Space Station Sunday: Texas, Tech, And A Tribute

Good afternoon, space fans!  It's been another scientifically stimulating week in space.  Here's what was up!

"The dance of the aurora", captured this week by astronaut Scott Kelly.

This week, crewmembers deployed the LONESTAR system, which contains the smaller satellites AggieSat4 and BEVO-2.  LONESTAR, which was created by students at Texas A&M University and the University of Texas, is an acronym for "Low Earth Orbiting Navigation Experiment for Spacecraft Testing Autonomous Rendezvous and Docking."  The system was deployed from the Japanese Kibo airlock on Wednesday.

ESA astronaut Tim Peake and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly
herd the LONESTAR out onto the range.
(Image courtesy

According to NASA, the dual-satellite system would help to "perform cross-linking communications, exchange data, link to GPS, and transmit to ground radio stations" between the AggieSat4 and BEVO-2, which could help with autonomous satellite connectivity in future space missions.

This particular element of the experiment was to provide a "demonstrat{ion of} separation of two satellites, {a} platform for attitude control and translation systems, and cross-linked communication between the satellites and with ground control. It also provided data for the space application global positioning system."  It was the second of four missions, which will culminate in an autonomous docking of the LONESTAR satellites.

From the ranch to the stars!
(Image courtesy

Speaking of sending things outside, cosmonauts Sergey Volkov and Yuri Malenchenko ran checks on their Orlan spacesuits in preparation for a spacewalk they will take on February 3rd.  They will be installing scientific hardware on the station's exterior.  NASA TV will cover the spacewalk starting ot 07:30 EST on Wednesday.  Volkov will soon return home with fellow cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko and astronaut Scott Kelly on March 1st.

In other news, the astronauts paid homage to a trio of tragedies that have befallen NASA over the years:  the Apollo 1 fire, the Challenger explosion, and the Columbia accident.  Astronauts Kelly, Peake, and Kopra offered a moment of silence from the station, which was reflected at mission control as well.

Astute observers may note that the astronauts, on such a somber occasion, have respectfully grounded themselves by latching their feet under the bars on the deck.  They also took a noticeable effort to maintain their folded hands, as micro-gravity has a tendency to make limbs float around of their own accord, like anything else in space.  This topic had previously been addressed during Scott Kelly's Reddit AMA ("Ask Me Anything") last week.

His gang does have some very exclusive turf.
(Image courtesy

Of course, now that Scott Kelly is a mere month from completing his one-year mission, a few more upbeat space clips have been cropping up to commemorate his incredible journey.

Think you have what it takes to help out in space?  Join the NASA challenge to create a robotic arm for the Astrobee, an ISS robot that will help the astronauts with minor tasks like finding where certain things have floated off to.  NASA will pick 30 freelancers to help design the arm.  Sign up and maybe soon, you'll be sending your skills to space!

Speaking of skills, Scott Kelly's Earth Art portfolio continues to expand, and he's even joined Tumblr.  This week's selections that he posted to facebook showed some stunning shots from over Africa:

That's all for this week, space fans.  See you next Sunday with spacewalk news and all the rest of the finest science offplanet.  Watch this space!

No matter how brutal the storms... never know what still may be a-bloom...
(Images courtesy Scott Kelly.)

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