NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are coming home. Photo courtesy of NASA

On May 30, the world watched a historic — and uplifting — moment in space travel, as NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley blasted off from Earth in a commercial craft created by Elon Musk's SpaceX. The NASA/SpaceX Dragon Endeavour flight was the first launch with astronauts of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of the agency's Commercial Crew Program.

The SpaceX Demo-2 launch was a success: the duo orbited Earth and eventually boarded the International Space Station; Behnken and Hurley have been stationed there since.''

Now, space fans can watch the return of the NASA/SpaceX Demo-2 test flight, which is scheduled for 1:42 pm CST on Sunday, August 2. The splashdown represents the first return of a commercially built and operated American spacecraft carrying astronauts from the space station, according to NASA. The historic return signifies the close of a mission designed to test SpaceX's human spaceflight system, including launch, docking, splashdown, and recovery operations.

The ever-popular Space Center Houston (the official visitor center of NASA's Johnson Space Center) will stream the live splashdown in a socially distanced event. Visitors can engage in interactive, pop-up science labs to learn about the splashdown process, the specially crafted spacesuits, and more.

To make it a full day of exploration, guests can walk underneath a flown SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which is the only Falcon 9 on public display outside of SpaceX's headquarters, and is the same type of rocket used in the Demo-2 mission.

Guests can also take a tour of the Independence Plaza exhibit and walk inside a shuttle replica mounted on top of the historic shuttle carrier aircraft NASA 905. Myriad other experiences await; safety protocols will be in place.

Meanwhile, NASA will broadcast the splashdown coverage on NASA TV and the agency's website beginning early morning on August. 1, with coverage lasting through splashdown on August 2.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston-area NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will make a historic flight. Photo courtesy of NASA

Here's how to watch the historic NASA/SpaceX mission launch in Houston

Ready for takeoff

Update: The launch was scrubbed a few minutes before launch due to undesirable weather conditions. The new launch date is Saturday, May 30, at around 2:30 CST. The original story is below.

Two Houston-area NASA astronauts are set to make history. Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will blast off on Elon Musk's SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft, a Falcon 9 rocket, at 3:33 pm (CST) Wednesday, May 27, from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The flight is currently scheduled as a 60-percent "go" for launch as of May 27, with only inclement weather or a technical issue holding up the takeoff. Due to COVID-19 and subsequent social distancing issue, the launch will see only a small crowd at the Cape Canaveral takeoff.

The mission will carry the duo to the International Space Station and is considered a new era of human spaceflight, as American astronauts will once again launch on an American rocket from American soil to low-Earth orbit for the first time since the conclusion of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011, according to NASA.

NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 mission is the first launch with astronauts of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of the agency's Commercial Crew Program. It's the final flight test for SpaceX; the mission will validate the company's crew transportation system, including the launch pad, rocket, spacecraft, and operational capabilities.

This also will be the first time NASA astronauts will test the spacecraft systems in orbit — Behnken and Hurley will don new, specially designed spacesuits and use touchscreen computers systems. The pairing of NASA — a governmental agency — and SpaceX, a commercial space flight operation, means NASA could save tens of millions in flight costs and instead focus on its Artemis mission to the moon, for example.

"The ultimate goal for us as astronauts and test pilots is just to go up there and prove out the mission and to bring the vehicle home safely," Hurley told CultureMap news partner, ABC13.

Proud Houstonians can watch NASA's coverage, which began at 11:15 am Wednesday, May 27, and will run through the Crew Dragon's docking at the International Space Station on Thursday, May 28. Expect a hatch opening and welcoming ceremony.

As part of the pre-launch ceremonies, at 12:07 pm, Burleson, Texas native Kelly Clarkson sang the National Anthem.

A special called Space Launch Live: America Returns to Space airs at 1 pm on the Discovery and Science Channel and will feature special celebrity guests including singer Katy Perry, Adam Savage, former NASA engineer and YouTube star Mark Robert, and astronaut Chris Cassidy from the International Space Station.

Meanwhile, launch and prelaunch activities on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and even Linkedin. For those watching at home and looking for a festive theme, Space Center Houston created an at-home viewing guide, including a playlist, outfits, and space food.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston-area researchers are innovating health and wellness solutions every day — even focusing on non-pandemic-related issues. Getty Images

These 3 Houston research projects are revolutionizing health science

Research roundup

Researchers across the world are coming up with innovative breakthroughs regarding the coronavirus, but Houston research institutions are also making health and wellness discoveries outside of COVID-19.

Here are three from Houston researchers from a muscular atrophy study from outer space to a research project that might allow blind patients to "see."

