Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pub Crawl

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Or rather, pub launch? Last summer, I blogged about a Spanish study that showed how Beer is Good For Bones, given its silicon and phytoestrogens content, and related this interesting finding to the Japanese beer brewed from barley grown in micro-gravity on the ISS, as well as NASA's carbonation and fermentation experiments on Space Shuttles.

This week, TIME Magazine and Discovery News reports that Astronauts4Hire, a non-profit space engineering company "which appears to be priming itself to be a major player in the future commercial space flight industry," will taste-test beer on parabolic flights, all the while monitoring human heart rate, blood alcohol content and body temperature during a simulation of imbibing in weightlessness.

Beer In Space?
The hops-flavored beverage made from malted grain is the Earth's oldest and still currently the most widely consumed alcoholic drink, said to be the third most popular beverage in the world after water and tea.

The Australian 4-Pines Brewing Company joined forces with Saber Astronautics Australia, to develop a special brew for the flights, set to take off in November. The Zero Gravity Corporation will provide the Boeing Jet for the trip.

This will be an exciting step for Astronauts4Hire and their sponsors, being the first paying job for their esteemed researchers and aspiring-astronauts; and it's probably not a coincidence that they are tackling a subject that is largely off-limits for the national space agency. NASA has always had a no-alcohol policy, part of what some people have come to see as a "no-reality policy" in terms of certain types of taboo research. Flying seeds for production back on earth is one thing, but genuinely carrying and testing alcohol on board a space flight? Questions about sexuality during long term missions? Boozing'n'schmoozing in micro-gravity? Not on the tax-payer dime.

If we as a species want to branch out into what these scenarios mean in space, it is the private industries that will attempt them, not the government entity.

Too bad they couldn't have scraped all this together in time for Oktoberfest! And wouldn't it be a real hoot if they continue to discover that beer is better for bones than exercise! Time will tell.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Space Museums Map

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Space Map Update!

So last week I toyed around with Google Maps, and put together a visual view of all the NASA Facilities in the United States.

This week, I have researched and added all the major American space museums, or aviation museums where space flight is included in various public exhibits. Also included are space related novelties such as the John Glenn historic site, Space Walk of Fame, and tourist centers attached to NASA Space Centers.



Like any Google Map, you can view the landmarks with the Basic map default, labeled Terrain feature and/or Satellite View.

The second batch includes:
ALABAMA (Huntsville): US Space & Rocket Center
CALIFORNIA (San Diego): San Diego Air & Space Museum
CALIFORNIA (Downey): Columbia Memorial Space Center
COLORADO (Denver): Wings Over The Rockies
FLORIDA (Patrick AFB): Air Force Space & Missile Museum
FLORIDA (Cape Canaveral): Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
FLORIDA (Pensacola): National Aviation Museum
FLORIDA (Titusville): Space Walk of Fame
GEORGIA (Columbus): Coca-Cola Space Science Center
INDIANA (Mishawaka): P-H-M Air/Space Museum
KANSAS (Hutchinson): Cosmosphere & Space Center
MICHIGAN (Frankenmuth): Military & Space Museum
MICHIGAN (Kalamazoo): Air*Zoo
MISSOURI (St. Louis): Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum
NEBRASKA (Ashland): Strategic Air & Space Museum
NEW HAMPSHIRE (Concord): McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center
NEW MEXICO (Alamogordo): Museum of Space History
NEW YORK (Long Island): Cradle of Aviation Museum
NEW YORK (NYC): Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
OHIO (Wapakoneta): Armstrong Air & Space Museum
OHIO (Cleveland): International Women's Air & Space Museum
OHIO (New Concord): John Glenn Historic Site
OKLAHOMA (Weatherford): Stafford Air & Space Museum
OKLAHOMA (Tulsa): Tulsa Air & Space Museum
PENNSYLVANIA (Philadelphia): The Franklin Institute
TEXAS (Dallas): Frontiers of Flight Museum
TEXAS (Houston): Space Center Houston
VIRGINIA (Hampton): Virginia Air & Space Center
WASHINGTON DC (Smithsonian): National Air & Space Museum
WASHINGTON (Seattle): The Museum of Flight
WISCONSIN (Sparta): Deke Slayton Space & Bike Museum

And no, that last one is not a typo... there really is a Deke Slayton Space AND BICYCLE museum! Click on each for a specific address or web site.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Postcard from the REAL Edge

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There are postcards from the edge, and then there are postcards from THE EDGE. The new book from The Cosmic Diary encompasses the latter. Alert reader Oana Sandu of München, Germany sent this delightful gem from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) where she works in Community Outreach.

