 58th women in history to leave the Earth out of the more than 500 worldwide space explorers. Credit: spacenews.com

Russia to Conduct First-Ever ‘Extreme Space’ Research Aboard Satellite

Credit: lomonosov.sinp.msu.ru

Russia is preparing to launch a scientific satellite that will, for the first time ever, give astrophysicists unique insight into the nature of extreme astrophysical phenomena. By that we mean cosmic gamma-ray bursts etc, according to the director of an institute participating in the study.

The Lomonosov satellite is to be put into orbit in 2015 as part of the inaugural launch at Russia’s brand-new Vostok space center. “Lomonosov carries an entire space lab for experimenting with extreme phenomena, in both near and outer space,” said Mikhail Panasyuk, director of Moscow State University’s Institute of Nuclear Physics, one of the organizations taking part in the project.

Speaking at an MSU roundtable meeting Wednesday, Pansyuk said the advanced satellite would help scientists study ultra-high-energy cosmic rays. “This is the first time an experiment of this nature will be conducted,” he stressed.

“We hope the Lomonosov satellite will help us develop the space-based part of a system to monitor potential asteroid threats,” the scientist added. Cosmic gamma-ray bursts and ultra-high-energy cosmic rays are traditionally associated with the processes that occurred in the initial stages of the universe’s development, which means they could also shed some light on the evolution of the universe. Credit: RIA Novosti

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Skywatchers are invited to join experts on Saturday in tracking two brightening comets, ISON and Lovejoy, a spokesperson from the Taipei

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Skywatchers are invited to join experts on Saturday in tracking two brightening comets, ISON and Lovejoy, a spokesperson from the Taipei


Peter H says:

Yuri’s 50th anniversary came and went, and still the space excitement grows. A graphic novel has been created to celebrate the successful first manned spaceflight. Yuri’s Day illustrates the amazing stories of early rocket development through to the space race culminating in Gagarin’s successful manned space flight. Includes the raw detail – from the Chief Designer Korolev’s incarceration in a Stalin re-education (gulag) camp to the incredible space training methods employed by the Soviets. This is an accurate visual take on some incredible stories – an educational honouring of the past.

Printed in both paperback and hardcopy, English and Russian. Even an iPad App with interactive Russian TV set!

Sample pages can be viewed here: http://www.yuri-gagarin.com/about/