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Northwestern study of analog crews in isolation reveals weak spots for Mission to Mars

Evanston IL (SPX)

Feb 19, 2019

Northwestern University researchers are developing a predictive model to help NASA anticipate conflicts and communication breakdowns among crew members and head off problems that could make or break the Mission to Mars.

NASA has formalized plans to send a crewed spacecraft to Mars, a journey that could involve 250 million miles of travel. Among the worldwide teams of researchers toiling over the journey’s inherent physiological, engineering and social obstacles, Northwestern professors Noshir Contractor and Leslie DeChurch, and their collaborators, are charting a new course with a series of projects focused on the insights from the science of teams and networks.

In a multiphase study conducted in two analog environments – HERA in the Johnson Space Center in Houston and the SIRIUS mission in the NEK analog located in the Institute for Bio-Medical Problems (IBMP) in Russia – scientists are studying the behavior of analog astronaut crews on mock missions, complete with isolation, sleep deprivation, specially designed tasks and mission control, which mimics real space travel with delayed communication.

The goal is threefold: to establish the effects of isolation and confinement on team functioning, to identify methods to improve team performance, and to develop a predictive model that NASA could use to assemble the ideal team and identify potential issues with already composed teams before and during the mission.

Contractor and DeChurch discussed their latest findings and next steps at a 10 a.m. EST, Feb. 17 press briefing at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

“It’s like astronaut Scott Kelly says, ‘Teamwork makes the dream work,'” said Contractor, the Jane S. and William J. White Professor of Behavioral Sciences in the McCormick School of Engineering, School of Communication and the Kellogg School of Management.

Even for an astronaut, the psychological demands of this Mars journey will be exceptional. The spacecraft will be small, roughly the size of a studio apartment, and the round-trip journey will take almost three years.

“Astronauts are super humans. They are people who are incredibly physically fit and extremely smart,” said DeChurch, a professor of communication and psychology at Northwestern. “We’re taking an already state-of-the-art crew selection system and making it even better by finding the values, traits and other characteristics that will allow NASA to compose crews that will get along.”

Communication delays with worldwide mission controls will exceed the 20-minute mark. In that sense, the Mars mission will be like no mission that has come before.

“A lot of the past efforts to try to create models to simulate the future have run into criticism because people have said it’s not really grounded in good data,” Contractor said. “What we have here is unprecedented good data. We aren’t talking about intuition and expert views, this model is based on real data.”

The Northwestern researchers have been culling data from the Human Experimentation Research Analog (HERA) at Houston’s Johnson Space Center. HERA’s capsule simulator houses astronauts for up to 45 days; a mock mission control outside the capsule augments the realism with sound effects, vibrations and communication delays.

Those on the inside undergo sleep deprivation and try to perform tasks. The researchers collect moment-to-moment metrics about individual performance, moods, psychosocial adaptation and more.

The teams DeChurch and Contractor have studied experienced diminished abilities to think creatively and to solve problems, according to results from the first eight analog space crews, and are able to successfully complete tasks between 20 and 60 percent of the time.

“Creative thinking and problem solving are the very things that are really going to matter on a Mars mission,” DeChurch said. “We need the crew to be getting the right answer 100 percent of the time.”

The next phase of the research, just begun on Friday, Feb. 15, involves using the model to predict breakdowns and problems a new HERA crew will experience and making changes to “who works with whom, on what, when,” Contractor said. “We are going to run our model to see how we can nudge the team into a more positive path and make them more successful.”

The researchers are also expanding the experiment to the SIRIUS analog in Moscow, where, beginning on March 15, four Russians and two Americans, will undertake a 120-day fictional mission around the moon, and including a moon landing operation.

Contractor and DeChurch are in the midst of four NASA-funded projects exploring team dynamics and compatibility in preparation for the Mars journey.

