Friday, February 27, 2009

1960s Bed Pilots

"Experiment proves first man on Mars will have tender feet."

Continuing yesterday's achive theme, this July 24th, 1968 article shows Christopher Stevenson as the longest-serving healthy volunteer, having simulated weightlessness for the space program from December 1967 to September 1968.

A great find for the history of NASA studies, but what a headache and a half to read! I tried enlarging it graphically on my computer with various programs, but ended up simply using a magnifying glass to transcribe the text of the article for my "N A S A * Research * Articles" collection.

NASA space flight simulation

When James Mulberry of the United Space Alliance visited the research ward, he described his involvement in a similar study conducted by the military in 1967, one of the many 20th Century variations to measure skeletal, circulatory, cardiological or mental changes.

Differences from the modern program:

  • Bedside turntables to play records! Ah, life before the internet…
  • Subjects lost weight, something now curbed with caloric strategies.
  • Subjects spent five weeks being studied after post-bedrest rehab, whereas now they take only a week to gather data, but bring subjects back at key dates over the period of an entire year for blood draws, bone scans, etc.
  • $100 per week!

Guess that sounded adequate back in 1968, but the current studies pay $1075 per week! :)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

1970s Bed Pilots

YouTube friend rivest266 sent me a link to the "Google Newspapers" archives, where he had discovered this fascinating article about Bed Pilots published in the St. Petersburg Times on Wednesday, April 4, 1973. An early milestone in the attempt to understand the effects of weightlessness!

NASA Bedrest Pilot

Pictured: San Francisco painter/musician, James McCall, one of four healthy men who stayed in bed from January to October, 1973 -- as part of a larger project that included 40 men over five years. (Note, no women. Guess they thought they'd rush off and populate other planets without us. Yah, good luck with that ;)

Interestingly, two of their volunteers were prison inmates, so apparently the whole "background check" part of the screening process came much later.

The overall drill was the same: micro-gravity simulation to examine changes in bone tissue production. They mention exercise and pressure suit trials, and rounds where some subjects were given calcium supplements and compared to a control group who got none. The biggest difference to the current studies was the lack of a -6 degree tilt to the bed, to mimic blood flow and plasma volume changes that occur in weightlessness. It's amazing to see how these studies have evolved over the years as we've tried to achieve greater accuracy and learned more about the body while trying different counter-measures!

The subjects were paid $200.00 every two weeks. That works out to about $970 in modern* dollars. Today's study pays $2150 every two weeks -- more than twice the going rate for medical guinea-pigging in the 70s!

* (Source of calculations: using the Consumer Price Index)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cracked Humor

So Zach Oberman at created a new list in the “Funny Stuff” section, and for the mature audience who are not familiar with Cracked lists... well, you should open these on your home PC, not at work – I’ll leave it at that.

This is one of the tamer ones, entitled Five Jobs You Wanted as a Kid (And Why They Suck). They are: Fireman, Princess, Cop, Pilot and... Astronaut comes in at number one.

Oberman describes the stereotypes that lead youngsters to believe these occupations are cool, then proceeds to exorcise our collective naiveté by discrediting each with tales of boredom (fireman), inbreeding (princesses), the bully factor (cop), and more boredom (pilot). I can’t believe he skipped the obvious downsides of being a cowboy, since that’s where I thought the list was heading.

But no, he instead highlights the job requirements of those trained to travel in space: “a person has to be two-thirds Stephen Hawking, one-third someone who has awesome hand-eye coordination. NASA subjects astronauts to an endless series of grueling tests. Before they go to the celestial trampoline we call the moon, astronauts spend ten years keeping themselves in peak physical condition while essentially taking the SAT every day.”

NASA Astronauts in training
Even more helpful, he suggests this fun backyard activity to see if your kid has The Right Stuff:
  • Step 1: Go buy a van.

  • Step 2: Have the owner's manual translated into Russian.

  • Step 3: Tell your child the van is a space station, and their assignment is to rotate the tires.

