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NASA astronaut Robert Curbeam on a spacewalk in 2006. Photo: NASA
For decades, space agencies have relied on astronauts to take precarious and time-consuming spacewalks, but today, space station operators are increasingly turning to robots to perform tasks in orbit.
Why it matters: Using robots instead of astronauts for routine spacewalks would make spaceflight safer and more efficient, experts say, freeing up humans to only take walks in space during an emergency or for delicate experiments in microgravity.
Driving the news: Astronauts on the International Space Station are in the midst of a marathon 10 spacewalks focusing on station upkeep and repairs to a science instrument.
Details: The Dextre robotic tool — which comes equipped with 2 arms and 4 tool holders — on the outside of the ISS was used to loosen bolts before astronauts stepped out on their first walk in the series this month.
What's next: NASA's small Gateway station around the Moon will be designed to minimize the number of spacewalks needed at any given time, making use of advances in robotics.
Yes, but: It's unlikely robots will fully take over all spacewalking operations, and there are other ways to reduce the number of spacewalks needed aboard orbiting outposts.
Go deeper: Alexei Leonov, Soviet cosmonaut and the first person to walk in space, dies at 85 (Washington Post)
Comet 2I/Borisov. Photo: Gemini Observatory/NSF/AURA
The big picture: Comet 2I/Borisov represents just the second known interstellar object to make its way through our solar system, and it's astronomers' best chance so far to study a piece of a distant star system at close range.
What they found: Unlike the strange cigar shape of the first interstellar object — named 'Oumuamua and seen in 2017 — 2I/Borisov has a pronounced dust tail and a reddish color that can be compared to other comets, according to the study.
"This is a quick first look at the object and is showing what everyone has seen who has been observing this," University of Hawaii astronomer Karen Meech, who did not take part in the study, told Axios via email.
What to watch: Astronomers will be keeping a close eye on 2I/Borisov as long as it's visible from Earth.
Artist's illustration of ICON. Image: NASA Goddard's Conceptual Image Lab/B. Monroe
A NASA satellite designed to investigate a critical layer of Earth's atmosphere launched to space last Thursday.
Why it matters: Scientists think the ionosphere can interfere with communications, expose astronauts to high radiation and even drag satellites down through the atmosphere earlier than expected when space weather hits.
Details: 3 of ICON's 4 instruments are designed to study airglow — bands of faint light created when neutral particles in the atmosphere are slammed by radiation from the sun, exciting the particles and causing them to emit light.
The bottom line: Space weather poses a major threat to people living in space and satellites in orbit, so the data ICON gathers about the way the ionosphere behaves is critical to help protect those assets and people in orbit.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
The eerie streaks within a crater on Mars show off the planet's strange, alien geology.
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Editor’s note: The first item has been clarified to show that Axiom Space is focusing on building 1 space station, not several.