In this video, Chris Hadfield, the commander on the International Space Station, takes a few moments to reflect on his time orbiting the Earth via a re-working of singer David Bowie's 1969 classic song "Space Oddity". There's been a lot of space imagery set to music over the decades but I imagine this must be the first music video actually recorded in space by an astronaut. Commander Hadfield, by the way, is the same guy who gave us some pointers on how everyday activities are done in a zero gravity environment in an earlier Buzz post.
The SpaceX rocket lifted off today from a launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida, becoming the first commercial flight to the International Space Station and marking the beginning of a new era of space exploration. Read about it here.
Was it way too hot for you to get out yesterday for the holiday? Then take this cool spin around our planet with this time-lapse video composed of images from NASA's Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center.
Time-lapse taken by astronaut Don Pettit from the airlock of the Russian segment aboard the ISS. Here's a related article on the Smithsonian's Air & Space magazine website. That's amoré!
Courtesy FlyingSingerThe Flight of Dragons? Anyone? Anyone? 1982 Rankin/Bass? I don't know. I thought it was pretty dope when I was 5, but I felt that way about a lot of stuff.
Whoops! Got sidetracked there! What I meant to say is that the private spaceflight company, SpaceX, will be launching their Dragon capsule tomorrow, to rendezvous with the International Space Station. Assuming all goes well. (And let's be a glass-half-full crowd and just assume that, eh?)
The unmanned Dragon capsule will be hurled into the heavens on SpaceX's 2 stage Falcon 9 rocket. When it gets to the Space Station, it will do a practice docking run. (This whole thing is kind of a trial run, although Dragon will have some cargo for the astronauts aboard. Just for fun, I guess.)
You'll know if everything went off without a hitch, because your life will be changed forever, or something.
The Flight of Dragons!
Courtesy NASAI am adding a’s to the end of words to make them sound a little like “NASA.” Try it. It’s funa.
Anywaya, I thought I’d run a little idea I had by y’all.
I got trash. Who doesn’t? You use stuff, you make trash, and it just piles up. Under your couch, in the freezer, on top of the cat … what are you supposed to do with it? Put it on the curb? I guess, but what’s exciting and easy about that? So, my idea—which I got from the world’s various space agencies—is to take my trasha up to the roofa of my apartment building (three stories!!) and just drop it. If I’m at all accurate in my understanding of acceleration and atmospheric friction, all those Sears catalogues, plastic cups, and mouse skeletons should burn up before they hit the ground.
I mean, it’s what NASA, the European Space Agency and all of their ilk do, and it seems to work for them. Take the ESA’s recently launched ATV-3 (Automated Transfer Vehicle-3). The large, unmanned space capsule will deliver about 7 tons of cargo to the International Space Station (a few hundred pounds of food, water and oxygen, and about 6.5 tons of candy), stay docked for 4 to 6 month while the astronauts use it like a missing roommate’s walk-in closet, and then, once it’s completely full of trash, it will detach, fall towards Earth, and incinerate in the atmosphere. Easy peasy. Easya peasya.
Despite it being what I think is an elegant solutiona to waste accumulationa, there are plenty of folks out there, who may or may not be smarter than hundreds of NASA systems engineers, that believe this proves that astronauts are the worst recyclers ever. To this, I have three things to say:
1) You’re no fun.
2) Think about the fuel it takes to get those tons of junk into space. You’re worried about the waste that happens after that?
3) Wrong! In a lot of respects, astronauts on the ISS are the best recyclers in the histories of re and cycling.
See, here’s the thing about #3: astronauts may dump their candy wrappers, dead pets, banana peels and old undies (JK, they wear those undies for months) into a fiery and unforgiving atmosphere, but there’s a lot of stuff that they re-use again and again that you’d never even think of. Air, for one. And water.
When you’re breathing, farting, sweating and peeing for months on end in an airtight box floating in space, and a fresh glass of water costs between $10,000 and $15,000 for delivery, you have to be clever.
And the engineers of the ISS are clever! Consider the Environmental Control and Life Support System. Astronauts, like most of us, breath out poisonous carbon dioxide, fart out poisonous methane and sweat out poisonous ammonia. ECLSS filters out all of that to produce fresh air again. The system also splits water molecules apart to create breathable oxygen, and reclaims moisture from urine and other waist to produce more water for drinking (or ultimately breathing). I don’t know about you, but I rarely save my farts, sweat, breath and urine, much less reuse them.