Their NASA studies address different aspects of the crew’s challenges:

+ The likelihood that the crew and its support teams on Earth will have good chemistry and coping mechanisms; how to predict possible crew-compatibility outcomes

+ Work design; structuring the workflow so that astronauts can better manage transitions from solo to team tasks

+ Identifying and building shared mental models, whereby a team of varied specialists can find enough common ground to effectively accomplish their tasks but not so much that they engage in “group think” or form alliances.

Contractor, a leading expert in network analysis and computational social science, leads Northwestern’s Science of Networks in Communities (SONIC) research group. DeChurch, a leading expert in teamwork and leadership who leads Northwestern’s Advancing Teams, Leaders, and Systems (ATLAS) lab, focuses on team performance; psychology, social interactions, and how multiteam systems best function.

“Our complementary strengths have been a winning combination for tackling the big interdisciplinary questions,” said DeChurch.

Source: Mars Daily.

Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/Northwestern_study_of_analog_crews_in_isolation_reveals_weak_spots_for_Mission_to_Mars_999.html.

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Israel’s first lunar mission to launch this week

Tel Aviv (AFP)

Feb 18, 2019

Israel is to launch its first moon mission this week, sending an unmanned spacecraft to collect data to be shared with NASA, organizers said Monday.

The 585-kilogram (1,290-pound) Beresheet (Genesis) spacecraft is to lift off atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida at around 0145 GMT on Friday.

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and technology NGO SpaceIL announced the date at a press conference.

Mission control will be in Yehud, near Tel Aviv.

“We are entering history and are proud to belong to a group that has dreamed and fulfilled the vision shared by many countries in the world but that so far only three of them have accomplished,” SpaceIL president Morris Kahn said.

So far only Russia, the United States and China have sent spacecraft to the moon.

The Chinese craft made the first ever soft landing on the far side of the moon on January 3.

NASA, which has installed equipment on Genesis to upload its signals from the moon, said last week it aims to land an unmanned vehicle there by 2024, and it is inviting private sector bids to build the US probe.

NASA plans to build a small space station, dubbed Gateway, in the moon’s orbit by 2026.

It will serve as a way-station for trips to and from the lunar surface, but will not be permanently crewed.

Genesis will make its 6.5-million kilometer (one million-mile) journey at a maximum speed of 10 kilometers per second (36,000 kilometers per hour), according to an IAI statement.

It will carry a “time capsule” loaded with digital files containing a Bible, children’s drawings, Israeli songs, memories of a Holocaust survivor and the blue-and-white Israeli flag.

The $100-million project will measure the lunar magnetic field to help understanding of the moon’s formation.

“This is the lowest-budget spacecraft to ever undertake such a mission. The superpowers who managed to land a spacecraft on the moon have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding,” the IAI statement said.

“Beresheet is the first spacecraft to land on the moon as a result of a private initiative, rather than a government.”

The project started as a potential entry for the Google Lunar XPrize, which in 2010 offered a $30-million reward to encourage scientists and entrepreneurs to offer relatively inexpensive lunar missions.

The contest closed without a winner in March 2018 but SpaceIL decided to keep working on the challenge.

Source: Moon Daily.

Link: http://www.moondaily.com/reports/Israels_first_lunar_mission_to_launch_this_week_999.html.

Offensive War in Space

Bethesda, MD (SPX)

Feb 15, 2019

A new arms race is unfolding among spacefaring nations. Space experts have been telling us about contested space for the last several years. Today, there are about 1,300 active satellites in a crowded nest of Earth orbits. They provide worldwide communications, GPS navigation, weather forecasting and planetary surveillance.

Military organizations rely on many of these satellites in support of modern warfare. The three main contenders are the U.S., China and Russia. The ongoing power struggle may ignite a conflict that could cripple the entire space-based infrastructure while reducing the capabilities of warfighter organizations.

There are several ways to disable, destroy or reduce effectiveness of satellites. One obvious way is to attack them with anti-satellite devices. Another is to simply approach a satellite and spray paint over its optics.

Other ways include manually snapping off communications antennas and destabilizing orbits. Lasers can temporarily or permanently disable satellite components. Ground station interference using radio or microwave emissions can jam or hijack transmissions to or from ground controllers.

