Stories tagged Journey to Space


Orion power on: Technicians work inside the Orion crew module to prepare it for its first power on, a major milestone in Orion’s final year of preparations before EFT-1.
Orion power on: Technicians work inside the Orion crew module to prepare it for its first power on, a major milestone in Orion’s final year of preparations before EFT-1.Courtesy Lockheed Martin
From a NASA press release:

NASA's first-ever deep space craft, Orion, has been powered on for the first time, marking a major milestone in the final year of preparations for flight.

Orion's avionics system was installed on the crew module and powered up for a series of systems tests at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida last week. Preliminary data indicate Orion's vehicle management computer, as well as its innovative power and data distribution system -- which use state-of-the-art networking capabilities -- performed as expected.

All of Orion's avionics systems will be put to the test during its first mission, Exploration Flight Test-1(EFT-1), targeted to launch in the fall of 2014.

"Orion will take humans farther than we've ever been before, and in just about a year we're going to send the Orion test vehicle into space," said Dan Dumbacher, NASA's deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development in Washington. "The work we're doing now, the momentum we're building, is going to carry us on our first trip to an asteroid and eventually to Mars. No other vehicle currently being built can do that, but Orion will, and EFT-1 is the first step."

Orion provides the United States an entirely new human space exploration capability -- a flexible system that can to launch crew and cargo missions, extend human presence beyond low-Earth orbit, and enable new missions of exploration throughout our solar system.

EFT-1 is a two-orbit, four-hour mission that will send Orion, uncrewed, more than 3,600 miles above the Earth's surface --15 times farther than the International Space Station. During the test, Orion will return to Earth, enduring temperatures of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit while traveling 20,000 miles per hour, faster than any current spacecraft capable of carrying humans. The data gathered during the flight will inform design decisions, validate existing computer models and guide new approaches to space systems development. The information gathered from this test also will aid in reducing the risks and costs of subsequent Orion flights.

"It’s been an exciting ride so far, but we're really getting to the good part now," said Mark Geyer, Orion program manager. "This is where we start to see the finish line. Our team across the country has been working hard to build the hardware that goes into Orion, and now the vehicle and all our plans are coming to life."

Throughout the past year, custom-designed components have been arriving at Kennedy for installation on the spacecraft -- more than 66,000 parts so far. The crew module portion already has undergone testing to ensure it will withstand the extremes of the space environment. Preparation also continues on the service module and launch abort system that will be integrated next year with the Orion crew module for the flight test.

The completed Orion spacecraft will be installed on a Delta IV heavy rocket for EFT-1. NASA is also developing a new rocket, the Space Launch System, which will power subsequent missions into deep space, beginning with Exploration Mission-1 in 2017.

This could be the coolest moment of your Monday. The video above shows the test firing of the Grasshopper rocket on Oct. 7. The 10-story tall rocket is designed to lift off and return to Earth intact. In this test, the rocket reached a height of 744 meters (about 2,230 feet). It was filmed using a drone-like hexacopter. Here's a link to the youtube site set up by the rocket-testing agency.


Gravity: Do they get the science right in the new action film Gravity?
Gravity: Do they get the science right in the new action film Gravity?Courtesy Wikipedia
Film goers will have the chance to travel through space this weekend with the blockbuster movie "Gravity" hitting the theaters. Its a ficticious story about two American astronauts dealing with disaster during a space shuttle mission.

I've come to expect Hollywood to place loose and easy with actual science when it comes to movies with scientific themes. And then today I stumbled upon this article in Time by Jeffrey Kluger, the co-author, with astronaut Jim Lovell, of Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13, which was the basis of the Apollo 13 movie released in 1995.

He applies his extensive space knowledge to fact check what's depicted in the new George Clooney/Sandra Bullock film. Here's his analytical summary: "So, that’s a lot that Gravity gets wrong. But you know what? So what? The shuttle, space station and spacesuits are painstakingly recreated; the physics of moving about in space—thrusts requiring counterthrusts, spins requiring counterspins, the hideous reality that if you do go spiraling off into the void your rotation never, never stops—are all simulated beautifully, scarily and accurately."

Click on the link above to get detailed analysis of what's scientifically right and wrong with Gravity.

Have you seen the film? What do you think about its accuracy in portraying the science of living and traveling in space?

Signs of Curiosity's work at the Rocknest site: Soil samples taken and analyzed from this site have been found to contain Martian water.
Signs of Curiosity's work at the Rocknest site: Soil samples taken and analyzed from this site have been found to contain Martian water.Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
After last week's disappointing news that no signs of current life have been found living on Mars, NASA scientists have just confirmed some pretty exciting news: the Mars rover, Curiosity, has found water on the Red Planet. Analysis of dirt and fine soil scooped up from the Rocknest site on the surface of Mars has revealed that it contains water. This is big news. Read here what NASA has to say about it.