And believe me, this beautiful Fräulein knows her stuff! She is also Public Relations lead for the Space Generation Advisory Council, co-founder of the Children Universe Awareness organization, and an editor of VEGA Astronomy Magazine in Romania. (And I was under the impression that I was a busy lady).

Postcards From The Edge Of The Universe
From their website : "This book is based on the science carried out by a selection of the best bloggers from the Cosmic Diary, one of the 12 Cornerstone Projects of the International Year of Astronomy 2009. The contributions have been compiled into an edited anthology that gives a unique snapshot of contemporary astronomy. The science articles all have a personal flavour, as each contributor has selected their own favourite astronomical topic, giving the reader a personal insight into work on the frontline of astronomy."

Cosmic Diary consist of 8 bloggers from NASA, 4 from JAXA, 5 from the ESA and 14 from the ESO; a heaping handful of them got together to bring us an amazing visual extravaganza of all that we are learning from modern astronomical work from observatories all over the world, and in space.

Postcards From The Edge of the Universe by ESO Cosmic Diary
The Flame nebula, miraculously clear galaxyscapes, interstellar clouds where stars and new planets are born, dust-devil tracks on planet Mars -- it's truly 120 pages of starry awesomeness. The hard copy version is on sale in the ESO shop, or you can download a PDF version from the "About the Book" page.

Also check out their "Send A Postcard" section, where you can email your friends some of their beautiful photography with a formattable message.

You will, at the very least, find a stunning new desktop background ;)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Pillownaut Space Map

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New project! I am in the process of creating a SPACE MAP, and the first markers show all the field and research centers for the National Aeronautical and Space Administration. Of course, everyone is familiar with "Johnson" and "Kennedy", but there are well over a dozen facilities across 13 states that operate launches, oversee mission control, design crafts and technologies, manufacture components, conduct equipment and biological testing, plan payloads, and pioneer research across many scientific disciplines.

Wow, I sure wish I had thought of this before the summer vacation season this year, but, better late that never for us enthusiastic road-trippers!



Click on the map to go to the main Space Map page at Pillownaut.com, or click over to the main engine on Google Maps. In both of these spots, you'll see a larger screen where you can zoom in, zoom out, and examine precise locations.

Also, click on each marker for descriptions of each NASA center, including who it is named after, the year it was founded, and their main function(s) in the space agency.

In the future, I'll add space museums in the United States, and locations of all spacecrafts on display around the country. After that, perhaps I'll start adding world agencies, or even make the map an "open source" project where people can add sites to share. What do you think, should I add the NASA clinics and study facilities on the map too?

The first batch includes:
George C. Marshall Space Flight Center
Hugh L. Dryden Flight Research Center
Independent Verification & Validation Facility
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
John C. Stennis Space Center
John F. Kennedy Space Center
John H. Glenn Research Center
John H. Glenn Center Plum Brook Station
Joseph S. Ames Research Center
Langley Research Center
Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center
Michoud Assembly Facility
NASA Headquarters
Robert H. Goddard Institute for Space Studies
Robert H. Goddard Space Flight Center
Vandenberg Air Force Base
Wallops Flight Facility
White Sands Test Facility

Happy Mapping!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Winner!

On August 30th, I published a complete timeline of all animals put into space between 1946 and 2010. It detailed all the species and how they traveled, from the first fruit flies up to the most recent humans, with every dog, cat, rat and monkey in between!

The Space Animals Timeline HTML page connected to that blog post was pretty exhaustive... if you press "Print Preview", it comes out to 12 full pages! At the very bottom of page 12, I posed a trivia question... a pretty easy one, I thought... but mostly I just wanted to see if anyone would actually read that far, LOL!