The concept of war in space is not new. The prospect of Soviet nuclear weapons launched from orbit in the 1950s motivated the U.S. to began testing anti-satellite weaponry. Fortunately, orbiting weapons of mass destruction were banned through the UN Outer Space Treaty of 1967.

Consequently, space-based surveillance became a major component of the Cold War that served as an early-warning system for the deployment or launch of ground-based nuclear weapons.

Throughout most of the Cold War, the U.S.S.R. developed and tested “space mines” which could self-detonate in order to destroy U.S. spy satellites.

The militarization of space issue peaked again when President Reagan initiated the Strategic Defense Initiative to develop orbital countermeasures against Soviet ballistic missiles. In 1985, the USAF staged a demonstration when an F-15 fighter jet launched a missile that took out a failing U.S. satellite in low orbit.

Today, the situation is much more complicated. Low- and high-Earth orbits have become hotbeds of scientific and commercial activity, filled with hundreds of satellites from about 60 different nations. Despite their largely peaceful purposes each satellite is at risk because a few military space powers insist on continued development and test of new space weapons.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Offensive_War_in_Space_999.html.

NASA Selects New Mission to Explore Origins of Universe

Washington DC (SPX)

Feb 14, 2019

NASA has selected a new space mission that will help astronomers understand both how our universe evolved and how common are the ingredients for life in our galaxy’s planetary systems.

The Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx) mission is a planned two-year mission funded at $242 million (not including launch costs) and targeted to launch in 2023.

“I’m really excited about this new mission,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Not only does it expand the United States’ powerful fleet of space-based missions dedicated to uncovering the mysteries of the universe, it is a critical part of a balanced science program that includes missions of various sizes.”

SPHEREx will survey the sky in optical as well as near-infrared light which, though not visible to the human eye, serves as a powerful tool for answering cosmic questions. Astronomers will use the mission to gather data on more than 300 million galaxies, as well as more than 100 million stars in our own Milky Way.

“This amazing mission will be a treasure trove of unique data for astronomers,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “It will deliver an unprecedented galactic map containing ‘fingerprints’ from the first moments in the universe’s history. And we’ll have new clues to one of the greatest mysteries in science: What made the universe expand so quickly less than a nanosecond after the big bang?”

SPHEREx will survey hundreds of millions of galaxies near and far, some so distant their light has taken 10 billion years to reach Earth. In the Milky Way, the mission will search for water and organic molecules – essentials for life, as we know it – in stellar nurseries, regions where stars are born from gas and dust, as well as disks around stars where new planets could be forming.

Every six months, SPHEREx will survey the entire sky using technologies adapted from Earth satellites and Mars spacecraft. The mission will create a map of the entire sky in 96 different color bands, far exceeding the color resolution of previous all-sky maps. It also will identify targets for more detailed study by future missions, such as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope.

NASA’s Astrophysics Explorers Program requested proposals for new missions in September 2016. Nine proposals were submitted, and two mission concepts were selected for further study in August 2017. After a detailed review by a panel of NASA and external scientists and engineers, NASA determined that the SPHEREx concept study offered the best science potential and most feasible development plan.

The mission’s principal investigator is James Bock of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California. Caltech will work with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to develop the mission payload. JPL will also manage the mission.

Ball Aerospace in Broomfield, Colorado, will provide the SPHEREx spacecraft and mission integration. The Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute in Daejeon, Republic of Korea, will contribute test equipment and science analysis.

NASA’s Explorer program, managed by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is the agency’s oldest continuous program, designed to provide frequent, low-cost access to space using principal investigator-led space science investigations relevant to the Astrophysics and Heliophysics programs in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

The program has launched more than 90 missions, beginning in 1958 with Explorer 1, which discovered the Earth’s radiation belts. Another Explorer mission, the Cosmic Background Explorer, which launched in 1989, led to a Nobel Prize.

Source: Space Daily.

Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/NASA_Selects_New_Mission_to_Explore_Origins_of_Universe_999.html.