Houston Methodist's research on muscular atrophy in astronauts

Scientists are studying the effect of certain drugs to help preserve muscles in astronauts. Photo courtesy of Houston Methodist/Facebook

Houston Methodist researcher Alessandro Grattoni and his team published research on muscular atrophy in astronauts. The research was published in Advanced Therapeutics and focused on his 2017 RR-6 muscle atrophy study that was conducted on the International Space Station.

While the current standard practice for astronauts maintaining their muscles is working out over two hours a day, the research found that use of drugs could also help preserve muscles. On a SpaceX refuel mission, mice that were implanted with a "Nanofluidic Delivery System" were sent up to space and monitored, according to a report. The device gradually released small doses of formoterol, an FDA approved drug for use in bronchodilation that has also been shown to stimulate increased muscle mass.

University of Houston researcher tracking fear response to improve mental health treatment

The research could help advance wearable devices. Photo via uh.edu

University of Houston researchers are looking into the way the body responds to fear in order to enhance mental health treatment. Rose Faghih, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, and doctoral student Dilranjan Wickramasuriya in the Computational Medicine Lab (CML) are leading the project.

"We developed a mixed filter algorithm to continuously track a person's level of sympathetic nervous system activation using skin conductance and heart rate measurements," writes Faghih in the journal PLOS One. "This level of sympathetic activation is closely tied to what is known as emotional arousal or sympathetic arousal."

When this sympathetic nervous system is activated — sometimes known as the "fight or flight" response — the heart beats faster and more oxygen is delivered to the muscles, according to a press release. Then, the body begins to sweat in order to cool down.

"Using measurements of the variations in the conductivity of the skin and the rate at which the heart beats, and by developing mathematical models that govern these relationships, CML researchers have illustrated that the sympathetic nervous system's activation level can be tracked continuously," reports Faghih.

This algorithm could be used in a wearable electronic device that could be worn by a patient diagnosed with a fear or anxiety disorder.

Baylor College of Medicine's vision-restoring research

What if a device could see for you? Photo from Pexels

When someone loses their vision, it's likely due to damage to the eyes or optic nerve. However, the brain that interprets what they eyes sees, works perfectly fine. But researchers from Baylor College of Medicine have worked on a thesis that a device with a camera could be designed and implemented to do the seeing for the blind patient.

"When we used electrical stimulation to dynamically trace letters directly on patients' brains, they were able to 'see' the intended letter shapes and could correctly identify different letters," says Dr. Daniel Yoshor, professor and chair of neurosurgery in a press release. "They described seeing glowing spots or lines forming the letters, like skywriting."

Through a study supported by the National Eye Institute with both sighted and blind people using implanted devices, the investigators determined that the process was promising. According to the release, the researchers identified several obstacles must be overcome before this technology could be implemented in clinical practice.

"The primary visual cortex, where the electrodes were implanted, contains half a billion neurons. In this study we stimulated only a small fraction of these neurons with a handful of electrodes," says said Dr. Michael Beauchamp, professor and in neurosurgery, in the release.

"An important next step will be to work with neuroengineers to develop electrode arrays with thousands of electrodes, allowing us to stimulate more precisely. Together with new hardware, improved stimulation algorithms will help realize the dream of delivering useful visual information to blind people."

On Twitter, Elon Musk voiced his frustrations with California leadership. Meanwhile in Texas, local leaders said come on over. Photo via Tesla.com

Could Tesla come to Texas? Houston-area leaders extend an invite

had it with cali

Tech mogul Elon Musk has had it with local California leadership regarding their COVID-19 restrictions and their effect on operations at Tesla's facilities.

Musk took to Twitter to express himself, and floated the idea of moving to Texas or Nevada. On Saturday, May 9, Musk, who founded Tesla as well as SpaceX, threatened to pull the company's factory and headquarters out of California in an escalating spat with local officials who have stopped the company from reopening its electric vehicle factory.

An order in the six-county San Francisco Bay Area forced Tesla to close a plant starting March 23 to help prevent the virus' spread. Musk took umbrage with the order being extended until the end of May.

"Frankly, this is the final straw," Musk tweeted. "Tesla will now move its HQ and future programs to Texas/Nevada immediately."

Thus, much like Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner invited Amazon to open new digs in the Houston area, Fort Bend County Judge KP George seized on the opportunity and urged Tesla to make its way to Texas, CultureMap news partner ABC13 reports.

George penned a letter to Musk and posted it to Twitter, noting that Fort Bend County is the best location for Musk to bring his offices. The letter highlights several reasons George believes Fort Bend would be the most suitable location for his offices, as well as the number of jobs it would bring to residents in the community. It describes Fort Bend as "a unique place."

"I understand you have become frustrated with the climate in your current location as we all fight this collective invisible enemy," wrote George. "However, I think your company would greatly benefit from learning about Fort Bend County as your search for a suitable location continues."

