Today’s Tidbits: September 11, 2018

Today’s Tidbits: September 11, 2018

Here are’s tidbits for September 11, 2018:  ISS commander dismisses Rogozin suspicion; ads in space; UAE astronauts.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

ISS Commander Dismisses Rogozin Suspicion

NASA astronaut Drew Feustel. Credit: NASA

NASA astronaut Drew Feustel has dismissed speculation by Russian space agency head Dmitry Rogozin that a hole in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft currently docked at the International Space Station (ISS) might have been made by one of the ISS crew members.  Feustel is currently commander of the ISS.

CBS News space correspondent Bill Harwood reports that during a space-to-ground interview with ABC News today, Feustel said “I can unequivocally say that the crew had nothing to do with this on orbit, without a doubt, and I think it’s actually a shame and somewhat embarrassing that anybody is wasting time” talking about it. []

Ground controllers detected a small pressure drop in the ISS two weeks ago while the crew was sleeping.  It was not serious enough to awaken them, but the next day they traced it to a small (2 millimeter diameter) hole in the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft.

Six people are currently living on ISS:  Roscosmos’s Sergey Prokopyev and Oleg Artemyev;  NASA’s Serena Auñón-Chancellor, Ricky Arnold, and Feustel; and the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Alexander Gerst.  Soyuz MS-09, carrying Prokopyev, Auñón-Chancellor and Gerst, docked at ISS on June 8 and will return them to Earth on December 13, 2018.

The hole was not caused by space debris or a micrometeorid, but clearly was drilled by a human hand.

Rogozin, who is Director General of Roscosmos, announced creation of a special commission to find out how it got there and quite surprisingly said that he was not ruling out the possibility that it was done on orbit.  Why anyone would suspect an ISS crew member of endangering his or her own life is bewildering at best, but Rogozin is well known for intemperate remarks during his tenure as Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the aerospace and defense sector.  He was removed from that position by Russian President Vladimir Putin in May and put in charge of Roscosmos instead.

During a NASA press briefing last week, NASA astronaut Anne McClain (@AstroAnnimal) also expressed dismay about Rogozin’s comments.  McClain is scheduled to launch to ISS on Soyuz MS-11 in December along with Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko.

Russia’s investigatory commission has not reported its findings.  Widespread speculation is that a technician mistakenly drilled the hole during manufacturing and covered it up sufficiently that it passed all its tests before launch.  Presumably the next Soyuz will be more thoroughly tested.  That spacecraft, Soyuz MS-10, is scheduled to launch on October 11 with NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin.

Ads in Space

Spoof image of the space shuttle covered in ads. Origin unknown, circa 1995-1996?

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine’s proposal to look into the possibility of selling “naming rights” for NASA rockets and spacecraft has garnered a lot of interest — in the media at least.

The idea is hardly new.  After we reported on Bridenstine’s interest, expressed at an August meeting of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC), a friend sent us this vintage spoof image from an earlier debate on this topic of what can happen if the idea got out of control.

The provenance of the image is unknown, but based on the logos, we and some of our Twitter followers (@SpcPlcyOnline) narrowed the timing down to 1995-1996.  If anyone knows who created it, please let us know ( so we can give credit where credit is due.  It’s hilarious!

Three of our space reporter colleagues have independently taken a look at ads in space since Bridenstine brought it back up.

  • Marina Koren at The Atlantic, with an opinion piece: NASA’s Space Probes Shouldn’t be Tacky Billboards []
  • Chris Davenport at The Washington PostWhy NASA’s Next Rockets May Say Budweiser on the Side []
  • Loren Grush at The Verge:  Product Placement May Help Power NASA’s Next Big Space Mission []

All good reads and contain interesting comparisons with what other countries do.

UAE Astronauts

Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has selected its first two astronauts, one of whom will fly to the ISS in April 2019 on Soyuz MS-12.  The other will be his backup.

Hazza Al Mansouri, 34, and Sultan Al Nayadi, 37, were chosen from more than 4,000 applicants according to the UAE’s Khaleej Times.  Al Mansouri is a fighter pilot. Al Nayadi has a doctorate in Data Leakage Prevention Techniques and a master’s in Information and Network Security from Griffith University in Australia, and a bachelor’s in Electronics and Communications Engineering from Brighton University in the UK. []

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai tweeted the news last week.

Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft can carry up to three people, at least one of whom is Russian.  NASA has been buying any extra available seats since it terminated the space shuttle program in 2011 to take not only NASA astronauts, but those from Canada, Japan and Europe to and from ISS pursuant to its obligations under the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) that governs the program.  (The IGA was negotiated at a time when NASA expected to operate the shuttle throughout the space station’s lifetime. It could carry up to eight astronauts, so agreeing to ferry astronauts from its non-Russian partners was not a problem.)

NASA’s contract with Russia is coming to an end, however.  New U.S. “commercial crew” systems built by Boeing and SpaceX are expected to be ready sometime next year. That means Russia can resume selling seats to others and the UAE appears to be the first customer.  NASA will still use some of the seats in 2019, but not all of them.  In fact, a NASA astronaut will be on Soyuz MS-12, too.

The UAE Space Agency was created in 2014.  It also plans to launch a robotic spacecraft to Mars.  Named Hope, it will arrive in 2021 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the founding of the UAE.

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