The answer was inside the timeline, of course: In April of 1998, STS-90, a mission of Space Shuttle Columbia, set a biological payload milestone, when over 2,000 creatures resided aboard the orbiter for 16 days. Seven humans operated NEUROLAB, where they studied space adaptation syndrome, vestibular function, adaptation of central nervous systems and the ability to sense location in the absence of gravity. On board animal containment facilities held 18 pregnant mice, 1514 crickets, 135 snails, 233 fish and 152 rats.

This past Thursday, Rebekah Maral of Port Washington, Wisconsin emailed me with a perfect response... what a reader! She provided her address and will soon be the proud owner of a limited edition NASA employee T-shirt... good job, Rebekah, look for it in the mail!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Space Laundry

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New Challenge! The General Services Administration (GSA) launched the Challenge.gov website, where cash prizes are awarded to participants who offer novel solutions or innovations in technology, defense, education, health, safety and various environmental concerns. The platform was developed in response to President Barack Obama's Strategy for American Innovation, calling for agencies to promote innovation through prizes and challenges.

Advocates of the approach say challenges generate ideas with relatively small investments, and of course, one of the benefits of the "prize-giving" model is that they only go to the people who demonstrate results (not for potentially lengthy or costly government research that may yield little more than red tape).

Challenge.Gov
One interesting $25,000 challenge that just ended (awaiting the winning name!) was the call for a "Microgravity Laundry System." As with most other basic housekeeping chores in space, dealing with the astronauts' dirty laundry can be a real... pardon the repetition... CHALLENGE.

NASA says you can:
1. Wear the same clothes for months (happens all the time on the ISS).
2. Load onto a trash craft to burn up in the atmosphere (also frequent).

3. Make planters for seed experiments (less frequent, and a bit creepy).

4. Feed it to bacteria. Seriously.


The laundry issue is listed on Challenge.gov's NASA section, along with awards for solutions in green aviation, sample robots and night rovers, nano-satellites, power-beaming(???), and they also just added the "choose the last Shuttle Missions' music" that I mentioned last month.

NASA on Challenge.Gov
Of course, there is no guarantee that such challenges will draw mass support or truly result in high-tech successes, but who's to say major cash incentives will hurt anybody?? We're an optimistic lot when it comes to technology, and we love it when hitherto untapped talent lurches forward à la Doc Brown and his ilk! Their instructional catch phrase is, "You are the secret ingredient!"

Other areas on the site detail everything from recipes for school lunches to resume-video production to digital forensic techniques, to name just a few of the current 50. You can also keep up with supporters and new challenges on their twitter feed: @ChallengeGov.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mars Mission Milestone

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The Mars500 experiment is cruising along nicely! On September 10th, French Astronomer and Graphic Designer Steve Légère presented a beautiful commemorative collage to the crew; many of us following the Mars500 closely added our names to the poster to congratulate all the Marsonauts on their 100th day. We were very gratified when the guys "inside" twittered their thanks for our support.

The ESA and Roskosmos were very happy yesterday, because the team officially reached Day #105 – matching the previous crew's duration. But me, I'm excited about TODAY! Day #106 makes the longest simulation ever completed by a Mars analog team. Now they just have to repeat this duration five more times...

Mars500 Reaches 100 Days
Great job, Steve!

Live voice communications ceased on July 26th, leaving the men with a "time lag" for all audio and text transmissions. To make the simulation as real as possible, their com delays will always reflect where they are in space, on the way to Mars. Crew and mission controllers send messages to each other, but must now wait for replies, meaning no "real-time" communications – not even with family – and in any disaster scenarios, the crew must make crucial decisions for themselves. Simulated crises will test how they respond to emergency situations.

Commander Alexey Sitev
Needle humor. Getting punchy in there, guys?

Italian-Colombian Marsonaut Diego Urbina, worked in Operations at the European Astronaut Centre's Neutral Bouyancy Facility in Cologne, Germany before joining the Mars500 project, and when asked why he applied for the program, he replied, "Because this study... in isolation and reaction is not useful only for Mars, but also for life on Earth."

Unfortunately, 33 very isolated miners in Chile are discovering these phenomena right now, and under much tougher, less-controlled surroundings. While in isolation, you can become closely bonded to those around you, but it can also be a recipe for trouble and clique-behavior under stress, overwork or extreme environmental conditions. Studies and disasters, both voluntary and involuntary, teach us a great deal about human behavior.