Earthrise: an actual view of the Earth from the Moon
Earthrise: an actual view of the Earth from the MoonCourtesy NASA
Want to see what the Earth looks like right now if you were standing on the Moon? Or on the Sun? Or riding one of the many satellites circling our planet? You can do that and other nifty things at this cool webpage set up by Fourmilab Switzerland. The site is run by software developer John Walker, who founded the computer-aided design company, Autodesk, Inc. Besides computers, Walker has an obvious love of astronomy, physics, and adventure. The site's homepage has some interesting information and other links worth digging through, including his and his wife's 40th wedding anniversary trip to the South Pole, and their 2010 trip to witness the Aku-Aku total solar eclipse on Easter Island.

Fourmilab Switzerland homepage

Minnesota from space: Astronaut Karen Nyberg has included an image of her Minnesota hometown of Battle Lake to her gallery of photos from space as she works on the International Space Station.
Minnesota from space: Astronaut Karen Nyberg has included an image of her Minnesota hometown of Battle Lake to her gallery of photos from space as she works on the International Space Station.Courtesy Karen Nyberg
It's summer. You're toiling away at work while friends are out traveling, posting images of their fun and exotic discoveries on social media. But they can't beat Minnesota-native astronaut Karen Nyberg. From her perch aboard the International Space Station, she's created an extensive gallery of images from space including this image of Minnesota that includes her hometown of Battle Lake. There are come very artistic displays of global weather activities in these photos.

Bill Nye gives us a quick, and fun, lesson on how we can avoid problem asteroids of the future.

A true space oddity

by Anonymous on May. 13th, 2013

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.


Folding models: Follow the links at the end of the post to make your own!
Folding models: Follow the links at the end of the post to make your own!Courtesy Ellen Lucast
We've all probably folded paper cranes or those little fortune-teller things where you open a flap to learn that you have cooties or are going to marry that smelly kid from your third-grade class. But the science and math of folding has significant engineering implications as well. One notable example is the James Webb Space Telescope, whose mirror and giant sunshield will be folded in order to fit on the rocket that launches it, and will unfold once it's in space. (You can watch the telescope being built here).

As this article from BBC Future discusses, researchers have taken inspiration from leaves and other folding models in order to pack large items into shapes as compact as possible.

You can see more examples of folded sheets at this cryptic site, and print and fold your own, as I did in the photographs at right, from here (click on "Foldable Cylinders" and "Wrapping Fold Pattern"). By the way, I recommend snipping the center out of the circular model like I did, since I found that the tiny folds around it are hard to manage.


I had an interesting discussion related to the many and dramatic ways a person would perish when exposed to the vacuum of space recently. We discussed the many dramatic and horrific things that would happen. Blood boiling, eyes popping out... Turns out to be a lot less dramatic. Here is what NASA has to say about what happens to the body when exposed to the vacuum of space.

If you don't try to hold your breath, exposure to space for half a minute or so is unlikely to produce permanent injury. Holding your breath is likely to damage your lungs, something scuba divers have to watch out for when ascending, and you'll have eardrum trouble if your Eustachian tubes are badly plugged up, but theory predicts -- and experiments confirm -- that otherwise, exposure to vacuum causes no immediate injury. You do not explode. Your blood does not boil. You do not freeze. You do not instantly lose consciousness.

Various minor problems (sunburn, possibly "the bends", certainly some [mild, reversible, painless] swelling of skin and underlying tissue) start after ten seconds or so. At some point you lose consciousness from lack of oxygen. Injuries accumulate. After perhaps one or two minutes, you're dying. The limits are not really known.

You do not explode and your blood does not boil because of the containing effect of your skin and circulatory system. You do not instantly freeze because, although the space environment is typically very cold, heat does not transfer away from a body quickly. Loss of consciousness occurs only after the body has depleted the supply of oxygen in the blood. If your skin is exposed to direct sunlight without any protection from its intense ultraviolet radiation, you can get a very bad sunburn.

At NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center (now renamed Johnson Space Center) we had a test subject accidentally exposed to a near vacuum (less than 1 psi) in an incident involving a leaking space suit in a vacuum chamber back in '65. He remained conscious for about 14 seconds, which is about the time it takes for O2 deprived blood to go from the lungs to the brain. The suit probably did not reach a hard vacuum, and we began repressurizing the chamber within 15 seconds. The subject regained consciousness at around 15,000 feet equivalent altitude. The subject later reported that he could feel and hear the air leaking out, and his last conscious memory was of the water on his tongue beginning to boil.

So, bad things clearly happen. Just not the very dramatic bad things I, and lots of others, had previously imagined.