Astronaut’s medical concern prompts NASA to name off Tuesday’s spacewalk

A spacewalk at the International Space Station (ISS) planned for Tuesday, August 24, has been postponed due a medical issue affecting one of the two participating astronauts.
The space agency announced the news on Monday, explaining that NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, who arrived at the orbiting outpost in April 2021, was experiencing a “minor medical issue,” adding that it was “not a medical emergency.”
With spacewalks requiring astronauts to work in a bulky spacesuit in a challenging environment for around seven hours at a time, those taking part have to be in tip-top condition before stepping outside the confines of the space station.
The spacewalk, which Vande Hei will carry out with Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, will now take place after the SpaceX CRS-23 cargo resupply launch that’s planned for August 28, and also following two scheduled spacewalks involving Russian cosmonauts that are expected to take place in early September.
Vande Hei isn’t scheduled to depart the ISS until March 2022, so there’s plenty of time for him to conduct the spacewalk. But it’s a little tighter for Hoshide, who’s set to leave in early November 2021. Still, the postponed walk could take place as early as mid- to late September.
Tuesday’s postponed spacewalk would have seen the two astronauts continue work to upgrade the station’s power system with the installation of a support bracket for new rollout arrays. Two of the new arrays have already been put in place, with another four awaiting installation.
Both Vande Hei and Hoshide spent the last week preparing for the spacewalk — or extravehicular activity to use NASA’s official terminology for such events — inclusing checking their spacesuits, setting up their tools, and reviewing procedures for the excursion.
According to a tweet (below) from the ISS Twitter account, the preparations were going according to plan as of Saturday, August 21. But some time after that, Vande Hei suffered a medical issue that prompted NASA to take action.

The Exp 65 crew goes into the weekend preparing for Tuesday's spacewalk while juggling a multitude of space research.
— International Space Station (@Space_Station) August 20, 2021
As soon as we get news of a new date for the spacewalk, we’ll be sure to update our “how to watch” page detailing everything you need to know about how to tune in to the event in real time.
In the meantime, check out these stunning images of spacewalks from over the years.

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NASA Moon Touchdown Date in Flux Resulting from Spacesuit Delays, Blue Origin Lawsuit

Supersonic transportation has proven a difficult technology to commercialize. Unsplash
NASA has ambitious plans to return American astronauts to the moon before 2024 as part of the federal government’s Artemis Program. According a new internal audit, the agency won’t be able to deliver on that timeline because, among other reasons, the astronauts’ spacesuits won’t be ready in time.
In a report by NASA’s inspector general this month, “a lunar landing in late 2024 as NASA currently plans is not feasible” due to “anticipated delays in spacesuit development” as a result of funding shortage, COVID-19 impacts and technical challenges.
NASA has spent $420 million on developing next-generation spacesuits since 2007. The effort led to the creation of the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Units (xEMU) project in 2016 under the leadership of the Trump administration. Despite various departments and programs pouring resources into spacesuit development, NASA is still a long way from producing the first human-grade gear for lunar travel.
The office of inspector general estimates that NASA is going to invest another $625.2 million in spacesuits alone, bringing the total cost of producing two flight-ready suits to over $1 billion. The earliest delivery date based on current progress is April 2025.
The first lunar flight-ready spacesuit was originally expected to be ready by March 2023. The timeline was pushed back to November 2024 in March this year due to reduced funding for spacesuit development for the fiscal year 2021.
Repeated delays and high estimated cost have raised concerns in Congress.
“I almost certainly think we have to schedule a hearing before the end of the year,” U.S. Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat from Virginia and the chair of the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, told the United Press International on Monday.
“We already spent $420 million, and we don’t know where we’re going. We need to really make sure [Congress] is providing the oversight and the accountability necessary,” Beyer said. “I was pretty disappointed in what the inspector general discovered.”
For fiscal 2021 Congress only approved 77 percent of the funding NASA requested for the Gateway Program (a moon orbital component under the Artemis Program), under which the spacesuit project falls. The funding shortfall is resulting in a three-month delay in the spacesuit development schedule, NASA’s internal report shows.
Other factors at play include intermittent manufacturing closure of NASA contractors due to the coronavirus pandemic and new requests that have complicated the spacesuit design in order to meet the need for future lunar missions.
The Artemis Program overall is facing other hurdles as well that may add to the uncertainty of NASA’s first moon landing since 1972.
Last week, the program was further delayed after Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin sued NASA in a federal court for not choosing the company’s lunar lander proposal. NASA has contracted SpaceX to build the landing vehicle, which is expected to cost $2.9 billion. Blue Origin’s competing proposal would cost nearly $6 billion.

