Now back, space station astronauts recall the view, a crisis and peppers they grew

Asia's Tech News Daily

Now back, space station astronauts recall the view, a crisis and peppers they grew

NASA’s Crew-2 astronauts enjoyed spectacular views, camaraderie and fresh peppers grown in microgravity, but they also encountered challenging spacewalks and a crisis when part of the International Space Station malfunctioned, the four space flyers said Monday during a teleconference.

Astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, Akihiko Hoshide and Thomas Pesquet gave their first press conference Monday morning since splashing down Nov. 8 in the Gulf of Mexico a week ago.

Their capsule, the Crew Dragon Endeavour, landed under parachutes off the coast of Pensacola, Fla., after they had been on the space station for six months.

The landing was much different than one in a space shuttle or in a Russian capsule on land, said Hoshide, of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency.

“The splashdown was much much softer. I would say I was worried after a splashdown bobbing on the surface of the ocean, but I think it was OK for all of us,” he said.

Hoshide also praised the ride into orbit aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

“The launch and landing itself was just like any other spacecraft, but it was smooth, and I think it was more responsive. That’s what I remember going uphill,” he said. “You know, the acceleration, deceleration, it was like a joyride, and we were all grinning and giggling.”

The Crew-2 astronauts traveled 84.6 million miles during their 199 days in orbit, circling the Earth 3,194 times. The mission duration set a record for an American-made spacecraft.

The crew conducted about 100 science experiments, such as growing — and eating — chili peppers successfully in microgravity.

Astronauts previously grew more simple plants, like lettuce or radishes, which don’t require pollination and grow faster than peppers, McArthur said.

“There’s a huge benefit to growing something like peppers, not just the flavor and having chilis to eat, but also the vitamins,” she said.

Seeing brilliant auroras, or northern lights, from space was another highlight, said Pesquet, of the European Space Agency.

“It’s sad because the pictures we share just don’t do them justice,” he said. “Flying right overhead is through the aurora. I think it’s the most unbelievable natural phenomena you could possibly witness with your own eyes.”

All four astronauts conducted spacewalks to connect new solar power arrays to the space station’s exterior, which meant traversing the longest distances outside the airlocks, Pesquet said.

“We jokingly called it the ‘Wild West’ of the space station because it was all the way at the end where nobody ever goes. There’s fewer handrails to grab… it’s a really challenging environment.”

The crew lived through an unexpected crisis July 29 when a new arrival at the orbiting facility, the Russian Nauka science module, fired its thrusters in error and flipped the station around 1 1/2 times.

The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, was able to correct the problem quickly, but people on board had to take emergency action, Kimbrough said. In the end, nobody was hurt, and there appeared to be no permanent damage to the space station.

“When the alarms went off, we immediately then reported to the U.S. laboratory and Aki [Akihiko Hoshide], the commander at the time, started under giving us roles and responsibilities to react to the situation,” Kimbrough said.

“Everybody kind of fell in line with our training and just started reacting, with his leadership.”

The four astronauts going through a series of debriefings, including health assessments, he said.

Freed US journalist says not ‘beaten’ in Myanmar jail ordeal
Doha (AFP) Nov 16, 2021 – A US journalist freed from a prison in Myanmar just days after being handed an 11-year sentence said Monday he wasn’t “starved or beaten” — but was worried his ordeal would never end.

Danny Fenster, looking gaunt after his six-month imprisonment, said he was held for no reason but not mistreated by the Myanmar authorities.

The 37-year-old American — who was handed an 11-year sentence last week for incitement, unlawful association and breaching visa rules — was freed one day before he was to face terror and sedition charges that could have seen him jailed for life.

“I was arrested and held in captivity for no reason… but physically I was healthy,” he told journalists after arriving in the Qatari capital Doha. “I wasn’t starved or beaten.”

Myanmar’s military has squeezed the press since taking power in a February coup, arresting dozens of journalists critical of its crackdown on dissent, which has killed more than 1,200 people according to a local monitoring group.

Fenster had been working at Frontier Myanmar, a local outlet in the Southeast Asian country, for around a year and was arrested as he headed home to see his family in May.

“I’m feeling all right physically. It’s just the same privations that come with any form of incarceration. You’re just going a little stir-crazy,” Fenster said, who will fly onwards to the United States from Doha.

“The longer it drags on, the more worried you become that it’s never going to end. So that’s the biggest concern, just staying sane through that.”

– ‘So happy’ –

On Monday, Fenster was pardoned and released on “humanitarian grounds” the junta said, ending 176 days spent in a colonial-era prison where many of Myanmar’s most famous dissidents have been held.

His release was secured following “face-to-face negotiations” between former US diplomat Bill Richardson and junta chief Min Aung Hlaing, Richardson’s organisation said in a statement.

Fenster’s father Buddy expressed relief after speaking with his son on the phone, saying there was “nothing harder on a parent” than knowing a child is in distress and being unable to help.

“He has been sleeping on a wooden pallet for close to six months. And he said, ‘The plane’s got a bed in it’ and I said, you know, ‘Danny, take a rest, man, just stretch out on that thing.’ I’m just so happy to hear that,” he said.

The junta said two Japanese envoys, Hideo Watanabe and Yohei Sasakawa, had been involved in the negotiations to release Fenster, without providing details.

“It’s wonderful news for all of his friends and family,” his colleague at Frontier Myanmar, Andrew Nachemson, told AFP.

“But of course he never should have spent six months in jail… and all the local journalists who remain imprisoned should also be released immediately.”

– ‘Hostage’ –

The United States welcomed his release, saying he had been “wrongfully detained”.

“We are glad that Danny will soon be reunited with his family as we continue to call for the release of others who remain unjustly imprisoned in Burma,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, using Myanmar’s former name.

Richardson visited Myanmar earlier this month on what was described as a “private humanitarian mission.”

He said at the time that the US State Department had specifically asked him not to raise Fenster’s case during his visit.

Fenster is believed to have contracted Covid-19 during his detention, family members said during a conference call with American journalists in August.

“I doubt there were any concessions” from Washington, International Crisis Group’s Myanmar senior advisor Richard Horsey told AFP.

“More likely it was politely explained that keeping US citizens hostage is a bad idea.”

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military seized power in February, ousting Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected civilian government.

More than 10,000 people have been arrested by security forces in a crackdown on dissent, according to a local monitoring group.

Media outlets have also been under pressure as the junta tries to tighten control over the flow of information, throttling internet access and revoking the licences of local outlets.

More than 100 journalists have been arrested since the putsch, according to Reporting ASEAN, a monitoring group. It says at least 30 are still in detention.

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