What’s Happening in Space Policy April 10-16, 2022

What’s Happening in Space Policy April 10-16, 2022

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of April 10-16, 2022 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in recess for the next two weeks, except for pro forma sessions.

During the Week

Congress is on Spring Break for the next two weeks celebrating the Passover and Easter holidays. Many others are on break, too, so this is a relatively quiet week space policy-wise.

But there’s always something interesting happening on the space station, or in this case, space stations.

The Axiom-1 crew arrived at the International Space Station yesterday, 45 minutes late because of a video transmission problem with a camera needed by the ISS crew to monitor the docking. The four Ax-1 private astronauts — Michael López-Alegria (U.S./Spain), Larry Connor (U.S.), Mark Pathy (Canada) and Eytan Stibbe (Israel) — were greeted warmly by their hosts for the next eight days, all professional astronauts and cosmonauts: NASA’s Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron, ESA’s Matthias Maurer (Germany), and Roscosmos’s Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergei Korsakov. López-Alegria is a former NASA astronaut who now works for Axiom. This is his fifth spaceflight. The other three Ax-1 passengers are wealthy entrepreneurs who paid a reported $55 million each for the trip. Learn a bit more about Stibbe below.

The ISS and Axiom-1 crews during the welcoming ceremony, April 9, 2022. ISS Commander Tom Marshburn (NASA) is holding the mic. Soyuz MS-21 commander Oleg Artemyev (Roscosmos), also in blue, is next to him. The four Ax-1 private astronauts are at the back, L-R: Mark Pathy, Eytan Stibbe, Larry Connor, Michael López-Alegria. Kayla Barron (NASA), Denis Mateev (Roscosmos), and Sergei Korsakov (Roscosmos) are on the left; Raja Chari (NASA) and Matthias Maurer (ESA/Germany) are upside down. Screengrab.

Chari, Marshburn, Barron and Maurer are members of “Crew-3.” They are getting ready to come home late this month and will hold an on-orbit news conference on Friday according to the NASA Live schedule.

Their Crew-4 replacements are ready to launch on April 21 or April 23. Crew-4 member Samantha Cristoforetti (ESA/Italy) and other ESA and Italian space officials will hold a press conference tomorrow (Monday) that will air on ESA TV.

Meanwhile, over on China’s space station module, Tianhe, three taikonauts are getting ready to return to Earth. As usual, China has not made an official announcement of the landing date or time, saying only that Shenzhou-13 will land at the Dongfeng landing site in Inner Mongolia in “mid-April” after setting a Chinese duration record of six months.

They reach the 180-day mark on Wednesday, April 13, so could return anytime around then. Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping, and Ye Guangfu launched on October 15, 2021 EDT (October 16 in China). Wang became the first Chinese woman to make a spacewalk in November, one of two spacewalks during this mission. Tianhe is the first of three modules that will comprise the Chinese Space Station, or Tiangong-3. The other two are planned for launch this year.

The Shenzhou-13 crew aboard the Tianhe space station core module. Photo Credit: Xinhua/Guo Zhongzheng

Tuesday, April 12, is the 61st anniversary of the first human in space. Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin made one orbit of the Earth on April 12, 1961, another in a string of Soviet space firsts that propelled that era’s Space Race. Events around the globe celebrate Yuri’s Night on or around April 12. (The first American reached space three weeks after Gagarin, but Alan Shepard made only a suborbital flight. The first American to orbit Earth was John Glenn in February 1962.)

STS-1, the first flight of the U.S. space shuttle, April 12, 1961, with John Young and Bob Crippen aboard Columbia. Credit: NASA

April 12 is also a U.S. space anniversary, though, marking the first flight of the reusable Space Shuttle. John Young and Bob Crippen took the orbiter Columbia on an orbital test flight on April 12, 1981, two days later than planned because of a technical glitch so the fact that it was on the Gagarin anniversary was accidental not intentional.

The five spaceflight-worthy space shuttle orbiters made a total of 135 flights over 30 years, the last in July 2011. Two were lost in the 1986 Challenger and 2003 Columbia tragedies that killed all 14 people aboard.

One of those who perished on Columbia was Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut. Israel’s second astronaut is on the ISS right now — Eytan Stibbe. Ramon was Stibbe’s commander in the Israeli Air Force and the two were friends. Stibbe co-founded the Ramon Foundation and is carrying mementoes of Ramon on his flight. Members of the Ramon family reportedly attended the launch.

We aren’t aware of any official events celebrating the anniversary of the shuttle’s first flight — the anniversaries of the two shuttle tragedies and the 1967 Apollo 1 fire are commemorated in late January/early February — but if we learn of any, we’ll add them to our Calendar. But anyone is welcome to raise a glass to toast the shuttle and her brave STS-1 crew. The shuttle was the only human spacecraft that was not launched into space first without a crew before putting people on board.

NASA’s new human spaceflight system, the Space Launch System rocket and Orion crew spacecraft, will have an uncrewed space test flight first, Artemis I. NASA is getting ready to launch it hopefully in June and this week will resume the Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR) where the SLS tanks are filled with propellant and the launch team practices countdowns. Two earlier tries were scrubbed last week for technical reasons and NASA says there still is a glitch with a helium check valve and they will not be able to fully load the upper stage. But they are going ahead anyway with the two-day test. Tanking and the practice countdowns are on Thursday. NASA’s Artemis blog says “NASA will host a teleconference to discuss details on Monday, April 11” which we thought meant a media teleconference, but we haven’t received a notice about it and it’s not listed on NASA TV or NASA Live. If we find out more, we’ll add it to our Calendar. [UPDATE: It’s at 4:00 pm ET today, Monday.]

As we said, a lot of people seem to be taking a break this week and we only have two meetings on our list. Starting tomorrow, the National Academies has a four-day virtual Space Weather Workshop that will be livestreamed. The “Space Weather Operations and Research Infrastructure Workshop: Phase II” will review what happened at the 2020 Phase I workshop and then discuss “the research agenda and observations needed to improve the understanding of the Sun-Earth system that generates space weather.”

NASA’s Extraterrestrial Materials Analysis Group meets virtually on Wednesday and Thursday. Experts from the United States, Japan, China, and Europe will discuss curating samples that have been returned from the Moon, asteroids, a comet and the solar wind, and getting ready for samples from Mars.

The events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week for others we learn about later and add to our Calendar or changes to these.

Monday, April 11

Monday-Thursday, April 11-14

  • Space Weather Workshop (National Academies), virtual, open sessions begin 11:00 am ET each day (livestreamed)

Tuesday, April 12

Wednesday, April 13?

  • Possible Return of China’s Shenzhou-13 crew (check our Calendar later in the week for more information)

Wednesday-Thursday, April 13-14

Friday, April 15

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