Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Simulation Begins!

Today is the big day for the Mars500 crew! This is very exciting -- possibly the most interesting human "simulation" experience ever attempted. Earlier this month, I posted the spacecraft floorplan of the Mars500, upon hearing that the ESA and Roskosmos had chosen their final volunteers.

Today, they embark upon their 105-day isolation study, the first attempt at a comprehensive Mars Mission simulation. If all goes well, they will undergo a 520-day "trip" later this year.

The web site of the European Space Agency now has a special ESA Mars500 section, complete with crew biographies, more in-depth looks at the modules, photograph galleries, and descriptions of their scientific protocols -- from group social dynamics to "Neuro-Immuno-Endocrine and metabolic effects" and right on down to plain-old loneliness.

Mars500 on Euronews

Two of the participants will be keeping a daily diary... no blog feed as of yet, but perhaps they'll expand into that eventually if enough people are interested. I for one will be following along, in the hopes they have good results... and also hoping that someday we mirror this effort in the American space program as well --perhaps in cooperation with JAXA? Time will tell.

Monday, March 30, 2009

6-Month Checkup

March 10th was actually my "6-month mark" from the study, but schedules being what they are, it took a bit longer to get everything coordinated for appointments. I spent much of the past week down in Houston and Galveston, where the the blood draw and the 180-day DEXA (bone scan) went fine.

Same drill... assuming origami and cleopatra poses beneath the densitometer so they could measure my spine and various joints. No red flags other than the known back twinges and foot sensitivity, and I haven't lost any bone mineral density that I am not actively regaining.

It's lways great to see the wonderful folks at UTMB, and even better to see the rooms filling up with people again! There are four subjects now in the NASA ward for Flight Simulation studies, and two more anticipated soon.

Sadly, it's still dark throughout many other wings. It could be years before the medical campus fully recovers from Hurricane Ike and returns to full operations. However, I hear the recent Spring Break festivities didn't exactly suffer this season, so partying brought some commerce back to Galveston Island.

I had a great time visiting with Gin, who is keeping a daily blog of her adventures, so for those who were fascinated with the inside workings of the study, we're fortunate to have a new writer on the ward again... check out Gin's test descriptions and interactive contests!

It was such fun to visit with her, and catch up with study staff and news. Imagine our surprise to find that we lived in the very same Williamson County neighborhood! She moved some years ago while I am still there, but our homes were less than half a mile apart in the same Texan tract... in fact, I run and rollerblade down her old street frequently in my exercise rounds... how wild! In a state the size of Texas, that's pretty incredible... and even in a single county, what are the odds??

Thursday, March 26, 2009


For those of you not yet on the LOLCAT bandwagon... "lolcat" images are combinations of amusing pictures and quirky captions, often in deliberately mis-spelled or broken-English known as "lolspeak" or "kitteh slang" -- a parody of internet lingo in general. My friend Barbie2be and I throw these back and forth sometimes, and here are some hilarious space-related ones we've found...

Space Station Kitteh

R2-D2 Kitteh

Welcome to the ISS


Warp 9 Kitteh

UNfed Houston

Darth Vader Kitteh

Vulcan Kitties

Astronaut Kitteh

To Boldly Go...

You can also submit your own captions... here was my humble submission...

2001 Cat

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

White House to ISS, Over

I enjoy most NASA news in general, but right now I’m just in denial about the whole "Stephen Colbert wins the Node 3" contest. So, in other news, President Obama rounded up a pack of school-children in the Roosevelt Room, and called the ISS! Also among the Earthling attendees was former astronaut and U.S. Senator Bill Nelson… and many other members of Congress.

Space Shuttle Discovery is currently docked, and all 10 astronauts currently on the station (from the US, Russia and Japan) passed a microphone around to speak about life in space, some of their experiments, and plans for future ISS crews.

Favorite sound bytes:
"Members of Congress are big kids when it comes to talking to astronauts."
"Do you guys still drink Tang up there?"
"How many stars are there in space?"

