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Gravity Gets Congratulations From ISS And Lookalike Imagery From NASA

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This past Sunday saw the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences giving sciencey fiction its just rewards by granting Gravity seven Oscars, including the technical line-up of editing, sound, visual effects and music, with Alfonso Cuarón taking the trophy for Best Director. Though 12 Years a Slave ended up winning Best Picture, it was still a huge victory for space thrillers, and the film’s successes earned a video congratulations from Expedition 38’s three-astronaut team on board the International Space Station, as seen above. That’s as high-up a thumbs up can possibly get, I’m assuming.

NASA’s Michael S. Hopkins starts off the cheers, pointing out that all three of them are pretty familiar with what it feels like to float around in zero gravity. He then wafts the mic over to JAXA’s Koichi Wakata and begins to flip around in the background. He explains they watched a copy of the film onboard the ISS and loved its depiction of space. Then NASA’s Richard A. Mastracchio gives the formal congrats to the stars and crew for the Academy’s recognition.

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ISS Cold Atom Lab Will Be The Most Frigid Place In The Universe

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ISSThe ISS has its share of haters. There are many people who believe the station is a colossal waste of money (to the tune of $100 billion) and has never gotten down to the hard-core, life-changing proponents promised. Even so, Obama recently granted it four-year extension, so there is time to prove the skeptics wrong. One of the ways it might do that is with a new laboratory scheduled to become part of the repertoire in 2016 that will be the coldest known place in the universe. That may sound horrible, but it’s actually pretty awesome.

NASA’s Cold Atom Laboratory will be able to reach a temperature just one ten-billionth a degree warmer than zero Kelvin, or absolute zero (about -459.67 degrees Fahrenheit), the lowest temperature possible. You think North Face makes a parka for that? Space itself has an average temperature of -454.81, which is roughly the average temperature in Boston this winter.

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Meet Dream Chaser, America’s Next Space Shuttle

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Dream ChaserAs you probably know, President Obama announced his decision to end NASA’s space shuttle program Constellation back in 2010. Since then, the US has been paying to transport astronauts to the ISS aboard Russian Soyuz capsules. NASA designed the four-person Space Launch System, a heavy launch vehicle, to replace the retired shuttles. So I’ve just been waiting patiently for that to come to fruition, somehow unaware of the Dream Chaser spacecraft, a commercial spaceflight transport system that will be able to take a crew of seven astronauts to the ISS, despite being about 1/3rd the size of a conventional shuttle.

The Dream Chaser will ride aboard an Atlas 5 rocket, which will propel the craft into low Earth orbit, potentially ferrying astronauts to the ISS. Service—or some kind of crewed mission—is expected to begin in 2017, with the first orbital crewless flight in late 2016. Dream Chaser’s first unmanned flight occurred in 2013, when it flew successfully but crashed due to a malfunction in its landing gear. Actually, the vehicle flipped over at the very end, coming to rest in an upright position, after which the malfunctioning left landing gear deployed. I like a spacecraft with a sense of humor. Despite the rocky ending, the flight was regarded as an overall success.

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ISS Gets A Four-Year Extension

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ISSI’m not sure if you knew that the International Space Station had a pre-planned death date. Maybe that’s being melodramatic. Let’s call it decommissioning and deorbiting. Whatever name you slap on it, the ISS’s final days were planned for 2020. While there are only a handful of people, robots, and private companies who will be directly affected when facility powers down, the significance and symbolism loom large. The ISS is a symbol of cosmic collaboration, as well as the first step of the realization of the dream that people will one day live and work in space. So let’s all celebrate because the station just received a four-year extension, and will be in service until 2024. If nothing else, that’s four more years of Chris Hadfield videos.

The Obama administration announced the plan to keep the ISS running until 2024, although obviously the current President will be long out of office by then and whoever comes next could potentially reverse that decision. But the next Chief of Staff is unlikely to do so, and not because he or she is a fan of the station, not only because the ISS cost about $100 billion to make and has prompted over 100 rocket launches and spacewalks, but also because getting it down safely is an undertaking.

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Wowzers: Zero Gravity LED Light Toy Makes Trippy Space Art

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spiral topOf all the myriad reasons why no one is letting me go into space right now, there are two battling it out for first place. The first: I’m not and never have been trained to be an astronaut. The second: Instead of doing anything like “missions” or “smart things,” I would probably spend all my time figuring out what it feels like getting trashed in space, and no one would want to be my friend. And these reasons existed before I ever even knew that the ridiculously amazing Spiral Top device existed. As you can imagine after looking at the picture above, I’m going to have to make a very specific type of amendment to that second reason.

Developed a few years ago by artist Takuro Osaka, the Spiral Top is a device that spins a set of mounted LEDs affixed to it. I have no idea what it looks like when it isn’t floating around in space, but I don’t really need to, since I’ve seen it floating around in space.

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Merry Christmas! Astronauts Conduct Emergency Repairs On ISS Cooling System

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spacewalkUnless his flying reindeer are truly amazing, like Falcor, Santa probably doesn’t make it to space. Or maybe he does, and that’s actually where he is the other 364 days of the Earth year. A galactic sleigh would have come in pretty handy at the ISS this Christmas, as astronauts had to attend to an emergency situation that led to a holiday spacewalk. You know, to take in all the lights.

I mean, they’re not decorating the tree, making a holiday dinner, or getting drunk on eggnog, so why not?

American astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Michael Hopkins have gotten to walk in space twice in the past four days. Today’s was the second Christmas Eve spacewalk ever. Is there a best day for a spacewalk? I think I’d like to do it on New Year’s Day, maybe. I probably wouldn’t enjoy an emergency spacewalk at any time, though, and that’s what these were. NASA helpfully tweeted along the way and provided a video feed.