Blue Origin’s Messy Struggle With NASA Is Truly Delaying US Moon-Touchdown Effort

Jeff Bezos laughs as he speaks about his flight on Blue Origin’s New Shepard into space during a press conference on July 20, 2021 in Van Horn, Texas. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Blue Origin on Thursday scored a small win in its relentless fight for NASA’s Human Landing System (HLS) contract. Although the Jeff Bezos-led company hasn’t officially got the job yet, its lawsuit against NASA in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims has put the agency’s work with SpaceX on hold.
Last Friday, Blue Origin filed a complaint with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, challenging NASA’s decision in April to select SpaceX as the sole contractor of HLS. The lawsuit came after Blue Origin lost an appeal before the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
On Thursday, the court issued the schedule for the suit, which included a “NASA Voluntary Stay of Performance” clause that would result in a roughly three-month pause in NASA’s ongoing work with SpaceX.
“NASA has voluntarily paused work with SpaceX for the human landing system (HLS) Option A contract effective Aug. 19 through Nov. 1,” NASA said in a statement on Thursday. “In exchange for this temporary stay of work, all parties agreed to an expedited litigation schedule that concludes on Nov. 1.”
In an interview with SpaceNews on Thursday, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the case is handled by the Justice Department.
“This is a matter that is out of our hands,” he told the publication. “The judge could require, in essence, very laborious discovery.”
As a result, the dispute will delay NASA’s plan to return American astronauts to the moon by 2024 through the Artemis Program, under which the HLS contract falls.
“NASA officials are continuing to work with the Department of Justice to review the details of the case and look forward to a timely resolution of this matter,” the agency said in Thursday’s statement.
Blue Origin, SpaceX, and a third firm called Dynetics submitted bids for NASA’s HLS contract in March 2020. Although in the past NASA has awarded multiple contracts for a single project, such as the Commercial Crew Program, this time the agency selected only one contractor, SpaceX, citing budgeting reasons.
According to a report released by the GAO on July 30 responding to Blue Origin’s complaint, NASA had received only $850 million from Congress in fiscal year 2021 for the HLS program, with an additional $96 million from other programs that could fund HLS. Nearly $400 million of that funding was already spent on the “base period” awards NASA gave to Blue Origin, SpaceX and Dynetics in 2020. About $200 million has been reserved for internal costs for the program. That left the agency only $355 million available for new HLS awards in 2021.
NASA has already paid SpaceX $300 million as part of its $2.9 billion sole contract. Nelson said he didn’t know if it was possible to find funding for a second HLS contract to Blue Origin.

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter nails ‘dangerous’ twelfth flight on the purple planet

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has successfully completed its 12th flight on Mars in what was one of its most challenging outings to date.
The flight earlier this week took place inside the South Séítah region of Jezero Crater, a location that scientists believe could contain evidence of ancient life on the red planet.
The 4-pound, 19-inch-tall helicopter began by climbing 32.8 feet (10 meters) into the air before flying a distance of about 1,476 feet (450 meters) in a trip that lasted 169 seconds — its longest to date.

A dozen for the books!🚁The #MarsHelicopter’s latest flight took us to the geological wonder that is the “South Séítah” region. It climbed 32.8 ft (10 m) for a total of 169 seconds and flew ~1,476 ft (~450 m) roundtrip to scout the area for @NASAPersevere.
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) August 17, 2021
During its time in the air, NASA’s first-ever Mars helicopter performed a range of maneuvers — including hovers and sidesteps — to snap two photos of a location of interest from 5 meters apart. This will allow the team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is overseeing the current Mars mission, to create a 3D image to help the Perseverance rover team decide if the location is worthy of closer examination.
The flight was deemed particularly risky as it was the first time for Ingenuity to fly over an uneven landscape, which the JPL team feared could have confused the helicopter’s navigation sensors.
“Ingenuity’s navigation system — which was originally intended to support a short technology demonstration — works on the assumption that it is flying across flat (or nearly flat) terrain,” the team said prior to the flight. “Deviations from this assumption can introduce errors that can lead both to temporary excursions in roll and pitch (tilting back and forth in an oscillating pattern), as well as long-term errors in the helicopter’s knowledge of its position.” In the event, the team’s fears were unfounded and so it can now start planning the helicopter’s next flight.
Ingenuity became the first aircraft to achieve controlled, powered flight on another planet when it hovered a few meters above the Martian surface in April 2021. Since then, the helicopter has been taking increasingly complex flights as the team pushes the aircraft to the limit.
The initial plan was to use the helicopter as a test device to see if a more advanced airborne vehicle based on Ingenuity’s design would be able to assist other planetary missions. But Ingenuity performed so well during its early test flights that it’s already able to provide the Perseverance rover team with aerial data as it searches for areas of interest that could unlock many of the red planet’s long-held secrets.