ISS CallPresident & Pals - ISS Crew Videoconference

There’s a marvelous photograph gallery on Yahoo! showing both ends of the call, Discovery’s recent take-off (STS-119), the trials & triumphs of recent spacewalks, the Canadian robot arm, the newest set of solar arrays and other modules of the almost-completed orbiting station.

The NASA web site has both audio and a transcript of the call -- and they mentioned it was the fifth presidental communication. The other four were Lyndon B. Johnson (1965 Gemini call), Richard Nixon (1969 Apollo 11 call), Ronald Reagan (1981 Shuttle call) and George W. Bush (2006 ISS call). Obama was the first to include a crowd for educational and inspirational purposes :)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Blonde Bedrest Twins

We'll skip the obvious doublemint gum jokes and get right to the point, no matter how the headline sounds ...

NASA Study twins
Lisha & Kari Ashford, performers from Los Angeles, California, were able to provide a whole new twist on micro-gravity research -- in a way that only identical twins can. Both engaged in "spaceflight sim" with the usual -6 blood-rush. However, Lisha stayed in bed the entire time while Kari exercised daily on a vertical treadmill... very similar to the studies at the Cleveland Clinic, and now finally underway at UTMB in Galveston.

On their web site, they give a great description of their study at the University of San Diego Research Center, and you can click on the NASA Pictures link to see captures of their daily life, and some of the science-related drills.

They ran whereas we bicycled, but many other things were the same... such as strength and balance tests, massages, and the dreaded "Tilt Test" (actually kinda glad I didn't have to do another of those, though I wish I'd had someone take photos at my first one). There are even shots of their entire research team... who seem a little less camera shy than those at Galveston! ;)

NASA tilt test
Also among the photos is another set of twins at the same study, who went through the same drill: one sister exercised, one didn't ... giving doctors insights to the differences in muscle and bone changes during micro-gravity after a 30-day period.

Incredibly, this makes 18 total articles I've found on bedrest studies between 1960 and 2009.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Moon Survival Quiz

Somewhat bad news for me at the crash site of the Moon Survival Challenge... or maybe I just haven't read enough about disasters in micro-gravity ;)

As per the Space Nerd test, seems I'm better off on Earth doing the bookish dweeb type stuff than running around the moon with guns and flares. Totally missed the point on that whole gun thing, as well as the insulation materials! But had a good laugh at the matches...

As to the other fun quizzes at OnePlusY, I'd fare even worse in a Zombie Apocalypse... *sigh* not my day ...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Planetary Radio Show

I had the great pleasure of speaking with Mat Kaplan of The Planetary Society this week. The interview and information about the Space Flight Simulation Study will be featured on Planetary Radio this week, and thereafter listed in their soundbyte archives.

Heather - Radio Interview

Past guests on the show included Buzz Aldrin, Sally Ride, Ray Bradbury, James Cameron, Arthur C. Clarke, Jonathan Frakes, etc. In fact, I was a bit shocked to get an invitation at all, since I am easily the least impressive guest they’ve ever had, LOL... but it was fun.

The feature will be played at various times all week on about 112 radio stations worldwide... and you can also subscribe to the free Planetary Society podcasts on iTunes. Shows change every monday, and host Mat Kaplan always has interesting celebrities, astronauts, varied types of scientists... also folks from Arctic Expeditions, SETI, NEEMO and international agencies.

The complete guest list is amazing! Definitely worth a listen...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Space Week 2009 Photos

Space Week Texas was a blast! The first few days in Austin were warm and crowded, swarming with waves of children -- though luckily there never seemed to be long lines, because NASA chose spots with plenty of room.

The best was undoubtedly the day of educational events at the Lyndon B. Johnson Museum, with it's sprawling lawns and wide courtyard, where there was plenty of room to spread out all the "stations" for rockets, robotics, remote control rover games, space food and "spin-the-wheel" space trivia games. My favorite was watching the kids try on spacesuit gloves and then attempt mock repair tasks... in those bulky gloves, it's not so simple!