All things considered, I think the ISS has a pretty sweet setup figured out. A two hundred and fifty mile trash drop-n-burn (awesome), and a system that can recycle pretty much anything that comes out of your body (also awesome). The rest of us should be so luckya.
Courtesy NASANot a real dragon, of course. I mean, that would be awesome—just picture it, trying to fly around up there, starting things on fire and eating up all the astronaut food—but actual non-alien monsters in space never work out the way you would hope.
Don’t believe me? I present to you exhibits A and B: Jason X and Leprechaun 4: Leprechaun in Space. Jason and Leprechaun were really out of place up there. Sure, they did a lot of damage, but so did I on Labor Day weekend. It’s just a lot of confusion and flailing—nothing to get very excited about.
No, the dragon I’m referring to perhaps is something to get excited about. It depends on what sort of things get you worked up, but seeing as how this dragon, or Dragon, is a spaceship, I think I can put some good money on somebody out there getting excited. A spaceship!
We clever humans have made plenty of spaceships, but what’s special about Dragon is that it’s the first commercially-built and –operated spacecraft to be recovered from orbit. About a year ago, the private company SpaceX launched the Dragon craft into orbit around the planet, and safely brought it back down a few hours later. Dragon was unmanned on that launch, but the vessel is constructed so that it could carry up to seven human passengers into orbit (its pressurized cabin space—where humans would have to be—is about 350 cubic feet, and it has an additional 490 cubic feet of unpressurized cargo space.)
Given the success of the test launch, Dragon is on its way to another first: docking with the International Space Station. Never before has a commercial spacecraft rendezvoused with the ISS. This is like … like a billionaire’s son going on a date with the president’s daughter. (Not the current president’s daughters, though. They’re too young to be dating.)
Before this billionaire gets to take out the First Daughter, however, it has to complete safety checks and a flyby of the ISS (like making sure the kid is dressed appropriately, doesn’t smell of cognac, and doesn’t crash into the Whitehouse’s garage door). Assuming everything checks out ok, the ISS will use its huge robotic arm to grapple the Dragon, and connect it to one of its modules, where the dragon can unload its cargo. Sort of like the president’s daughter using her giant, cybernetic arm to … actually, let’s abandon this analogy. The point is that for the first time a ship that doesn’t belong to the US or Russian government (or any government) will hook up with the ISS, ushering in a new era of Earth to orbit transportation, etc.
As I understand it, the plan was originally to do three launches—the initial one, where Dragon was shot into orbit, and then recovered; a second one that would include a flyby of the ISS and a test of Dragon’s onboard systems, and then finally the launch that would have it connect with the ISS. However, it looks like NASA and SpaceX have decided to combine the second and third missions. Dragon will be launched on February 7, 2012, and if the flyby and system tests go well, it will dock with the ISS on the same trip. It will not be carrying any passengers on that launch, but—assuming everything goes well—that’s in the plans for future flights. And there will be future flights. In fact, NASA has a $1.6 billion contract with SpaceX, requiring SpaceX to provide them with at least 12 resupply flights to the ISS.
Any thoughts, Buzzketeers? What about commercial spaceflight? What about commercial spaceflight replacing government-run spaceflight? And how do you feel about dragons?
Courtesy NASAHistory has shown us time and time again that careless exploration of backronyms can be a dangerous mistake. Think of Sir Isaac Newton, who had a mild stroke while constructing his theory of Green Round Apples Veer Inward To Dang. Or consider the vicious beating Roald Dahl received after founding his youth literacy and mentoring program, Real Everyday Adults Delivering Intelligence Not Gum. Constructing an acronym to fit an already decided upon word or phrase is a process fraught with the threat of physical harm (or, at the very least, mild embarrassment).
Thank goodness for the ironically straightforwardly acronymed NASA and MIT, who are braving the field of wild, retroactively applied acronyms so the rest of us don’t have to.
NASA’s and MIT’s current research in the field centers on its SPHERES project. SPHERES stands for “Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites.” Or perhaps it’s the other way around. For the time being, NASA is attempting to sneak up on the principles of causation by pretending that it was a coincidence.
In addition to stressing linguistic credibility to the extent that its breaking point may become clear, the SPHERES project has a physical component with secondary objectives. SPHERES is actually composed of three separate robots, each about the size and shape of a bowling ball (get it?! “SPHERES”?!) The robots will be taken to the International Space Station, where they’ll just kind of float around together.