Mission Researcher Wang Yue
Scratch that last question. We have our answer.

Very special thanks to the kind chaps on the Mars500 media team for granting permission to use some of their pictures on my blog for this Day #106 update! Большое спасибо!

Click here for my past posts on the Mars500, or here to join their Twitter feed or Facebook page. They also have an awesome YouTube Channel with a tour of the completed Mars ship facility.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Kooky Stuff Flown in Space

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Each crew member of Space Shuttle mission is allowed to take one kilogram (about two pounds) of memento items along with them, provided they fit into a tiny compartment set aside for such use. This is how things like Buzz Lightyear action figures make it on board, despite strict weight restrictions. On each flight, many flags, patches, and medallions are also flown, along with nationally-sponsored specialty items, such as the recent banner from Yellowstone National Park.

Star Wars Light Saber
Shuttle Discovery STS-120 flew the light-saber used by Luke Skywalker (actor Mark Hamill) in "Return of the Jedi." In honor of the 30th anniversary of the Star Wars film franchise, Chewbacca (actor Peter Mayhew) presented the famed movie prop to NASA, whereupon it was flown to Texas and displayed for a time at Space Center Houston. It continued it's journey to Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it was packed into a Shuttle locker and spent two weeks in orbit. George Lucas attended Discovery's launch, and the light saber was later returned to Lucasfilm Ltd. for display in a traveling exhibit.

May the Mass-multiplied-by-Acceleration Be With You. And if you get that joke, you're a huge nerd.

Jamestown Colony
Shuttle Atlantis STS-117 flew a lead cargo tag from "Yames Town", a 400-year-old artifact excavated by archaeologists in 2006. This particular item had made a trip across the Atlantic Ocean around 1611, along with European passengers destined for Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas.

In honor of the 400th anniversary of the founding of this first colony of the New World, the metal plate was packed aboard Atlantis in 2007, and took 219 orbits around the Earth – this time crossing many oceans in a fraction of the time! The tag is now in the Archaearium, the historic Jamestown museum in Virginia.

Liberty Bell Dimes
In July 1961, Mercury astronaut Gus Grissom took a roll of 50 Mercury-head dimes with him aboard Liberty Bell 7, America's second space mission. He had initially planned to pass the currency to personal friends and their children, but his capsule lost its hatch and took on water, sinking in 15,000 feet of water. After a 14-year search southeast of Cape Canaveral, Liberty Bell 7 was found by Oceaneering International, Inc. in 1999... with Grissom's parachute and the roll of dimes still inside. One might have thought after 38 years, they would have dislodged and floated away! The Liberty Bell dimes are on display at the Cosmosphere and Space Center museum in Hutchinson, Kansas.

Amelia Earhart and Eileen Collins
Less famous and quirky, but among my personal favorites, is how a rookie astronaut named Eileen Collins took Amelia Earhart's scarf on her first spaceflight aboard Shuttle Discovery STS-63. Colonel Collins would, of course, go on to become the very first female Shuttle pilot and the first female Shuttle Commander, on STS-84 Atlantis and STS-93 Columbia, respectively. She would also be Commander of STS-114 Discovery prior to her retirement.

Want to OWN something FLOWN? Many organizations, such as SpaceFlori, Farthest Reaches and The Space Store, sell metal craft fragments, pieces of shields and tiles, washers, nozzles, on board checklists, suit and seat materials from all eras of NASA missions. (Please note I am in no way affiliated with any of these organizations, and gain nothing for recommending their sales. Just tellin' ya what's out there!)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Space Updates!

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NASA Goddard hosted TOP CHEF: GASTRO-NAUTS and if you missed the initial airing, you can watch the full episode over at the BRAVO TV website. Their teaser clip showed a recording of TJ Creamer and Tracy Caldwell Dyson on the International Space Station, displaying some onboard nutritional choices.

Top Chef Gastro-nauts
The surprises inside the episode were the three astronauts on the judging panel: Buzz Aldrin, Sandra Magnus and Leland Melvin! If you were ever curious about the guidelines for dining in micro-gravity, this is your show. A few chefs showed us how it's done… and a couple showed us what not to do. I had not seen any cooking shows since the early days of "Iron Chef" (talk about out of the loop!) but I found this program very enjoyable... even if some didn't really understand the guidelines, LOL...

