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Science news weekly recap: Chinese rocket debris, ISS robots, and more

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. 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, 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 Armstrong 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.

A view of a detail of Buzz Aldrin’s flown inflight coverall jacket, worn by him on his mission to the Moon and back during Apollo 11, that was sold for ,772,500 at Sotheby’s, in New York City, US July 21, 2022, in this screen grab from a video. (Image credit: Reuters TV via REUTERS)

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 International 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 the 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.

UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyyadi Sultan Al Neyyadi will be the second Emirati astronaut to go to the International Space Station after Hazza Al Mansoori, who lived on the space station for eight days in 2019. (Image credit: Mohammed bin Rashed 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 new milestone for the robotics system designed to work autonomously.

Astrobee robots are cube-shaped and about 32 centimeters 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.

A Long March-5B Y3 rocket, carrying the Wentian lab module for China’s space station under construction, takes off from Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Hainan province, China July 24, 2022. China Daily via REUTERS

chinese rocket debris

The debris from a recently launched Chinese rocket is expected to reenter the atmosphere this week. The Long March 5B rocket launched on Sunday to deliver a 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.


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