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Out of this World
March 22, 2019

NASA's astronauts are doing a bit of spring cleaning and upgrading.

Two astronauts, Anne McClain and Nick Hague spent their Friday swapping out dead batteries on the International Space Station in the first of two scheduled spacewalks this month, NASA announced. The battery-wielding duo upgraded three of six nickel-hydrogen batteries that had lost their juice after a long run in space, according to NASA.

"Just like your rechargeable batteries at home, eventually over time, they're not going to recharge as well," Kenny Todd, the missions operations manager for the ISS, said during a press conference, per The Verge. "They're not going to hold as much charge when it comes to putting loads on them." The batteries were replaced with newer, more powerful lithium-ion versions during the 6-hour-long spacewalk.

There will be a second round of battery replacements next week during NASA's first-ever all-female spacewalk with Christina Koch and McClain.

The expedition was the first spacewalk for McClain and Hague, but the 214th overall, says NASA. Watch footage of the swap below, via USA Today. Tatyana Bellamy-Walker

March 15, 2019

Spider-Man may have finally found his match in outer space.

There's no spider-universe stunt double outside of this planet (sorry, Marvel fans) but a "hairy blue spider" has sprawled its "legs" on Mars, writes LiveScience.

Researchers say the so-called spider is actually a pattern left by thousands of Martian tornados that churn up dust and expose new surface material, especially on the ridges and mountains of the planet's landscape. An image captured last month by the European Space Agency shows the dramatic results of the storms.

The storm pattern isn't actually bright blue, but the orbiter's Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System translates the color of the material to better show the contrast — in reality, the "spider" looks like its superhero pal in a dark red hue.

Scientists say it's unclear why the surface materials gathered along the planet's ridges in such a striking pattern, but say Mars' mountains could contribute to intensified air flow patterns that help create tornadoes. Read more at LiveScience. Tatyana Bellamy-Walker

November 7, 2016

Millions of Americans have already participated in early voting, either in person at the polls or with their absentee ballots — including those citizens who happen to be stationed out of this world.

According to The Associated Press, NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough filed his absentee vote for the presidential election from the International Space Station this week. Aside from doing his civic duty, Kimbrough apparently wanted to say: "I voted from space."

NASA explained that a secure electronic ballot is sent to the astronauts from Mission Control in Houston, thanks to a 1997 Texas law giving astronauts the franchise. The ballot is then downlinked back to Earth once it's been completed, and forwarded to the county clerk's office in Houston.

Kimbrough launched on Oct. 19 and will be back in February — but it's safe to say that if he can cast a ballot even during extraplanetary travel, then maybe no one really has a good reason for sitting this election out. Ricky Soberano

March 5, 2016

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly said living on the International Space Station for a full year felt like much longer, The New York Times reports.

"I think the only big surprise was how long a year is," Kelly said at a news conference Friday. "It seemed like I lived there forever."

Kelly returned to Earth on Tuesday after traveling almost 144 million miles over 340 days.

Apparently, if you live in space long enough, even the salads on Earth seem exciting upon return. Julie Kliegman

January 5, 2016

If you're only familiar with Frank Sinatra's famous version of the Bart Howard song "Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words)," the 1969 rendition by Tom Jones — shifting seamlessly between a Latin beat and hard swing — might come as something of a shock. But listening to Jones belt out the song is one thing; watching him sing it in a shiny blue space suit, dancing around a spaceship with sliver-clad space dancers, is a whole other experience entirely:

Tony Bennett sang the seldom-performed opening verse of "Fly Me to the Moon" with Jones on that Oct. 9, 1969, episode of This Is Tom Jones, a British variety show that aired in the U.S. on ABC. Other guests during the two-year run included Janis Joplin, Peter Sellers, Ella Fitzgerald, Stevie Wonder, Johnny Cash, George Carlin, and just about everybody else big in show business at the time. Nancy Sinatra was also a guest on the third and final season, but Frank Sinatra never appeared, probably not because of that version of "Fly Me to the Moon." If watching Jones dance around in a tight blue space suit is too distracting, you should still listen to his version — the man's got pipes, and they're in top form on this song. Peter Weber

November 2, 2015

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly has lived on the International Space Station for 219 days and counting as part of a yearlong mission designed in part as a precursor to a potential Mars mission. The commander had a good time getting in the Halloween spirit from space, but now there's a much bigger occasion to celebrate.

Monday marks 15 straight years of human presence aboard the station, and the six-man crew of U.S., Russian, and Japanese astronauts will commemorate the anniversary with a special dinner, The Associated Press reports.

Since Nov. 2, 2000, 220 astronauts from 17 countries have taken up home in the orbiting lab. Collectively, they've eaten more than 26,500 meals. Let's hope at least some of them looked more appealing than this cheeseburger. Julie Kliegman

August 10, 2015

Forget noshing on freeze-dried ice cream when up in space. On Monday, the crew of the International Space Station will taste the first-ever space-grown veggie: red romaine lettuce.

This is technically the second batch of lettuce that's been harvested since ISS started growing lettuce seeds underneath an LED light bank, but the first that astronauts will actually get to taste. The batch produced in May was sent back to Earth for tests to ensure the space vegetables were safe to eat.

So why exactly is NASA making space salads? Well, creating sustainable food is a key component in achieving the long-term goal of reaching Mars. "The crew does get some fresh fruits or vegetables, such as carrots or apples, when a supply ship arrives at the space station. But the quantity is limited and must be consumed quickly," NASA scientist Gioia Massa told Vice. Moreover, scientists believe that gardening could provide astronauts important psychological benefits during a long journey up in space.

The lettuce joins two other new space foods developed this year. In May, the first espresso was brewed in space. Earlier this month, six whiskies were sent up to space to test how it ages in zero-gravity conditions. Becca Stanek

October 13, 2014

You may not physically be able to go to Mars, but your name can: On the NASA website, people from around the world can submit their names to go on Orion's journey to the red planet.

NASA says that the Orion will eventually launch on the new heavy-lift Space Launch System, the most powerful rocket ever created, capable of sending astronauts deep into space. On Dec. 4, Orion will take its first flight, a test mission that will go around the Earth. A tiny microchip with names from the website will be on board, and it will remain there for future trips to Mars. "All names submitted will fly on Orion and accrue miles as part of the 'frequent flier' campaign," NASA spokeswoman Rachel Kraft told the Los Angeles Times.

Names must be submitted by Oct. 31. To start collecting those miles, visit NASA's website. Catherine Garcia

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