Next update! In the grand worldwide search for the GOODWILL MOON ROCKS, new finds in Korea, West Virginia and North Carolina have filled in some blanks for missing lunar samples presented to all 50 states and over 100 nations by the Nixon administration in 1973.

Goodwill Moon Rock, Nevada
Update #3!

Since the interesting announcement about how the Senate Put Off SPACE SHUTTLE RETIREMENT, and the exciting news in August that STS-135 had been added to the line-up of missions, the Space Centers have been all a-flurry with activity.

Originally, the new "retirement homes" of Atlantis and Endeavour were to be revealed in July, but this odd year of flux caused NASA to delay the announcement. No new date yet for the big reveals, but fully 21 bids from eight states have been launched in an increasingly competitive race that includes dedicated websites, Facebook fan pages, countless petitions with literally hundreds of thousands of names and incidences of congressional backing.

Space Shuttle
The Museum of Flight in Seattle even broke ground for the construction of a $12 million, 15,500-square-foot "Human Space Flight Gallery" designed to showcase a shuttle, if awarded. Think maybe they jumped the gun just slightly?!

If they lose their appeal for a genuine Shuttle orbiter, they and many other runners-up may be awarded one of the full-scale shuttle simulators currently used for astronaut training at Johnson Space Center.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Indivisible

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9 minutes or 9 years later… doesn't matter. It won't matter in 20 or 40 years either -- everyone will still be able to tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when the World Trade Center towers fell.

In the summer of 1976, my father took this photograph out of the glass-walled crown of the Statue of Liberty in New York.

World Trade Center
America's Bicentennial Year

I look at my Dad's snapshot and I feel the weight of the years, the changes. It was a happy time for us as a family, and an interesting time for the country. We led the way. No one had heard of AIDS... and hello, war in the Middle East? We didn't even have a war on drugs yet. I saw Disney World for the first time on that trip, got my first glimpse of NASA rockets, and if I wanted to feel a sense of magic in life, I didn't really have to look much further than Arthur Fonzarelli.

Idyllic? Certainly not. I'm not even suggesting it was remotely tranquil. A president had been forced to resign, the Cold War was heating up, my parents were snarling about gasoline prices, a recession loomed, and for the first time in my childhood, I started hearing the term "gang warfare."

World Trade Center
Same day at the United Nations.
Different time, different world.

While I think of those days as less cynical or dangerous, I'd hate to turn into one of those tiresome middle-agers who privately thinks: "My childhood was better than anyone who is unlucky enough to be a child today" because I didn't understand what problems existed across the Earth at large.

Really, when we compare eras with older eyes, we are not appreciating some elevated sense of majestic national innocence; we're just idealizing our own.

I couldn't have known, staring out Lady Liberty's crown, that those twin buildings would violently crumble and change my view of the world. I can only take comfort in the sense that many peoples' view of the world changed that day.

For me, the date September 11th has a secondary remembrance now. Two years ago today, I was part of the evacuation of Galveston before Hurricane Ike devastated the island. Ever seen 56,000 people try to get across one bridge? This day is just filled with things I hope none of us ever see again.

ISS Trivia

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Sixteen nations are involved in building and supporting the International Space Station: Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

The call sign for the ISS is "Space Station Alpha."

With the installation of the final solar arrays, the ISS is now about equal to the length of a football field (including both end zones).

International Space Station
Space Station Alpha now weighs 435,592 kilograms (slightly less than one million pounds) and has, wait for it... eight miles of wiring on board.

Living space inside the ISS is about the equivalent of one and a half Boeing 747 jet liners.

Since October 2000, there have been 26 Expeditions to the ISS, where crew members have spent between 117 days and 6 months in weightlessness.

Each solar day, the space station travels a distance equal to that of a trip to the Moon and back.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mission Controller Liz

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All hail Lockheed Martin's ISS Medical Program Operations Lead! My newest "employee spotlight" shines upon Liz Warren, who is responsible for coordinating and overseeing the complement of Human Research Program science operations conducted on the International Space Station.