  • Step 4: Push the van to the bottom of a swimming pool. Hand your child the translated manual, a toolbox and a balloon full of air.
He says nothing about how to perform CPR, how much bail money is standard for child abuse charges, what eventual legal defense is appropriate – or how much therapy your precious snowflake will require after you choke the life out of their space-faring fantasy. I assume that will be tomorrow’s list :)

For the curious, here’s a more realistic look at selection and training. He might be a whole lot funnier if actual astronaut auditions weren’t being held at Johnson Space Center as we speak, but – true to his point – less than 1% of this round’s nearly 4,000 applicants will make it.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Moon Boot

The March 2009 issue of Reader's Digest has a fascinating picture of the new lunar footwear, as part of a larger article, "Four Ways Of Looking At A Shoe."

NASA Lunar Boot
Isn't that a great angle? No one thinks to photograph boots this way, but for space-wear, it's interesting to see the top seal and inner materials! These are being tested at the Meteor Crater in Arizona, as was Apollo equipment. Déjà vuuuu...

Of course, since few have $30,000 lying around to spend on urethane-lined boots intended to withstand 350-degree heat, most of us Earthlings will have to settle for the commercial version.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

This Day In History: MIR

On February 19, 1986, the core of space station Mir was Launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome. The station was made internationally accessible for 15 years through the Soviet (and later Russian) Intercosmos space program, as it performed about 16 orbits per day for 5,519 days, traveling 1,964,616,800 nautical miles.

Shuttle Atlantis Docked at Mir
Further assembled in orbit by connecting numerous elements launched separately between 1986 and 1996, the Russian-built Mir modules included:
Kvant-1 (Astronomical observatory)
Kvant-2 (Life support systems and airlock)
Kristall (Geo- and astrophysics laboratory)
Spektr (Shuttle/Mir Program experimental section)
Priroda (Remote earth sensing unit)

Notable Joint Milestones

In 1995, STS-71 Atlantis carried out the first shuttle docking to MIR. This 100th manned launch by the USA and the 5-day dock marked the creation of the largest craft placed into orbit at the time (225 metric tons, or half a million pounds), and the first in-orbit swap of crew members. Docking occurred over the Lake Baikal region of Russia, after which the crews carried out equipment transfers, joint life sciences & biomedical operations, and IMAX filming.

STS-79 Atlantis in 1996 was second flight of SPACEHAB, and the first Shuttle to dock with Mir’s final, fully-assembled configuration. Crews again transferred passengers, as well as 6,000 pounds of supplies and experiments, the most extensive to date. Shannon W. Lucid returned home on this flight after 188 days in space, a world record for a female astronaut for 11 years (surpassed by Sunita Williams on the ISS in 2007 with 195 days).


STS-79 yielded my favorite mission emblem! And this was echoed by the cover artwork of the "Mission to Mir" IMAX film the following year.

In March of 2001, the Mir was de-orbited in three stages, disintegrating during re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, whereby unburned scraps plunged into the South Pacific Ocean.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Road Trip! (Denison)

I enjoy visiting Presidential sites, because I think the American “commander in chief” is an amazing symbol. Even if our elections grow antagonistic, we have about the least bloodthirsty tradition of changing leaders!

I’ve been to Clinton’s homes in Arkansas, Carter’s museum in Georgia, Bush’s library and Johnson’s ranch in Texas, Abraham Lincoln’s homestead, Woodrow Wilson House and birthplaces of Truman, Nixon and Taylor. Also – two Kennedy memorials, the White House, presidential monuments in Washington DC, Mount Harding and Mount Rushmore.

Most recently, I visited Dwight D. Eisenhower’s home in Denison, TX – inches from the Oklahoma border, and coincidentally the birthplace of my father’s elder brother, giving me a family connection as well.

Eisenhower was elected in 1953 and left office in 1961, around the time my parents met. He died a few months before I was born, so I only knew “famous” topics, such as D-Day, the “I Like Ike” slogan, the additions of Alaska and Hawaii on his watch, and of course, I knew he signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act, establishing NASA in 1958.

Details I hadn’t known until recently –

His first name is David, he was third of seven sons, and as a child dreamed of being a major league baseball player. In addition to his well-known roles as Army General and President, he was a West Point cadet, football coach, university president, supreme commander of NATO, civil rights advocate and the reason we have an interstate highway system.