Texas Space Week
The mobile multi-media unit held exhibits with information about the Constellation Program, including the Ares rockets, the Orion crew space craft, and the Altair Lunar Lander. Inside the LBJ museum was a nostalgic look back at the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo eras – including American suits and crafts, plus a few Russian artifacts on loan from Star City.

Everyone got "swag bags" full of pamphlets, ISS calendars, activity books, space seeds for the garden, build-it-yourself cardboard models of various crafts, and commemorative NASA 50th Anniversary posters.

A few days later in College Station, the busiest day had over 600 school-children… quite the line of buses! Temperatures dropped due to a huge rainstorm that swept through the state, but luckily, most of the items of interest were indoors. Even larger halls were crammed with NASA relics, information and films about each Space Shuttle , our Moon, and all the planets of the solar system. Temporary exhibits also featured space collectibles from popular culture -- mostly Star Wars and Star Trek.

The best part here was a moving platform where you could sit reclined in a seat designed to mimic those in the Space Shuttle, and experience the sight and sounds and vibrating rumble of a launch! Very cool. Loud. But cool.

NASA Space WeekOn the final evening, the screening of "Forbidden Planet" was laughable in its now-outdated technology predictions, but all in good kitschy fun. I wouldn't have thought it possible, but Leslie Nielsen even out-Shatnered Captain Kirk there a couple times. Before the show, I spoke to an elderly couple who said they saw the movie in a theatre the year they got married and thought it would be fun to see it again on the big screen -- as they approach their 54th wedding anniversary! Wow.

Space Week truly appealed to people of all ages... sure would be great if they could do this in every town! :)

Click on any link or picture in this post to see the full photo album at Picasa... also now listed in the PHOTO*Galleries link in the Navigation Bar.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

FunnyMoon Suite

This may be one of the wittiest and most entertaining slideshows I've ever come across about why NASA is hoping to return to the moon, as a stepping stone to Mars. Thanks to Wayne at The Rocketry Blog for the great post...

Why NASA Is Returning To The Moon

"Science and exploration are intertwined.
EXPLORATION is going into the unknown.
EXPLORATION is looking over the next hill.
EXPLORATION is sacrifice for risky rewards.
SCIENCE is understanding nature.
SCIENCE is observation, hypothesis, experiment.
SCIENCE is asking questions.To do science we must first explore.
Exploration does not equal science.
Exploration enables science."

Exploration is about doing the impossible.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Mars 500

I signed up to spend 90 days in bed for "space flight simulation." A lot of folks called me crazy. I never actually argued with that, so I figure I still have wiggle room to point out people who are even crazier :)

But hey, we're all in this together, just trying to get to Mars, right? The European and Russian space agencies are collaborating on mock mars missions, and I posted a detailed article about these projects at HULIQ Science.

Mars 500

The Mars 500 Crew during survival training.

The first 105-day simulation starts this month. The second, scheduled for later this year, will isolate crew members for 520 days (possibly up to 600, which is still under consideration by Roskosmos) -- the time needed to travel to Mars, stay for a month, and travel back to Earth.

Though still concerned with health and human factors above all, these studies will focus less on microgravity and more on actual survival -- including psychological effects of isolation and self-sufficiency aboard a spacecraft on a long mission.

Moscow's official Mars 500 website has some interesting descriptions, and it's a great step forward for both agencies in confronting the time, equipment and support needed to reach Mars, as well as the dynamics of human interaction under long-term isolation. In addition, the official site of the Russian Control Centre of Space Flights has this marvelous model:

Mars Modules

Module 1: The Mars Lander (6.3m × 6.17m) will be used during the 30-day “Mars orbiting” phase. It has three bunks, two workstations, a data collection system, video communications, ventilation, water supply and fire alarm systems.

Module 2: The Technical Module (3.2m × 11.9m) will house equipment for medical examinations and telemedical, laboratory and diagnostic investigations. All experiments will be conducted here.

