The second uprated Soyuz MS vehicle is launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome. The crew of Soyuz MS-02 are International Space Station Expedition 49 crew members Sergey Ryzhikov, Andrei Borisenko, and Shane Kimbrough; these three will become the Expedition 50 crew in November, and will return to Earth in February 2017 aboard the same vehicle.
The last living member of the original Mercury astronaut group, former Senator John Glenn, dies at the age of 95. Born in 1921, Glenn was a decorated combat pilot who flew during World War II and the Korean War, before turning his piloting skills to testing experimental aircraft. This brought him to NASA’s attention, and he made the first orbital flight by an American astronaut in 1962. Upon returning from that historic flight, he was removed from NASA’s flight rotation by the request of President Kennedy, who didn’t want to risk the life of a national hero. Glenn then turned to the equally high-stakes world of politics, first running for Congress in 1964, but not winning a Senate seat until 1974. Glenn remained in Congress through 1998, at which point he finally returned to orbit aboard the space shuttle Discovery, the oldest space traveler to have done so.
British-born shuttle astronaut Piers Sellers dies of pancreatic cancer at the age of 61. A veteran of over 559 hours in space as a crew member of shuttle missions STS-112, STS-121 and STS-132, Sellers was trained as a meteorologist and did much of his research on climate change, eventually becoming NASA’s acting director of Earth sciences after retiring from flight duty.
Apollo 17 Commander Eugene Cernan, the last human to leave the surface of the moon in the 20th century, dies at the age of 82. One of the members of NASA’s second astronaut class, recruited in 1963 to take part in the Gemini program, Cernan first flew into space aboard Gemini 9 in 1966, a mission in which he became the second American spacewalker, though his assigned tasks outside the Gemini spacecraft proved to be dangerously exhausting. His second flight, as the lunar module pilot for Apollo 10, saw him flying a lunar lander to within miles of the moon’s surface in May 1969, a dress rehearsal for the upcoming Apollo 11 mission. He commanded the final Apollo moon landing mission, Apollo 17, in December 1972, where he earned the title of “last man on the moon” by being the last astronaut to leave the lunar surface to re-enter the Apollo 17 lander. He later wrote an autobiography about his spaceflight experiences, and was frequently outspoken about his disappointment that no one walked on the moon again in his lifetime.
Though it has yet to actually go to space, the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser spacecraft is floated as a possible savior for the Hubble Space Telescope, with a very preliminary mission proposal for a repair mission to the telescope which has now been operational in orbit for over a quarter of a century. The possible mission is brought forth as an example of increasing high-profile cooperation between NASA and private space companies. The Dream Chaser’s earliest orbit test flights are not expected to take place prior to 2019; if the mission takes place in 2020 at the earliest, Hubble will by then be 30 years old.
Private aerospace company SpaceX announces that a crew of two – not publicly identified by the company – have booked a private circumlunar flight scheduled to take place in 2018 aboard a SpaceX Dragon v2 capsule. The flight will utilize a free-return trajectory to the moon, around its dark side, and back to Earth, without orbiting or landing. At the time of the announcement, Dragon v2 has yet to fly into space, either with or without a crew, and the booster that would be required for this flight, the Falcon Heavy, has yet to be test-flown, either with or without a crew.
Gemini and Apollo astronaut Richard “Dick” Gordon dies at the age of 88. A veteran of the record-setting Gemini 11 mission (during which he undertook a spacewalk at the unprecedented altitude of 850 miles above Earth’s surface) and the Apollo 12 mission (during which he manned the command module Yankee Clipper while crewmates Pete Conrad and Alan Bean walked on the moon), Gordon was a naval aviator who eventually graduated to test pilot duties, eventually specializing in the F4H Phantom II fighter and teaching other pilots how to fly it. After his Apollo flight and retirement from NASA, Gordon kept working in the technology and engineering industries, but also diversified, becoming Executive VP of the New Orleans Saints football team.