He won an Emmy!
Ike didn’t just “sign” NASA into being; he himself proposed to Congress the creation of a civilian agency, building upon the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) as its foundation and granting a “blank check” budget. This effectively removed from military hands areas devoted to rocketry and space research. Early notable additions included the Army's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech, Werner von Braun's team at the Alabama Redstone Arsenal and the Langley, Ames Aeronautical and Lewis Flight Laboratories.


1960: Ike and first NASA administrator T. Keith Glennan
examine photographs taken by the TIROS 1 Satellite.

Another thing I hadn’t known – Eisenhower was AGAINST manned space flight to the moon. However, his successor was all for it, and the rest is history.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Try This At Home

Well, this will teach me to keep an eye on my "Drafts." I had been working on this post the day we evacuated, lost track of it over time, but just found it again! On the afternoon we left Galveston Island ahead of Hurricane Ike, we rose from bed, wobbly at best, and waited to be called down to the line of ambulances taking patients to other areas of Texas. We took final photos of the seed project, knowing that we had to leave them behind...

Compliments of NASA Engineering Design Challenge (EDC), Seeds In Space is a fun experiment to educate folks about how plant growth will be an important part of future space exploration on longer-duration missions.

Space Shuttle Endeavor carried 10 million cinnamon basil seeds to the ISS, then back to Earth in August 2007 where they were given to South Carolina's Park Seed Company. Will microgravity have an effect on how they grow? Radiation? Temperature changes?

We raised a set of space seeds, and also a control group that had not flown in space. Here we are holding both sets just before evacuation. And, since we don't have time to paint ceiling tiles as past participants did, one of the project heads asked us to sign a Mars card to hang on the wall... "Three Amigos Were Here," LOL...

Excerpt from SuccessWithSeed.Org --
"Researchers will study effects of extreme temperature and radiation on the seeds. Extra doses of radiation may be beneficial to farmers, who welcome greater probability of seed mutations that may mean hardier breeds of plants. Fluctuations in temperatures, on the other hand, might take their toll. This experiment provides ground rules for the future transport of food in space. NASA scientists anticipate that astronauts may be able to grow plants on the moon, and these may be used to supplement meals."

NASA space seeds
To see more details of the Lunar Plant Growth Chamber and/or order your own seed packets, go to the Education section of the NASA website and click on "Join The Challenge."

Since I originally constructed this post, the seed challenge partners temporarily suspended operations, so the "Join" link simply has a sign up for email alerts for when they are back in business. Pity, since the majority of requests came from schools, and we're always looking for ways to get kids excited about science! I'll check on it from time to time, and re-post if I see them start up again...

Sunday, February 8, 2009


I knew he was going to do "Up" as his next theme, I just knew it! LOL, here is another Written Inc. Thematic Photography challege, and what went DOWN must come UP, as the saying doesn't go...

Anyway, I've again chosen a favorite astronaut photo, so I'm a bit of a cheat because I obviously didn't take this.

NASA Astronaut

A member of the Atlantis crew captured this excellent shot of astronaut Marsha Sue Ivins in February 2001, on STS-98 just before they delivered the Destiny Laboratory Module to the ISS. Now that's an updo!

For originality linkback, here's one from my own camera... a memorable "UP" photograph of a curious giraffe checking me out through my open car window, taken at the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, Texas.

Curious Giraffe

Friday, February 6, 2009


Written Inc. hosts thematic photography each week, and the new theme is “Down.” So where do you find the best DOWN pictures?

You’re on a blog about space science, so this isn’t a trick question. This is my favorite picture taken from the International Space Station. I’ve had this amazing shot of ash-plume activity from the Cleveland Volcano (Chuginadak Island, Alaska) among my screen-saver pictures for a couple years now, but I never tire of it.

International Space Station

It always makes me think about the invention of photography, the invention of flight, and how those two phenomena put together have offered the eyes of humans many views of the world that populations from previous centuries could not possibly have imagined!