Not to be outdone, Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña also chimed in on Twitter, welcoming Tesla to the Houston area.

No word on a Musk response to the two local officials.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The new exhibit is the first of its kind and will be open later this summer. Courtesy of Space Center Houston

New SpaceX exhibit expected to land at Space Center Houston this summer

Mission control

Space Center Houston has a new exhibit launching this summer. The nonprofit will have a Falcon 9 first stage booster on display starting later this summer.

The booster was used in two missions, which marked the first time a refurbished booster was used on a NASA mission. It first launched in June 2017 with a commercial resupply mission (CRS-11) and returned successfully to Earth. Then, the booster was flown a second time in December 2017 (CRS-13).

"We're excited to welcome Falcon 9 to our growing center," says William T. Harris, president and CEO of Space Center Houston, in a release. "It's part of an historic achievement designing a reusable rocket to further space exploration and America's commercial space industry. The new exhibit is one way we're interpreting the future of human spaceflight. We are deeply grateful to SpaceX for their contribution."

The booster, B1035, is one of only two of its kind on display, and the exhibit is the first commercial space exhibit for the museum. The booster will be displayed near Independence Plaza and will be presented on its side and raised 14 feet so that visitors can walk underneath it and learn about reusable technology in space and how it's making space travel more accessible.

NASA's Space Shuttle Program was the first to bring reusable spacecraft into existence, which lead to more accessibility and the creation of important advances in space technology, such as the International Space Station. SpaceX is continuing this technology within the commercial realm of space travel.

The exhibit was announced at Space Center Houston's Galaxy Gala presented by Chevron on Thursday, May 9. The event was led by co-chairs Peggy Kostial with Shanell and Walker Moody. Guests at the event enjoyed special presentations and sneak peeks, while raising nearly $700,000 for the Manned Space Flight Education Foundation. The proceeds will support the nonprofit's extensive education programs that benefits serving youth and educators from around the world.

"We strive to inspire youth to be part of the NASA mission," says Harris in the release. "From launching a rocket to designing a future spacecraft, we want everyone to have exceptional learning opportunities and to think outside the box like a scientist, engineer or astronaut. Thank you to our generous sponsors and donors whose contributions help us provide authentic learning experiences to people of all ages."

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The HTX TechList has launched — here's why you should get involved

Logging on

Houston Exponential has hit launch on the HTX TechList, and now startups, investors, entrepreneurial hubs, and corporations can officially opt into the data-focused and networking-enabled platform.

The HTX TechList went live yesterday, August 13, at a virtual event hosted by HX. (Note: InnovationMap was the media partner for the event.) The platform acts as a one-stop shop for Houston's innovation ecosystem. Mayor Sylvester Turner joined the stream to explain the role the platform will play in connecting the various players within the industry.

"The HTX TechList is our city's leading resource for in-depth information about Houston startups, investors, hubs, and corporations," Mayor Turner said at the event. "Within the Houston region, the HTX TechList will build the connections and density that were never before possible in such a huge spread-out city."

Another benefit to the new platform, as HX Chief of Staff Serafina Lalany says, is the data it is going to be able to provide about the ecosystem.

"We needed a centralized datasource classifying startups, investors, startup development organizations, and corporate innovators," she says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "There was not any good resource on the internet that was verified, centralized, and adhered to a data standard."

The platform, which has derived from an initiative from Startup Nation Central in Israel, has already proven its usefulness abroad and has over 70,000 monthly users. In a panel at the event, Eran Levy of Enel Innovation Hub Israel described how the tool has benefitted him and his work in scouting startups.

"The ability to have a tool to map, in our case, 8,000 startups, when we look for specific categories or a specific tech area, it helps us a lot," he says. "It saves a lot of time and effort, and, more importantly, it makes it much more effective because I reach out to the right startups."

On the panel, Barbara Burger, president of Chevron Technology Ventures and chair of Houston Exponential, echoed the opportunity for connectivity the platform will enable — but in a specific way for her organization as an investor.

"I view the TechList as the tool that's going to enable a couple of things. One is the scouts to access even more opportunities, but I think the other piece is also for co-investors in startups to be able to find us," she says, adding that while CTV has been around for a couple decades, visibility is always something they'd like to improve on.

Now that the platform is launched, anyone can join to make a profile on the site. Startups, investors, hubs, and corporations can also launch profiles that will be vetted by HX's data team.

Nonprofit pivots to telemedical treatments and therapies amid pandemic

telehealth

Naomi West has been homebound since COVID-19 became a threat in February. Sitting in front of her computer screen, much of her time is spent pursuing her graduate degree in physics from Rice University and teaching courses through Zoom. Most of her virtual meetings are the same except for one recurring appointment. Every 90 days, West logs on her computer to sit with a Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast (PPGC) nurse practitioner and check-in on her gender-affirming hormone therapy.