NASA announces demise of Opportunity rover

By Ivan Couronne

Washington (AFP)

Feb 14, 2019

During 14 years of intrepid exploration across Mars, it advanced human knowledge by confirming that water once flowed on the red planet — but NASA’s Opportunity rover has analyzed its last soil sample.

The robot has been missing since the US space agency lost contact during a dust storm in June last year and was declared officially dead Wednesday, ending one of the most fruitful missions in the history of space exploration.

Unable to recharge its batteries, Opportunity left hundreds of messages from Earth unanswered over the months, and NASA said it made its last attempt at contact Tuesday evening.

“I declare the Opportunity mission as complete,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate told a news conference at mission headquarters in Pasadena, California.

The community of researchers and engineers involved in the program were in mourning over the passing of the rover, known affectionately as Oppy.

“It is a hard day,” said John Callas, manager of the Mars Exploration Rover project.

“Even though it is a machine and we’re saying goodbye, it’s very hard and it’s very poignant.”

“Don’t be sad it’s over, be proud it taught us so much,” former president Barack Obama tweeted later on Thursday.

“Congrats to all the men and women of @NASA on a @MarsRovers mission that beat all expectations, inspired a new generation of Americans, and demands we keep investing in science that pushes the boundaries of human knowledge.”

The nostalgia extended across the generations of scientists who have handled the plucky little adventurer.

“Godspeed, Opportunity,” tweeted Keri Bean, who had the “privilege” of sending the final message to the robot.

“Hail to the Queen of Mars,” added Mike Seibert, Opportunity’s former flight director and rover driver in another tweet, while Frank Hartman, who piloted Oppy, told AFP he felt “greatly honored to have been a small part of it.”

“Engulfed by a giant planet-encircling dust storm: Is there a more fitting end for a mission as perfect and courageous from start to finish as Opportunity?” he said.

The program has had an extraordinary record of success: 28.1 miles (45.2 kilometers) traversed, more than the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 moon rover during the 1970s and more than the rover that US astronauts took to the moon on the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

“It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.

Opportunity sent back 217,594 images from Mars, all of which were made available on the internet.

– Human-like perspective –

“For the public, the big change was that Mars became a dynamic place, and it was a place that you could explore every day,” Emily Lakdawalla, an expert on space exploration and senior editor at The Planetary Society.

“The fact that this rover was so mobile, it seemed like an animate creature,” she said. “Plus it has this perspective on the Martian surface that’s very human-like.”

“It really felt like an avatar for humanity traveling across the surface,” she added.

Opportunity landed on an immense plain and spent half its life there, traversing flat expanses and once getting stuck in a sand dune for several weeks. It was there, using geological instruments, that it confirmed that liquid water was once present on Mars.

During the second part of its life on Mars, Opportunity climbed to the edge of the crater Endeavor, taking spectacular panoramic images — and discovering veins of gypsum, additional proof that water once flowed among the Martian rocks.

Opportunity’s twin, Spirit, landed three weeks ahead of it, and was active until it expired in 2010. The two far exceeded the goals of their creators: In theory, their missions were supposed to last 90 days.

Today, only a single rover is still active on Mars, Curiosity, which arrived in 2012. It is powered not by the sun, but by a small nuclear reactor.

In 2021, the recently named Rosalind Franklin robot, part of the European-Russian ExoMars mission, is slated to land on a different part of the planet, raising the population of active rovers to two.

Source: Mars Daily.

Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/Mission_complete_NASA_announces_demise_of_Opportunity_rover_999.html.

China’s lander and rover power down for lunar night

Beijing (Sputnik)

Feb 13, 2019

Last week, NASA released unique satellite reconnaissance photos of the landing site of the Chinese lunar mission, which made history last month by achieving humanity’s first-ever successful soft landing on the far side of the Moon.

China’s Chang’e-4 spacecraft and its Yutu-2 lunar rover have entered sleep mode to wait out the cold lunar night, during which temperatures can plunge to as low as -190 degrees Celsius, a press release by the China Lunar Exploration Program has confirmed.

