China successfully launched the Wentian module of its Tiangong space station last week. But this week, the country is closely monitoring the uncontrolled reentry of the debris from the most powerful rocket that it has ever built. While the thought of that may be a little hard to stomach, not all space news is so worrisome. Here is our recap of the biggest space news from last week.
Buzz Aldrin’s Apollo 11 flight jacket auctioned
Buzz Aldrin’s flight jacket, which he wore on the historic Apollo 11 mission that carried humans to the moon for the first time, was sold for about $2.8 million at an action in New York. The front of the jacket proudly displays the NASA logo and the Apollo 11 mission emblem, which is set below Aldrin’s name tag.
Neil Amstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first humans to walk on the Moon. At the age of 92, Aldrin is the only surviving member of the mission. After the jacket, the second-highest grossing item at the same auction was the summary flight plan of the Apollo 11 mission. The plan was sold for $819,000, blowing past the estimates of $100,000-$150,000.
First Arab astronaut on a long-term space mission
Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi will mark history as the first Arab astronaut to be part of a long-term mission to the Internationational Space Station (ISS) after his selection to embark on the Crew-6 mission scheduled for early 2023. This makes the United Arab Emirates the 11th country in the world to participate in a long-term space mission, according to Emirates News Agency.
Al Neyadi will go to the space station as part of an exchange deal between NASA and Axiom Space, a Texas-based private space company. SpaceX’s Crew=6 will be the sixth crew rotation flight to the International Space Station carried out by the Elon Musk-led company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. The mission is expected to launch in 2023 on a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
International Space Station astronauts joined by Astrobee robots
Two “Astrobee” robots began working independently on the International Space Station, side-by-side with humans, for the first time ever. Until now, Astrobee robots have operated on the International Space Station one at a time or with support from human operators. The video shared by NASA displays a great milestone for the robotics system that is designed to work autonomously.
Astrobee robots are cube-shaped and about 32 centimetres wide. The three Astrobee robots, named Queen, Bumble and Honey propel themselves around in the microgravity environment of the International Space Station using electric fans. Once they run out of charge, they are designed to automatically return to their docking stations so that they can be recharged.
Not only will the Astrobee robots make space missions safer and more cost-effective but Astrobees could manage routine chores that would free up human operators for more complex work. But they could have an even more important duty in the future: Astrobee robots could be instrumental in future spacecraft that won’t be crewed year-round like the Gateway space station planned to orbit the Moon. Such spacecraft will need autonomous robots to keep things running while humans are away.
Chinese rocket debris
The debris from a recently launched Chinese rocket is expected to reenter the atmosphere in an uncontrolled manner this week. The Long March 5B rocket launched on Sunday to deliver ta laboratory module to China’s space station that is under construction in orbit, marking the third flight of the most powerful rocket built by the country.
As it happened in the previous two flights, the rocket’s 30-meter-long main-core stage that weighs 22 tons has already reached low orbit and is expected to come back towards Earth due to our planet’s atmospheric friction, according to experts who spoke to AP. It is currently impossible to pinpoint in advance but experts will be able to narrow the potential impact zone as we get closer to impact.