I’ve always gotten a thrill from aerial photography, and I’ve also buzzed two calderas in helicopters. Eruptive activity is tremendously exciting, but from space, the wide view is too powerful for words. Especially considering this stratovolcano, one of the most active in the Aleutians, is over a mile high. The nearby observatory estimated the ash cloud height at nearly 400 miles! But from orbit, it looks no more dangerous than a smoldering firecracker.

Alas, I cannot claim credit as the photographer -- don't I wish. That honor belongs to NASA Flight Engineer Jeff Williams, who captured this image during ISS Expedition 13.

I do have one interesting “Down” picture, however. Gotta have something original if I want to link back to Carmi! I took this from a parasail while on vacation in the Bahamas, and I guess it’s closest I’ll ever get to a tethered space walk. ;)


Thursday, February 5, 2009

CNN Coverage

I found a press piece at CNN Health while surfing various links about skeletal studies:
NASA Bone-Loss Test Sends Man To Bed For 84 Days
(Includes video report from Dr. Sanjay Gupta)

Paint me surprised that no one among our writers & readers trolled by this... hundreds of people emailed me far shorter articles last year! And considering it was a nearly-identical NASA Spaceflight Simulation study, I couldn't believe I missed it -- until I saw the date: September 16, 2008. We of the Gulf Coast persuasion had just rushed out of Hurricane Ike's path, so our minds were... elsewhere.

However, the Cleveland Clinic was still going strong with their studies -- which, unlike ours, included exercise on a vertical treadmill. (I also have some footage of subjects "running" on this extremely cool contraption, on the Squidoo Lens and in my YouTube Channel Favorites).

NASA Study

Anyway, fascinating article... and I like how they emphasized the dual purpose of application in both space for astronauts, and on Earth for osteoporosis sufferers. I hear rumblings of possible treadmill exercise studies beginning in Galveston soon...

Monday, February 2, 2009

Google Mars

So I updated to Google Earth v5.0, and spent my evening on aimless flybys. Because I'm a nerd, that's why. (And I have no television.) Most folks have downloaded this at some point, found their house, found their pals, found the Roman Colosseum, whatever. If you're a true dweeb, you've also blown a weekend or two toying with Google SKY, released somewhere around version 3.whatnot, to see views from the Hubble Telescope.

The newest release has a brilliant new ocean floor terrain feature. Every time you find the edge of a tectonic plate, somewhere a new geek gets their wings! And even more magical: the complete mapping of planet Mars. This and the Moon have been in the flat maps for awhile, but now it is dynamic in their client application!

MARSReady, set, run updater.exe... in the main Google Earth 5.0 toolbar click the planet icon. Choose Mars, then have some fun by cutting and pasting these coordinates into the FLY TO Field:

-1.94 -5.52
Zoom in to follow the 5-year path!
72.49 164.31
Zoom out again to see where you are...
45.68 0.00
18.40 226.0
81.59S 296.7E

You can also just type in stuff like Face on Mars, Newton Crater or Marte Vallis and it will spin there. UK, Russian, and American landers are marked with national flags, whereby you can click their camera icons for panoramic views of the terrain. WAY COOL.

Happy Hunting.

Sleeping On The Job

Whenever the Space Flight Simulation Study was in the press, it was rarely enjoyed its proper name. Since micro-gravity is best simulated by a tilted bed that takes pressure off the lower extremities and allows blood to pool in the head, it became colloquially known as the "bedrest" study. Folks seemed to enjoy pouncing on that word and further translated it into "sleep study."

Save FOX Houston and a few printed mentions, most media outlets tended to "happily overlook accuracy" in order to sensationalize what might grab attention. So, many articles hyped NASA's project as a "sleep study" or advertised "Get paid to sleep!" Convincing people that we did not, in fact, sleep all day was an uphill battle. We slept from 10pm to 6am, with no napping during daylight hours.

So for all the people who genuinely wanted a job where sleeping was the main requirement -- your dream has finally come true:

NY Museum Seeks Women For $10 Per Hour Sleep Art: Exhibit Described As 'Living Sculpture'

Women only. Sorry guys, I guess y'all have to be awake to qualify as "art."