The mission, which landed on the far side of the Moon on January 3, powered down at 7 PM on Sunday Beijing time in preparation for the lunar sunset 24 hours later. Lunar nights last roughly two Earth weeks, with the Yutu-2 expected to wake up February 28, and the Chang’e-4 following a day later on March 1.

The scheduled power down was the second since January, with Yutu-2 and Chang’e-4 powering up to continue their scientific mission on January 28 and 29, respectively. China’s second successful Moon mission includes the study of the lunar environment, cosmic radiation and interactions between solar wind and the Moon’s surface. Since waking late last month, Yutu-2 accumulated 120 meters of driving time, sending the information back to scientists on Earth.

Chinese space scientists say all systems aboard both devices are operating as normal, and that experiments are continuing as planned.

The solar-powered craft made its historic landing in the eastern section of the Von Karman crater, located in the southern hemisphere near the Aitken basin, known as the lunar South Pole, last month. The spacecraft has already performed a number of firsts, including the first biological experiment in human history on the lunar surface by germinating a cotton seed aboard the Chang’e lander.

The lander and rover are fitted out with a series of advanced instruments, including a low frequency radio astronomy instruments co-developed by China and the Netherlands, and a Russian-made radioisotope thermoelectric generator which made it possible to measure temperatures during the previous lunar night cycle.

Yutu-2 is the second Chinese lunar rover to be sent to the Moon’s surface, and follows the 2013 Chang’e-3 mission, which saw the original Yutu rover travel 114 meters before becoming immobilized during its second lunar daytime outing. Yutu-2 featured a number of upgrades to improve reliability.

Source: Moon Daily.

Link: http://www.moondaily.com/reports/Chinas_lander_and_rover_power_down_for_lunar_night_999.html.

Why a Department of the Space Force?

Bethesda, MD (SPX)

Feb 08, 2019

Over the last 20 years several issues regarding the National Security Space (NSS) organization and management have been reviewed and assessed. Both the Rumsfeld Commission in 2001 and the Allard Commission in 2009 noted that there are many pockets of excellence and positive trends within the NSS community.

However, the commissions also noted growing performance shortfalls, vulnerabilities and potential gaps in capabilities. Many of the capabilities are thin and fragile. Important space-based capabilities are currently provided by obsolete on-orbit assets, while new generation satellites have experienced unacceptable cost and schedule growth, technical performance problems and cancellations.

Many of the necessary actions to address these adverse trends, such as those identified by the 2001 Space Commission and the 2003 Defense Science Board Study on Space Acquisition, have been slow to change. There has been a lack of clear accountability and authority regarding strategies, budgets, requirements and acquisition processes across the NSS community. In other words, “no one’s in charge.”

To exacerbate the situation, career management practices have often been counterproductive and the technical talent pool has been insufficient. These commissions stressed the need for fundamental change in order to correct the problems. In particular, the Allard Commission recommended a top-to-bottom reform to create stronger leadership and improved management for National Security Space. In the absence of needed improvements and a lack of progress, it would appear that NSS operations should have its own organization and management structure, and that structure could become the Department of the Space Force.

This new NSS organization could do many things to reduce costs and increase operational effectiveness, while maintaining space superiority. For example, clarify lines of authority and eliminate “stovepiped” systems. A new vision is needed for NSS and that may be called “Vision 2030,” a 21st Century architecture that uses an integrated approach to providing NSS services to the stakeholder community.

Such an architecture might use a single integrated and multifunctional space infrastructure that satisfies the objectives of both the warfighter and intelligence communities. Physically, this might be a multi-layered constellation of satellites that can collect ISR and other security-related information, fuse and process data, and send these data to end users on the ground.

The new Space Force might become the single source of all needed NSS information for a variety of ground and space operations. All defense and intelligence agencies could then share resources in a cost-effective and efficient manner.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Why_a_Department_of_the_Space_Force_999.html.

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