Saturday, January 22, 2011

Nova Science Now


I know you all watch NOVA. Everyone who likes science even a little bit has seen an episode or two of this amazing documentary show since it began airing in 1974.

In 2005, a "news magazine" version called NOVA SCIENCE NOW began production, with healthy mentions of space science throughout their first four seasons.

 Nova Science Now: Can We Make It To Mars?
The first episode of 2011, "Can We Make it To Mars?", is entirely dedicated to space travel! The journey begins with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, sitting in the historic Apollo mission control, and listing all the challenges we face in visiting the red planet.

What follows is 53 minutes of wonderful wonderfulest wonderfulness, if I may quote Bill Cosby. It's also a who's-who of the astronaut corps, and the many interview segments feature astronaut Jerry Linenger, Clayton Anderson, Peggy Whitson, Andrew Thomas, C. Michael Foale, Sunita Williams and Franklin Chang-Díaz.

Quite a cast! They simply accept the fact that their risk of cancer increases with each trip into the black because of cosmic radiation – but many say they would take any risk to step on Mars – even if it was a one-way trip.

< keanu > WHOA! < /keanu >

Watch the full episode. See more NOVA scienceNOW.

Floating in low gravity looks fun, but it takes a serious toll on the body. One astronaut came home from a stint on Mir with 14% bone loss, mostly in the hips and lower spine.

Can we develop counter-measures to keep a long space voyage from ransacking the human body? Or, can we develop ways to simulate gravitational forces so the body doesn’t break down?

Can we design food packages that will keep for years? Can we create lightweight shielding for the walls of a spaceship so that meteoroids traveling through space at high speeds don’t puncture the hull?

Mike Massimino repairing the Hubble Space Telescope
Massimino repairing the Hubble Space Telescope

My favorite section was hosted by astronaut Mike Massimino, who asks: Can we design a spacesuit that provides proper air pressure, but also allows for easy movement on Martian terrain?

This is no easy feat, and he would know. He demonstrated all the parts of a current space suit that protects space walkers during EVA, and how to get into a space suit – pretty cumbersome! Newer, lightweight suits may prove more useful, and prevent injury while sample-collecting – it's a truly interesting look at well-known challenges, and new potential technologies!