Liz is also Lead of the on-console operations team of engineers, planners, astronaut procedure writers and science support personnel. You may have noticed by now, after all my posts about various NASA contractors, that government titles can be a bit... involved ;)

Liz Warren, ISS MCC
ISS Mission Control

I first met Liz at an event at Johnson Space Center, but even before that had seen many photographs of her, acting as a test subject in the same spacy medical experiments I enjoyed (endured?). It's always interesting to speak with people who have experienced the same test programs, and seen the protocols change throughout the years.

Liz has also gotten her share of press, having been featured in Popular Science magazine, the New York Times, and most recently, the Daily Journal, which detailed her speaking engagement at the Show Me Science Festival near St. Louis, Missouri this past summer. She is now the only Mission Controller I know who has her very own DAY, as dedicated by the Bonne Terre mayor! Must be nice!

Liz didn't mind answering their questions, and I had a few more after reading the articles, so I asked if she would answer some for my blog…

Johnson Space Center Newsletter for Life Sciences
You've been on weightless-parabola flights, and even tested exercise machines there... if given the chance to go into weightlessness in space, would you go? Think you'll be able to buy a ticket to space in our lifetimes?
Liz Warren: Absolutely. I'd go in a heartbeat! It's been a dream of mine since I was very young to be an astronaut and to perform science experiments in space. While I may not be selected as a NASA astronaut, I think that people will be taking leisure trips to space in out lifetime. Perhaps I'll be able to go to space after all! Floating is the most amazing, freeing experience and imagine that floating while gazing out the window at Earth is just breathtaking.

Have you ever used some of the things you describe in the Journal article as being available to astronauts? Rinseless shampoo, the vacuum hair-cutter, etc.? Do you play with things to understand how the astronauts use them?
Liz Warren: I have a personal philosophy that started in graduate school – I don't make someone to do something that I haven't done myself. I have tried astronaut food and I find it pretty tasty. People tend to think of the days of toothpaste tubes of pureed food. In reality, most of the food is thermostabilized, like MREs, and some of it is dehydrated.

Liz Warren - Vomit Comet
Running in zero-g aboard NASA's Vomit Comet,
tethered to treadmill with bungees!

Cont'd: Some is canned and still other foods are off the shelf (like peanut butter and granola bars). I also try a lot of the medical and human research tests that astronauts perform: balance tests, neuro-vestibular tests, functional fitness and cardiovascular tests. I was never a bed rest subject [for micro-gravity simulations], but I've been tested on just about all of the bed rest testing protocols.

You mentioned studies and experiments done on the ISS… can you list a few?
Liz Warren: All of these experiments are described in detail on NASA websites. These are a few that I support...
Sleep – examines quality and duration of sleep, plus lighting conditions on ISS.
Integrated Cardiovascular – cardiovascular de-conditioning over time in spaceflight
Reaction Self Test – examines cognitive function and reaction times
Spinal Elongation – examines lengthening of spine during spaceflight
Integrated Immune – examines immune function during spaceflight
Nutrition – examines metabolism and nutrient use during spaceflight
Pro K – examines if ratio of protein to potassium alters bone metabolism
Biophosphonates – examines if bone resorption prevention drugs work

Keep up the great work, Liz! We all know that astronauts on the ISS are safer and healthier, thanks to all your knowledge and efforts!

Monday, September 6, 2010

TWIS-mas

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Rhymes with Christmas. Because each one is a gift. And everyone has been keeping up with This Week In Space, right? Check out the 600-foot long flame! I am gratified that such huge crowds still turn up for rocket tests.

TWIS is usually hosted by Miles O'Brien, but a few now have been guest-hosted by up-and-coming celebrity David Waters, the show's producer, who also worked media relations at the United Space Alliance before founding his own production company.



Subscribe to their YouTube Channel to be notified each time a new episode becomes available, or you can also now subscribe to TWIS episodes on iTunes.

I know "fake NASA vomit" has practically been a meme across the internet this week (*stifling groan*), but it's really the least of what's been going on. Didn't George Carlin do a bit about artificial vomit? I'm so sorry he missed this… and the brief lesson in "How To Choose An Asteroid To Land On." I'll bet he could have had a field day on stage with that one.