Module 3: The Living Quarters (3.6m × 20m) has a kitchen, living room, and main control room. Six individual crew compartments (2.8m²) will have a bed, a desk, chair and small shelves.

Module 4: The Storage Module (3.9m × 24m) features food refrigeration, clothing and crockery cupboards, sauna & gym, plus a “regenerative” life-support system and greenhouse farm. Other partitions house necessary tools for running the study (communications consoles, ventilation, water supply, electrical panels, recycling, safety monitoring, emergency equipment)

Module 5: The Surface of Mars... Oh just imagine the playtime here!

Mars PollMSNBC ran a poll ... with about 41% yea and 53% nay, but I'm thinking the numbers would have been very different if they'd had this diagram on hand, noting the glaring lack of bathing facilities. Says the Russian scientist heading the project, it's just a little hot steam and towels.

That's right, no hot showers for 18 months. 1250 square feet of space with an ISS workload. Could you?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Aspiring Astronaut

Okay this is my favorite part of this whole gig... I had a lovely surprise this week, from 5-year-old Katie in Missouri, a big NASA fan and growing space enthusiast.

Katie watches my posted videos with her mother, Elizabeth, who has been following the blog since last year's newscasts from UTMB. Both enjoy space topics and science museums, and I sincerely hoped to keep her interest healthy... because patches shouldn't cost nine dollars. ANYWHERE. Sorry. In joke. But you can see the whole story on the sweet post Elizabeth put on her Six Golden Coins blog...

Space Station MIR
A few days later, they mailed some artwork to me. Isn't this beautiful... great job, Katie! Keep dreaming of the stars!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Naming New Node

So NASA asked the public to name the next node to be connected to the International Space Station, a module housing life support systems that will also serve as a control tower for the giant robotic arm -- complete with an elaborate six-windowed observation deck.

ISS Module Node 3
Node 1 is Unity, Node 2 is Harmony, and NASA’s first suggestions for Node 3 were Earthrise, Legacy, Serenity or Venture. You have until March 20th to vote or submit your own idea.

Write-ins include: Synergy, Vision, Tranquility, Vista, Horizon, Hope, Eternity, Peace, Trinity, and – predictably – Enterprise. What? No Shatnerville?? Vote and see scores at NameNode3.

The winning title will be revealed on April 28, and Node 3 is scheduled to launch in December 2009, thereafter attached to the ISS by Space Shuttle Endeavor.

Poindexters?!?! He's amusing, but I'm not feeling particularly compelled to vote his ticket. Well, okay that's not entirely true. I may write letters to Forté and Tazo, encouraging them to consider the peaceful tea names :)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Mars March

Based upon the Greek god Ares, “Mars” was the Roman god of war. This survived into Olde English as Martius, then Middle English Marche. The month of March for many cultures was the original beginning of the calendar year, and the time for resumption of war.

Iron oxidation in the soil makes the Martian surface appear red, and it was associated with war because the planet’s color reminded ancient astronomers of blood. Today Mars is still often nicknamed "the Red Planet."

Mars has two irregular moons, named for the sons of Ares: Phobos is about 17 miles in diameter, and Deimos about 9 miles. In Greek, their names mean "Fear and Dread" (or in some translations, "Fear and Panic").

This fourth planet from the Sun is about half the size of Earth, has white polar ice caps and its atmosphere is made up primarily of carbon dioxide.

Rotation time is nearly the same as Earth, but Mars takes 687 Earth days to complete an orbit around the sun.

An object weighing 100 pounds on Earth would weigh just 38 pounds on Mars.

Arizona’s Grand Canyon would easily fit into a side-crevasse of Valles Marineris, the largest canyon in the solar system. This "Mariner Valley" is 125 miles wide in various places, up to 5 miles deep, and nearly 2,500 miles long. That’s the about distance from California to New York.

Statistically, UFO sightings are at their greatest number during those times when Mars is closest to Earth.