Thursday, March 22, 2012

NASA considering space station for Mars dry run


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The International Space Station may provide the setting for a 500-day pretend trip to Mars in another few years.

NASA said Tuesday that consideration is under way to use the space station as a dry run for a simulated trip to and from Mars.

It would be patterned after Russia's mock flight to Mars that lasted 520 days at a Moscow research center. Six men were involved in that study, which ended late last year. They were locked in a steel capsule.

NASA's space station program manager Mike Suffredini said before astronauts can fly beyond low-Earth orbit, they'll have to spend more than six months aloft at a time. That's the typical stint for space station crews. Five hundred days is more than 16 months. Learn More...

The human endurance record of 14 months was set by a Russian cosmonaut aboard the Mir space station in the mid-1990s. Only two others — both Russians — have spent as long as a full year in space.

No NASA astronaut has spent more than seven months in space on a single mission.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Biggest solar storm in years hits, so far so good


WASHINGTON (AP) — One of the strongest solar storms in years engulfed Earth early Thursday, but scientists say the planet may have lucked out.

Hours after the storm arrived, officials said there were no reports of problems with power grids, GPS, satellites or other technologies that are often disrupted by solar storms.

But that still can change as the storm shakes the planet's magnetic field in ways that could disrupt technology but also spread colorful Northern Lights. Early indications show that it is about 10 times stronger than the normal solar wind that hits Earth.

The storm started with a massive solar flare Tuesday evening and grew as it raced outward from the sun, expanding like a giant soap bubble, scientists said.

The storm struck about 6 a.m. EST in a direction that causes the least amount of problems, said Joe Kunches, a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center.

"It's not a terribly strong event. It's a very interesting event," he said.

Initially, scientists figured the storm would be the worst since 2006, but now it seems only as bad as ones a few months ago, he said. Learn More...