In other news, the new NASA on the Commons Flickr photostream is the space agency's newest attempt to release more materials into social networks, showing both new and historical images from the NASA Image Archives. I had actually intended to do a whole post about this when I saw the press release, but it's better if you just click over there and blow a couple hours.

Astronaut Bill Lenoir
Rest In Peace, William Lenoir (center), 1939 – 2010

Also don't miss the memorial tribute to recently deceased shuttle astronaut Bill Lenoir, who flew the first operational shuttle mission, STS-5.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Dark Side

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The downside of doing journalistic-type media reviews is that every time I promote a book or a movie I enjoyed, I get an onslaught of suggestions for other books and movies. Don't get me wrong, I love the email.... It's just that I get all bummed out that I don't have time to see even a fraction of what is available out there. Every now and then, however, something stands out for sheer shock value.

Alert longtime reader and friend Julian Rueben of London, England recommended Gerard J. DeGroot’s Dark Side of the Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest.

Was the end of the Space Age the best thing that ever happened to science fiction? When the space age ended, DeGroot argues, the age of imagination began: warp speed, unlikely (and immune-to-zero-gravity) spacecrafts, exotic aliens, and fantastical laws of not-physics.

Science Fiction
Also Not Real

We haven't gone anywhere beyond low Earth orbit for decades. When we stopped being pioneers into the great unknown, it became easier to invent extravagant tales of that great unknown. All the major movie studios, Disney in particular, are unequivocally on board. And IO9 just came right out and said what these geniuses were thinking: "Space Is More Fun Without Space Travel."

Somewhere, Buzz Aldrin's head just exploded. And I think he'd be more than happy to detonate DeGroot's for him too, given some of the book's choice excerpts:

"American people were fleeced - persuaded to spend $35 billion on an ego trip, being told that a step on the lunar surface was a giant leap for mankind."

"NASA's public relations machine portrayed astronauts as wholesome all-Americans, even as many behaved like rutting frat boys when off duty."

"Expressed in terms by the Soviets and Americans, the lunar race was shallow and trivial. The two superpowers behaved like two bald men fighting over a comb."

Pretty rough stuff. But is abandoning actual space travel for space fantasy the answer to the questions deep in our minds and souls?

Star Trek
"So what happens when the audience catches
on that we are completely full of it?!"

Somehow, I don't think so. I disagree with DeGroot's fundamental premise that the heavens are always more impressive in the imagination than in reality. Had we as a species, in our quest for cultural development, ever truly listened to cynics along the way, we'd all still be sitting around a bonfire and sharpening spears.

I might still buy the book, since I appreciate healthy doses of humorous sarcasm. Call it a weakness, inflicted by early exposure to Oscar Wilde.

Here's my problem, Jules... when I go to Amazon to read the reviews and details about this book, it shows that used copies are available from various sellers for seven cents. That's right, SEVEN CENTS. Let me put that in your cross-the-pond Brit lingo: Um, FIVE CENTS.

Dude, seriously.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Gastro-Nauts

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TONIGHT, ON BRAVO! As I understand it, some tiny little show that has been airing for a mere 7 seasons won an obscure statue called an "Emmy" this past Sunday... but I've never watched it, so I won't presume to vouch for quality. All I can say is, they are now officially on the map of the cosmos because Top Chef will feature NASA in their latest episode:



The episode features astronauts Tracy Caldwell Dyson and TJ Creamer (@Astro_TJ) as well as NASA's own Top Chef, Vickie Kloeris. This "Julia Childs of Johnson Space Center" is an amazing lady who has been inventing micro-gravity meals since 1985. She currently holds the position of Manager of the Space Food Systems Laboratory, where she has developed 60 of the current 180 items that fly on the Space Shuttle and the ISS.

I will be very interested in the winning dish, because it's no small feat to design foods for space travel.

Any food item intended for micro-gravity must be nutritious, aromatic but stink-free, able to withstand freeze-drying and/or thermo-stabilization, and above all – still appetizing upon re-constitution after any packing and storing processes. It also cannot be messy, cannot be crumbly, and cannot cause nausea or allergic reactions. Quite a trick!

BRAVO Schedule shows: Top Chef Gastro-Nauts will air this evening at 10:00pm and 11:00pm, and again at 11:00am on Sunday, September 5th (all times Eastern).