A possible ammonia leak on the International Space Station caused astronauts to evacuate the American section of the space station. All station personnel successfully made it to the Russian section and the American section was sealed off while a plan to deal with the leak from a cooling system was formulated. Currently there are three Russians, two Americans, and one Italian aboard the station.
Saturday morning’s SpaceX launch of a Falcon 9 to the International Space Station was successful, but the experimental portion of the launch, in which the first stage of the rocket was meant to have a soft landing on a floating barge, was less than successful. The barge landing, which was to pave the way for future soft landings which would allow for the first stage to be reused, was a hard landing. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk stated that the experiment promised more success in the future.
The first flight of Orion, delayed a day, successfully launched, orbited, and splashed down on Friday, December 5. Orion completed two orbits of the Earth, including one at a distance of 3600 miles, more than 15 times higher than the International Space Station orbits. This is the first time a spaceship designed for humans has traveled that far from Earth since the Apollo missions. A little over four hours after launch, Orion splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.
The Philae lander has touched down on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, marking the first landing on a comet. The Philae was part of the Rosetta mission launched by the European Space Agency. Philae took about seven hours to cross from Rosetta to the comet before it touched down and launched harpoons into the comet’s head to anchor itself. Armed with ten instruments, Philae will help scientists learn more about comets.
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashed in the Mojave Desert after reporting an in-flight anomaly during a test flight. Two pilots were on-board and witnesses reported seeing at least one parachute.
, but the fate of the pilots is currently unknown. One of the two pilots on board was killed and the other injured. Virgin Galactic had hoped that SpaceShipTwo would have made its first extra-atmospheric flight by the end of the year.
Edited to add fates of the two pilots.
An Antares rocket exploded during launch at 6:22 EDT at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The unmanned rocket was meant to carry supplies to the International Space Station. Its launch was postponed from October 27 because a sailboat had entered the restricted area down range of the launchpad. Initial reports indicate that damage only occurred to the rocket and launchpad.
Three NASA spacecraft in orbit around Mars, the Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and MAVEN, were sent signals to remain in orbit on one side of Mars while comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring passed within 88,000 miles of the planet. NASA feared that particles from the comet could endanger or damage the orbiters during the cometary flyby on October 20. The satellites were also used to gather data on the flyby, as were the rovers currently on the Martian surface.
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has successfully inserted the Mars Orbital Mission (MOM) into Martian orbit, making it the first country to successfully send an orbiter to Mars on its first attempt. The cost of the mission was also just over $70 million, making it one of the least expensive missions to Mars. The mission will study surface features, morphology, mineralogy, and Martian atmosphere.
NASA has signed contracts with SpaceX and Boeing for the companies to provide transportation for astronauts from the US to the International Space Station. Since July 2011, when Atlantis last docked with the ISS, astronauts have been flying to the ISS on Russian spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. SpaceX and Boeing will be ready for launch in 2017.
Fan and scientist Brother Guy Consolmagno has been award the 2014 Carl Sagan Medal. The Carl Sagan Medal is for presented for outstanding communication by an active planetary scientist to the general public. Consolmagno, who has been a long-time con attendee, works as an astronomer for the Vatican and has written Brother Astronomer and Turn Left at Orion. The Sagan Medal is presented by the AAS Division for Planetary Sciences.