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NASA’s Mars rover indicators up with Google Images, kind of

It’s been six quick months since NASA’s Perseverance rover landed in spectacular fashion on the surface of Mars, with the trailblazing Ingenuity helicopter tucked under its belly.

Up to now, Perseverance has snapped more than 125,000 photos of its surroundings using its many built-in cameras, beaming the images back to Earth for closer inspection by scientists and space fans.
To celebrate the half-year milestone, Google has imagined what it would be like if Perseverance had its own Google Photos account, presenting the results in a fun video that it shared on Wednesday.
Set to Jerry Herman’s Put On Your Sunday Clothes — a song that should be familiar to WALL-E fans — the video incorporates some of Google Photos’ many features, organizing the numerous images into different categories, among them “shadow selfies,” “landscapes,” “rocks,” and, ahem, “additional rocks.” Yes, rocks feature heavily in the Perseverance rover mission.
Google’s video also includes a short clip of the extraordinarily clear footage captured during Perseverance’s descent to the Martian surface in February.
Google Photo’s search function appears in the video, too, which lets you look for images linked to keywords. Keen to raise a smile, the first search term entered is “martians,” which of course returns no results. “Water” also draws a blank, though hopefully that’ll change by the end of the mission. However, when “dunes” is entered, the page populates with endless images of sandy hills and similar land formations.
In the “people and pets” section, NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter pops up, as does Curiosity, NASA’s other functioning Mars rover that landed on the red planet in 2012.
Perseverance is continuing to explore inside Jezero Crater, an ancient lakebed that scientists believe could contain signs of past life on Mars. As part of its explorations, the rover was recently supposed to drill a sample of rock for return to Earth on a later mission, but the vehicle’s collection tube was unable to retain the material because it was too loose. The team is now looking for a new drilling location where the rock is of a type that’s more likely to stay inside the collection tube.
In the meantime, Perseverance will keep taking lots of photos of its surroundings, sending them back to Earth for everyone to enjoy.
For tips and tricks on how to get the best out of Google Photos, check out Digital Trends’ handy guide.

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Jeff Bezos Escalates Battle With NASA, Blue Origin Loses Prime Moon Lander Engineer to SpaceX

Jeff Bezos introduces Blue Origin’s lunar lander “Blue Moon” at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images
Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin has escalated its dispute with NASA over the agency’s Human Landing System (HLS) contract to a federal court after losing a case before the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Blue Origin was one of the three private firms competing for a NASA contract to build a human landing vehicle on the moon. In April, NASA awarded a $2.9 billion contract to SpaceX and selected the Elon Musk-led company as the sole partner for the HLS project. Blue Origin’s proposal, estimated to cost $5.9 billion, along with a similarly expensive bid by Dynetics, were rejected.
On Friday, Blue Origin filed a complaint with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to challenge “NASA’s unlawful and improper evaluation of proposals” submitted during the bidding process, said lawyers for Blue Origin, The Verge first reported.
The lawsuit came after Blue Origin and Dynetics failed to challenge NASA’s decision before the federal watchdog, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which ruled earlier this month that NASA had run a fair competition.
“Blue Origin filed suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in an attempt to remedy the flaws in the acquisition process found in NASA’s Human Landing System,” a company spokesperson said in an email to Observer. “We firmly believe that the issues identified in this procurement and its outcomes must be addressed to restore fairness, create competition, and ensure a safe return to the moon for America.”
Still, it’s an ironic contrast to what Bezos said about bidding wars for NASA contracts just three years ago.
At a talk during the JFK Space Summit in 2019, Bezos openly criticized bid protests as a barrier slowing down NASA’s space exploration efforts. Comparing today’s contracting process with the more streamlined system in the 1960s, he said, “Today, there would be three protests, and the losers would sue the federal government because they didn’t win.”
A NASA spokesperson said the agency is “currently reviewing details of the case.”
Also on Friday, Blue Origin lost a top engineer on its moon lander team to its worst enemy. The company’s HLS Mission Architecture and Integration Lead, Nitin Arora, announced on his LinkedIn page on Monday that he had left Blue Origin to join SpaceX. His last day was Friday.
Arora was a former engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). He joined Blue Origin in 2018 to work on the company’s “Blue Moon” lunar lander. “It was one hell of a ride working on the lunar program. Really honored that I got a chance to work with and lead incredibly smart, passionate people over [the] last three years,” Arora wrote in a LinkedIn post on Monday.