Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Halloween 2009
Tich Tor Ang Tesmur

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ames Toward Trek


As NASA Ames Research Center celebrates their Platinum Jubliee, I'm noticing far more email alerts coming from the Moffett mailing list these days.

Of course LCROSS was a huge milestone for all their engineers and scientists, but true to form, I often tend to skirt the obvious and zero in on some tangential project that should be headline news if we lived in a world where actual intelligence was worshipped and the latest celebrity divorce was not.

On the heels of releasing the first NASA app for iPhone, Ames also announced a demonstration of first-generation laboratory prototypes of new technology that would bring chemical sensing capabilities to cell phones.

Of course, Ames and Glenn have both been instrumental in the development of many types of sensors over the years, mostly designed to detect molecular building blocks of life on Mars, or various vapors in barren environments... but this is the first time one has been developed as a HAND-HELD DEVICE.

Maybe I've just got Spock-On-The-Brain because it's that time of year when I dust off one of my Vulcan costumes, but does this sound suspiciously like a TRICORDER to anyone else? :)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mars Volunteers Needed!


The mighty Mars500 heads into the next phase of their exciting simulation series! Having taken part in simulations, I’m always keenly interested in seeing progress in any category of research where clever ground sims bring us closer to actual space missions.

One amazing current project is the collaborative effort between the European and Russian space agencies to conduct practical investigations into the time, human factors, and support equipment needed to reach Mars; I’ve blogged about them twice already, and kept up with their Mars500 mission blog.

The Mars 500
The first, 15-day stage, involving scientific investigators, took place in November 2008. The second, 105-day stage, between March and July of 2009 included 6 cosmonaut volunteers. The third, longest stage of the experiment, intended to simulate a complete 520-day mission to Mars, will proceed in 2010.

Per their website, the ESA is now taking applications! They need two candidates and two backups to undergo four months of training, then simulate:
- A 250-day journey to Mars
- A 30-day surface exploration phase
- A 240-day journey back to Earth

"Candidates should be aged 20–50, motivated, in good health and no taller than 185cm. They should speak one of the working languages: English or Russian. Candidates must have a background in medicine, biology, life support systems, computer, electronic or mechanical engineering. Selection will be based on education, experience, medical fitness and social habits. Following an initial assessment, candidates will submit results from medical tests and be invited for interview, to be screened in a process similar to that used in astronaut selection."

For the 'surface exploration', half of the crew will move to the facility’s Martian simulation module and the hatch to the rest of the facility will be closed. Results will examine all the technologies needed for such a trip, physical capabilities and limitations, as well as “telemedical” aspects of a long-duration space mission.

Cramped conditions, very few personal items, no showers... just a sauna & napkins. For 520 days? Sound insane? Maybe so, but just like with the sim programs I joined, the applications are avalanching in… and only a lucky few will be allowed to participate. The ideal team would be a physician, a biologist, an IT specialist and engineer. Roskosmos will round out this population with trained cosmonauts.

The BBC’s Richard Hollingham wrote some excellent commentary about this ambitious plan to put a group of prospective star trekkers in isolation for 17 months, as a potential first step of a mission to Mars. He actually got to see the facility and speak to the scientists involved in project development, lucky chap!

"We need to understand that in a manned flight, the people are the most vulnerable thing."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

NBL Untrivial Trivia


The Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory is housed inside the Sonny Carter Training Facility. The NBL is 202 feet long, 102 feet wide, 40 feet deep (20 above ground level, 20 below) and holds 6.2 million gallons of water which is recycled every 19.6 hours.

A medical team is present at all times, to monitor the condition of all dive personnel – both astronauts and their accompanying support SCUBA divers. Also, hyperbaric chamber is available should emergency decompression sickness treatment be necessary.

Click to see the entire NBL gallery

Pool water is automatically monitored and controlled to a temperature of 82-88 degrees Fahrenheit to minimize the potential effects of hypothermia on support divers.

It is also chemically treated to control contaminant growth while minimizing long-term corrosion effect on training mockups and equipment.

The flight spacesuits used by astronaut trainees in the NBL are self-contained and do not require umbilicals.

The facility is also used for bailout simulations, water survival training, lifeguard training, and simulations of parachute drops using the crane system (and wind drag simulated by a winch pull).

Divers breathe NITROX (oxygen-enriched gas) during all underwater operations. The facility has 250+ tank sets, all of which can be charged in less than four hours. The onsite ISO level 8 Cleanroom supports SCUBA gear maintenance and repair.

Hey, want one of those Apollo 40th Anniversary T-shirts we're wearing? Enter the contest to win! Drawing will be held December 15th :)

Neutral Buoyancy


Wrapping up the "Tour of Johnson Space Center" theme this month is NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory.

The purpose of the NBL is to prepare for ExtraVehicular Activities (EVAs) in space. NASA teams use this giant training facility to develop flight procedures, verify hardware compatibility, and give astronauts ample practice for space walks in simulated zero-g.

Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory
Put simply, "neutral buoyancy" describes any object with an equal tendency to sink or float, and thus appear to hover underwater. While not a 100% imitation of weightlessness due to water drag on general motion, it’s still the best method available by which astronauts train for space-walking. The ability to perform on-orbit assembly and maintenance operations successfully is critical to all types of space endeavors.

The NBL contains full-sized mock-ups of the Space Shuttle cargo bay and the ISS; 10-ton cranes also help with the interchangeable flight payloads such as docking hatches, storage racks, connectors, and even a full-sized Hubble, all of which are moved in and out of the pool as needed.

Here is my "I Secretly Wish I Worked
For The Discovery Channel" Clip

The Communications System includes full two-way communications among the suited astronauts, topside trainers, facility test coordinators, the flight control team within JSC’s Mission Control Center and the remainder of the shuttle crew (not performing spacewalks) at the onsite Shuttle Mission Simulator.

Click here to see the entire NBL gallery, which includes the pool, various hardware, hyperbaric and hypobaric chambers, the control room, construction history and other world NBLs.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rocket Park


Hey another award! Sweet. I was notified by the Daily Reviewer that I made their Top 100 through the "Rocketry" category... not too shabby for a blog that mentions actual rocketry about once per fiscal quarter, but I'll take it. So if you were the person who threw my URL in the ring, please let me know so I can thank you :)

Top 100 Blogs Award

And having accepted this in the spirit of supporting all aspects of space exploration, I felt compelled to mention rockets again. What better place than Houston's Rocket Park?

Saturn V Rocket
Three (separated) Stages of the Saturn V Rocket

Well, not so much a rocket "park" as a "here's where we had room to park the rockets" on space center real estate. The first time I saw the enormous Saturn V rocket up close, it was outdoors... and had been, for 26 years. Finally, some historian said o hey, this is the largest and most powerful rocket ever built and we hurled 27 guys into space with it, 12 of whom walked on the moon... hmmm, maybe we should preserve it!

Good call. I'm sure that didn't happen as sarcastically as I dramatized, but I'm still grateful the Smithsonian Institution agreed, and made a refurbishment process possible inside a new air-conditioned home. It's a stunning piece of hardware, and it's technical specifications are so utterly mind-blowing -- I just never get tired of seeing it, and I see it all the time now!

Rocket Park
Click to see the entire gallery of Rocket Park,
including the Mercury-Redstone, Little Joe, various
rocket engines and close-ups of the Saturn V stages

I also keep meaning to go see the first Saturn V rocket ever built, near Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Their rocket park also now features a full-scale mockup, pointed skyward so those who missed the moon race can see what it looks like all upright and gleaming, and not half-rotted away by Floridian or Texan humidity.

However, the Saturn V in Texas is reclaiming that patriotic gleam, so if you ever bring the kids to Houston, definitely don't miss this. The stages are separated just as they were outdoors, but now it's possible to walk between them and examine the interstage rings, all the H1, J2 and F1 engines, etc. You really cannot believe how big it is until you are dwarfed before it.

And if I haven't convinced you, please allow the Jedi master. I love this video, it's one of my favorites:

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mapping 50 Years of Missions


My god, it's full of stars! National Geographic and 5W Infographics teamed up to create a stunning, stylized representation of all the space missions in our solar system and (thanks to Voyager 1 now) beyond!

Obviously our moon has the most crowded set of return tracks, with Venus a distant second and Mars third. We've only been to Mercury twice, really??

50 Years of Space Missions

Very little is to scale here, and even less indicates accurate distance, but that doesn't lessen the impact of the artwork and the timelines in any way. In fact, this is one of the best mission maps ever developed!

You can use the small navigator box at the top right to "scan & pan"... and this afternoon, FARK featured someone who created a clickable archived version where you can see the entire graphic ... happy clicking!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Space Pagans


These are everywhere! It's definitely not my imagination -- there are far more space costumes out there than the previous few years. My hockey bud & fellow All Hallows Eve addict Mrs. L e-mailed a link to a particularly interesting Junior Astronaut ensemble on the Costco site (pictured above), and curiosity led me to google space costumes in general.

Junior Astronaut
I only have one question -- where are the girls? Every single site I perused, of which I believe AMAZON Costumes was the most cost effective, showed little boys as models for these get-ups. The American record-holder for days in space is a woman, and we have astronaut Barbie and all... so how come no little trick-or-treating space girls? Hmmm...

Happily, I have a great picture of miss Michelle at the Space Trader in the costume section. This was actually taken last April, since it's one of the few spots that sells these all year long.

Michelle at the Space Trader
Michelle at the Space Trader, Houston
o totally one of my favorite pictures ever...