West, a Houston transwoman, made her first appointment to receive hormone therapy in October, prior to the pandemic. As she embarked on her transition, she saw an immediate change within herself.

"There was absolutely no going back...it was a night and day difference within 24 hours," she explains.

West has been receiving treatment for ten months at Planned Parenthood. After being hospitalized for depression and drowning in hundred-hour work weeks, West was feeling hopeless. Inspired by her best friend's journey with hormone therapy at Planned Parenthood, West felt motivated to change her life.

"The difference [tran scare] makes is immeasurable to say the least," she says, "I couldn't imagine having it any other way. I couldn't imagine being without it."

Trans care is offered at two Houston-area Planned Parenthood locations—Prevention Park and Northville. Since the coronavirus, Planned Parenthood's services have gone virtual, allowing Texans outside of Houston to experience the service.

"COVID-19 has really changed the way we approach patient care," says Dr. Bhavik Kumar, medical director of Primary and Trans Care at PPGC.

The centers first rolled out virtual appointments on April 1, allowing them to safely serve 5,539 patients in four months.

"We've moved a lot of our care towards telehealth, which has allowed people to access care in a way that is safer for them and also protects our frontline workers," explains Dr. Kumar.

The healthcare provider has six centers in the Houston area, as well as two in Louisiana, that are providing virtual appointments with experts as well as access to curbside birth control. Trans care first became available at Planned Parenthood in 2019, and includes gender-affirming hormone therapy for patients over 18.

"We went into providing trans care knowing that a lot of folks have bad experiences accessing healthcare and perhaps bad experiences with providers," says Dr. Kumar. "There's a lot of fear and anxiety in accessing care for trans communities, whether it's being misgendered, having their dead name used, or having a number of different things that can lead to traumatic experiences," he explains.

To a transgender person, access to health isn't just a hot button political issue but a lifeline. Like West, many transgender Americans struggle with depression and feelings of hopelessness.

In a 2019 survey from The Trevor Project, 29 percent of trans and non-binary youth reported that they'd attempted suicide while 54 percent considered it. The striking statistics are a glimpse into the struggles trans and nonbinary people face daily as they experience discrimination, violence, and cohersion due to their gender identity.

West, like many in the trans community, shared the same fears prior to her first appointment.

"I've always come down with what I say is white coat syndrome, but within 10 minutes I realized it was all completely unfounded," she explains.

PPGC follows an informed consent treatment model, meaning patients are not required to receive an approval letter from a therapist to begin treatment. After speaking with a patient to explain the risks and benefits of hormone therapy, patients can make the decision to move forward.

"It was just a conversation," explained West, "I felt no judgement. It was just support for my decision to begin hormone therapy and suggestions for how to go about it, when to go about it—they were nothing if not accommodating.

Telehealth lends itself as a suitable substitution for in person care, according to West. Many of the appointments are spent discussing her psychological state and feelings regarding the treatment, and she goes for a blood test every 90 days. West, who has been very careful to prevent exposure to COVID-19, has felt at ease meeting virtually with her nurse practitioner.

Thanks to the ability telehealth has to connect us with people regardless of distance, transgender Texans have access to care at any distance. One of the core benefits of trans telehealth is that "folks who are further away from our health centers, perhaps in rural communities, don't have to make the several hour drive to the health center and then back," says Dr. Kumar.

The convenience has allowed PPGC to accommodate 240 gender-affirming hormone therapy appointments and serve 176 transgender patients.

More than cut travel time, the emergence of telemedicine also welcomes comfort. "They get to be in the safety and the comfort of their home or wherever they do feel safe," explains Dr. Kumar, "They can have other folks around them if they want, whether it's family or friends."

"We are constantly analyzing the way we provide care, but even more so in a different way during the pandemic," shares Dr. Kumar. Telehealth services include birth control consultation, emergency contraception, long-acting birth control implant consultations, PrEP follow-ups, primary care, STI treatment, and other healful visits to address problems like pelvic pain or bleeding.

Of the many services that are now remote, Depo birth control shots and oral contraceptives, are available curbside.

"Patients don't have to get out of the car; they don't have to worry about touching the door handle or anything else they have anxiety around," explains Dr. Kumar, "They're able to access the care they need without having to deal with potential exposure."

Will telehealth at PPGC become a permanent staple? Only time will tell, but Dr. Kumar has found that patients have found the service to be helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We always strive to provide as many options for our patients so that they can get the healthcare that's best for them," shares Dr. Kumar.