It’s Wednesday, October 19, and space is going absolutely bananas right now. While you’re reading this article, there are eight, eight people in space. They’re piloting three different manned spacecrafts, including the International Space Station, and represent four nations. Also, the European Space Agency is trying to land a probe on Mars — which might have just crashed.
Canadian astronaut commander Chris Hadfield was quick to point all of this out this morning. While going to space is pretty much a routine by now for Hadfield, it’s rare that the human race in general has this much going on outside of our atmosphere. At the time being, there are three Russian cosmonauts, two Chinese taikonauts, two American astronauts (one of whom is Kate Rubins, who has been in space for 105 days), and a Japanese astronaut, all flying literal spaceships around the Earth — pretty much just because they can. The Chinese taikonauts, aside from having the coolest titles, are on their country’s longest space mission yet, during which they’ll dock with China’s new space station, the Tiangong-2.
The taikonauts aren’t the only fresh launchies, either. Early Wednesday morning, three astronauts blasted off on their way to the ISS.
NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and two Russians, Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko, are headed up to the ISS for Expedition 49.
Still, it wouldn’t be space without some possibly catastrophic drama. The Europeans have been having a very stressful day. The ESA has spent years getting its Schiaparelli lander ready for a trip to Mars. The lander’s orbiting platform got to Mars days ago, and Schiaparelli split off to begin its descent on October 16. It was supposed to land this morning, just before noon. But so far the ESA has no idea if it got there in one piece, or if it, well, blew the fuck up (or crashed less dramatically, sure). Schiaparelli is basically the dress rehearsal for the ESA’s delayed ExoMars Mission, which is aiming to put a European rover on the Red Planet by 2020. If Schiaparelli bit the dust, that’s bad news for Europe’s Martian aspirations.
And NASA isn’t having the greatest luck with its robotic explorers either, because Juno is in trouble. After a five year mission to get all the way to Jupiter, Juno has brought back some incredible images, but right before it was set for its final rocket burn to bring it closer to the gas giant, something went wrong. NASA thinks that there’s something wrong with Juno’s helium check valves, and decided to delay the maneuver until December. Then, the probe abruptly went into safe mode (where it shuts down all non-essential instruments and points its solar panels at the sun to recharge), and nobody really knew why.
The agency held a press conference today to discuss what was up with the three-winged solar explorer. It looks like the probe is okay, but these still aren’t exactly good signs.
“We were still quite a ways from the planet’s more intense radiation belts and magnetic fields [when Juno went into safe mode],” Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, wrote in a press release. “The spacecraft is healthy and we are working our standard recovery procedure.”
The day’s not over yet, either. The ESA will host a press conference about Schiaparelli’s fate at 10 a.m. central European time — or 4 a.m. Eastern in the U.S.
For die-hard space fans and scientists on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s been a long-ass day that’s far from over.