Or, I guess, they won’t just be floating around. I mean, if you’re in space and not tied down, you’ll float around. But if you, like the SPHERES robots, have your own onboard power supply (AA batteries), navigation and propulsion system (CO2 jets), and computer system, you can do a lot more than just float. The SPHERES robots will practice flying around the ISS in tightly controlled formation with each other.
I suppose it doesn’t sound all that tricky—after all, dumb ol’ birds can fly in formation, and they’re dumb. But, then again, birds have evolved for millions of years to do that sort of thing, and being in space—where there really isn’t a true “up” or “down”—presents its own challenges. These simple little robots have to coordinate with each other and their surroundings perfectly to stay in formation. And once they (that is, the people that make and program the robots) get the hang of that, there are some pretty slick applications for objects in space that can automatically stay in perfect formation.
For one, it should make the processes of servicing, re-supplying, reconfiguring, and upgrading the ISS and other space systems easier, because these things all involve two or more extremely expensive floating objects that need to be oriented just right to get a job done and avoid smashing each other up while doing it.
Also, it turns out that a formation of itty-bitty satellites (sort of like the SPHERES spheres) can do some of the work of a much bigger, more expensive satellite. For example, instead of using a satellite telescope that relies on one huge mirror, a formation of lots of small satellites could gather bits of light that could be put together into an image. That way, if one small satellite was damaged, it wouldn’t wreck the whole project. Also, the formation of satellites could potentially be larger than a single mirror (or mirror array on one satellite).
And then there’s also the notion that each astronaut could have his or her own fleet of tiny floating robots. They could be used to feed and clean the astronauts, and, of course, fight for their amusement.*
Here’s a video of the a recent (recent-ish—it’s from 2009) test run of the spheres. Watch as they do what they do best:
And here’s MIT’s SPHERES website, where they delve more into the motivations of the SPHERES project (but not so much into the acronym issue.)
For more pictures of the spheres floating in the ISS, scroll to the bottom of this page.
*This paragraph contains no NASA endorsed ideas. It just seems to me like the obvious thing to do.
After many setbacks due to weather, the Space Ship Atlantis launched Friday morning. It will be the closing flight in the space shuttle program. It was a difficult moment for many connected with the program. The end of the program will open the door for a new chapter in NASA's investigation of space. Resource for this article - Space Shuttle Atlantis lifts off on its final mission by Newsytype.com.
Successful launch bucks odds
The Atlantis left Friday morning at 10:29 EDT from Cape Canaveral, Fla., after delaying it for many days due to bad climate. The shuttle beat the odds as there was only a 30 percent chance it would occur today. The delay was very slight. The retractable arm on the launch pad had a problem causing a two minute delay to take place. It was not a terrible problem. It brought on no danger.
"This is the start of a sentimental journey into history," a NASA commentator said. "Atlantis is flexing its muscles one final time."
STS-135, the mission, is going to be the last of the 30 year program making it the 33rd trip. The International Space Station is to be restocked with all the equipment and supplies it needs with the 13-day mission. Russian space crafts will be used to get to the space station in the future. Experts predict that commercial ventures will handle the duty in a decade or so.
Humans and programs in space roles
The equipment being taken to space should be able to tell how programs and humans interact in space through experiments. Robots will become more and more essential the further they are in space, NASA believes. One piece of equipment is meant to see if satellites can be refueled by robots in outer space. This piece of equipment is the size of a washing machine.
"What have we learned in robotics in 30 years? This is it. It's all led up to this," said Brian Roberts, a robotics expert at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "We've practiced on the ground, but we need to see how this would work floating around in space. ... We'll learn a lot of what works well and what doesn't work. We're trying to show the capabilities of robots and their abilities to do these tasks."
Try that app out
With Mission STS-135, there will be new technology. An iPhone is going to be brought to the space station. It's going to be used to track experiment outcomes with an app. The app could help with space navigation also.
Other crafts to launch
"This is not the end of human spaceflight," said NASA's Chief Technologist Bobby Braun via Twitter. "It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
There will be a plan for the Dawn spacecraft later this month. The asteroid Vesta will be orbited. Next month, another craft named Juno will lift off. It is going to Jupiter to study how forces work on larger planets in our system. In order to try and choose the size and composition of the core of the moon, the Gravity Recovery and Interior laboratory (GRAIL) mission will launch in Sept.