Of course, I probably shouldn't complain, seeing as how I do the Vulcan thing every year and have also never bought one of these costumes; but if anyone does have a daughter who wears one of these, I'd sure love to know about it...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

MCC - Modern


Tour of MCH, part II. The Mission Control Center in Houston manages all manned space flights of NASA, including space shuttles and the American portions of the International Space Station.

ISS Mission Control
Looking down into ISS Mission Control

The "Apollo room" featured yesterday was last used operationally in 1995. Since then, MCH has expanded beyond overseeing missions “one at a time.”

Building 30 at Johnson Space Center now houses a newer MCC for Space Shuttles, the ISS Flight Control Room, Life Sciences Control to oversee experiments, Training Flight Control for practice simulations, and an Exploration Planning Operations Center used to test new concepts for operations beyond low Earth orbit.

When there is a shuttle in the air, this flight control room for STS missions is staffed by about 20 controllers. With a permanent human presence aboard the ISS, control teams of technicians and engineers are on duty 24x7, 365 days a year!

Space Shuttle Mission Control
Space Shuttle Mission Control

These "front rooms" with theatre-like viewing areas, are supported by dozens more experts working in various areas located around the perimeter of the main control rooms. They all work together to monitor spacecraft systems, crew health and activities, and also run constant checks to ensure each system is running optimally, and all operations proceed according to the flight plans.

Like astronauts, when there is no active mission, they work through simulations, developing the skills needed to maintain increasingly complex missions and respond to any unexpected events.

NASA Mission Control Center
There is a fantastic interactive flash site that shows all the controller positions in Houston’s ISS and Shuttle MCCs, and also check out the picture gallery to see the real rooms up close! (Photos of modern MCC are at the very end of the gallery, after the Apollo era stuff).

Other major Mission Control Centers include:

Pasadena, California = The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) manages all NASAs unmanned spacecraft.

Krasnoznamensk, Russia = Titov Main Test and Space Systems Control Centre outside Moscow houses 8 control rooms that over see Soyuz flights, ISS and satellite operations.

Tsukuba, Japan = JEM Control and the HTV Control at the Tsukuba Space Center manages satellite operations, activities aboard JAXA's Kibo ISS laboratory and the resupply flights of the H-II Transfer Vehicle.

Darmstadt, Germany = European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) oversees ESAs satellites and space probes.

Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany = Columbus Control Center (Col-CC) at the German Aerospace Center is the mission control center for the European Columbus research laboratory on the ISS.

Saint-Hubert, Quebec, Canada = Mobile Servicing System (MSS) Control supports Canadarm robotics operations.

Monday, October 5, 2009

MCC - Apollo


Mission Control Center
Building 30N at Johnson Space Center

Tour of Mission Control, part I of II! We've all seen various depictions of the Mission Control Center (MCC) activities in feature films and documentaries, so I won't go into exhaustive details and ruin the ambience.

It's much more interesting to head to the Mission Control gallery on Picasa and check out the photograph captions.

NASA Mission Control
Mission Control Houston

MCC features large multiple screens, consoles, and mission insignia, and for those who might like to know more about Flight Control Room positions, an ex-Fido at The Trench compiled a wonderful page to explain "Flight," "Capcom," "Guidance," FAO, MOD, and so on. Warning: More death by acronyms awaits...

The NASA website also has an interesting Mission Control FAQ in their education section, which answers critical questions, such as... How many people work in Mission Control during a mission? What do mission controllers do between missions? What kind of education does one need to become a flight controller?

Apollo Mission Control
Don't I wish...

The preserved Apollo era MCC was founded in 1961, and was one of the main mission control centers on Earth that oversaw Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and early Space Shuttle missions.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

World Space Week!


World Space Week, held from October 4 to October 10, is the largest public space event in the world.

World Space Week
Established by the United Nations General Assembly to be an international celebration of technological contributions to the betterment of humankind, WSW is coordinated by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs with the support of World Space Week Association, a non-profit organization supported by national coordinators in 68 nations.

The start and end dates recognize the launch of the first human-made Earth satellite, Sputnik 1 (October 4, 1957) and the signing of the Outer Space Treaty (October 10, 1967).

Annual events generally include rocket launches, school activities, exhibits, political events, and special programs at planetaria around the globe.

World Space Week 2009
This year’s theme is "Space for Education" and teachers are encouraged to use space-themed activities in the classroom to promote student interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Also this year, $500 teacher grants will be awarded for the most creative use of space in the classroom during WSW!

Highlights of the TENTH Annual World Space Week 2009 include:
  • NASA's LCROSS mission impacts the Moon October 9
  • Week-long space celebration across the Hawaiian islands
  • Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Lalibert√© broadcast from space
  • Australian Government launches the Australian Space Science Program
  • Space Festival & Astronautical Congress in Republic of Korea
  • Sending messages into space via SentForever
  • Celebrations in 60 nations!
To search for events in your area and find educational materials related to events, visit the WSW calendar!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Locked Out


Definitely the funniest 17 seconds I've seen this week... invest in the moment. Completely safe for work ;)