May 23, 2017

Review: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield

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By now, you’ve seen the video.

Last year, astronaut Chris Hadfield’s cover of David Bowie’s Space Oddity went viral on YouTube. This capped a hugely successful stint for Hadfield aboard the International Space Station for the Canadian Space Agency astronaut, and a great ad hoc publicity campaign via social media. [Read more...]

17.02.11: A Busy Season at ISS Central.

The ISS cupola: the ultimate man-cave? (Credit: NASA/ISS/Expedition 26).

As construction work at NASA’s International Space Station winds up, some real science projects are starting to bear fruit. Yesterday, cosmonauts Dmitry Kondratyev & Oleg Skripochka completed a under 5 hour spacewalk to deploy two key instruments: Radiometria and Molniya-Gamma. [Read more...]

AstroEvent: ISS All Nite!

 

The ISS as seen from STS-130. (Image Credit: NASA).

The ISS as seen from STS-130. (Image Credit: NASA).

(Editor’s Note: Due to timeliness concerns for events mentioned, we nudged next week’s astro-event up to today!)

   After a long drought, the International Space Station (ISS) returns to the nighttime skies this week. And what a return it is; starting tonight on June 23rd, the ISS enters a phase in which it is illuminated by the Sun throughout the span of its orbit. This unique event continues for four days, and sighting opportunities abound. This is only possible within a few weeks surrounding the solstice season, and does not happen again this year. Generally, the farther north or south in latitude you are, the greater the sighting opportunities; areas such as northern Maine, for example, will see the ISS on every 90 minute pass throughout the night! This also produces a dilemma for residents of the ISS, as overheating is a major concern. To offset or minimize this effect, portions of the ISS can be angled to alternately “shade” sections and automated cooling and radiating devices are installed throughout. Now is a good time to spy this celestial outpost of humanity, as its brightness rivals Venus. Spaceweather.com, Orbitron and the NASA ISS website all provide sighting guides; you can even follow @twisst on twitter for sighting ops or our humble feed @Astroguyz if you live in the US Southeast. Our favorite pick for ISS tracking is Heavens-Above, a tried and time honored favorite… let us know of your ISS sighting success stories!

The Astroword for this week is Inclination. This is one of the essential perimeters that defines an orbit of a celestial body; usually an established and agreed upon 0° degree point is set based on the primary bodies’ rotation (as is the case for objects orbiting the Earth) or orbital plane (for objects orbiting the Sun). That is, the Earth’s orbit as traced out by the ecliptic establishes zero point inclination throughout our solar system. The fact that the illumination angle of the ISS changes is a direct result of its 51.6° degree inclined orbit with respect to the Earth’s rotational equator. This relatively high inclination was chosen to be easily achievable between U.S. and Russian launch sites. In order for the shuttle or any spacecraft to reach the ISS, it must match the same magical orbital inclination of 51.6° degrees.

29.01.10: A Failed Vision: Where does the U.S. Space Program go from here?

The launch of Ares X-1 last year; a one shot rocket? (Credit: NASA/Sandra Joseph/Kevin O'Connell).

The launch of Ares X-1 last year; a one shot rocket? (Credit: NASA/Sandra Joseph/Kevin O'Connell).

By now, everyone in the astro-blogosphere has heard the bad news concerning the Constellation program. No Ares. No Mars. No permanent presence on the Moon. This week’s announcement of Congress failing to provide funding for the future manned space program comes as a tremendous blow to all who work in and follow the space industry. All we’re left with is the vague promise of the development of a heavy lift rocket to get us out of low-Earth orbit, a promise that might be over a decade from lift-off… at this point, it seems as if we may be headed towards another lean decade, much like what struck the space program in the 70’s after Apollo.

But is there hope? Certainly, the dual forces of crisis and opportunity may well come into play here. While the shuttle program is coming to an end, the extension of the International Space Station out to 2020 assures us that our manned presence in space will indeed continue. Scientists and astronomers may quietly breathe a sigh of relief, as the axe didn’t fall on their pet space probe, and funds for small shoe-string unmanned projects won’t be sacrificed to the dollar-guzzling manned space program.  Perhaps, as some might argue, the “Apollo on steroids” approach lacked the vision to truly grab the public’s imagination and was doomed from the start. But all would ultimately acknowledge that we truly need both, a robust manned program and a diverse unmanned space exploration program. It’s true; we are in financially troubling times. Unfortunately, space exploration tends to wind up on the short list of many inside the beltway as they search for perceived pork barrel projects to cut. But history has shown that nations that cease exploration and curiosity tend to end up as historical has-beens’ as they become introspective and withdrawn. Perhaps the sight of Chinese or Indian astronauts setting up shop alongside our hallowed Apollo sites will be enough to inspire a new space race… but will it be too late? “How could this have happened?” the credulous public will then say… how did we end up so far behind?

We here at Astroguyz believe now is the time for vision and action in space. What’s needed are some truly innovative plans for exploration; how about a manned mission to an NEO such as Apophis in 2029? Or funding the shelved Terrestrial Planet Finder?  Or further exploratory landers for Europa or Titan? A heavy lift platform also gets astronomers wheels spinning as to the payloads it could launch. Now might be the time to dust off some of those innovative alternate plans that engineers were said to have been moonlighting over years back. But one thing is certain; any new drive into space must be accompanied with a twin drive in science education as seen in the 60’s to be truly effective. This week’s news may have been a major setback, but there are lots of intriguing options out there; let’s get out of low-Earth orbit and back into deep space exploration, this time, for good!

12.10.09: NASA Battles Bacteria in Space.

Virulent & deadly; the Salmonella Bacterium. (Credit: BBC/UK).

Virulent & deadly; the Salmonella Bacterium. (Credit: BBC/UK).

Astronauts have been growing Salmonella bacterium in orbit, and the results have been astounding. Missions STS-115 and 123 to the International Space Station performed the experiments, showing that the bacterium were up to 7 times more virulent when grown in zero-g than on Earth. The likely culprit; fluid shear, which mimics the environment found in the human gut. But there is more weirdness; add potassium or chlorine ions, and the virulence levels off! Such is the wackiness of cells… Why study microscopic bugs in space? Well, these experiments enable researchers to map the genome of these bacterium by following their explosive growth and also to identify “master switches” such as the protein Hfq that controls certain genes… this in turn will lead to designer drugs in the quest to stay ahead of evolution in the antibiotics battle.