Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Why Astronauts Cannot Whistle In Space


I'm surprised Congress hasn't moved their operations to low earth orbit, since there can (quite literally) be no whistleblowers in space!

IO9 recently reported on Why Astronauts Can't Whistle in Space, claiming that the fact was "discovered" by Dan Barry in 1999… but that's rather like saying Cristoforo Colombo "discovered" America when there were already human inhabitants on the continent. Another case of HE WASN'T EVEN CLOSE TO BEING FIRST.

Of course, trying anything in the vacuum of space would result in swift death, so it comes down to: can you whistle in the space station? Yes. Can you whistle while inside of a space suit? No. In the Apollo era, many of the moonwalkers found they could not whistle inside the Lunar Module or in their space suits. The short answer then and now? Air pressure.

Space whistling
Not so fast, pal!

For humans to create whistle sounds, they must suck or blow a controlled airstream through the lips, teeth, and tongue in such a shaped, narrow way that creates turbulence, which must in turn vibrate fast enough to produce audible tones. This is fairly simple to accomplish in the 14+ psi (pounds per square inch) of breathable air close to the Earth's crust.

By contrast, space suits re-circulate air with only about 4 psi of pressure – not nearly enough to create that necessary labial turbulence. Not enough air molecules? Not enough vibration? No whistle.

Astronaut whistle
Why Female Astronauts Don't Miss Whistling

Astronaut trainers have for years told astronauts once they are in their suits, deliberate or absent-minded attempts to whistle while they work, but space-walkers feel the need to put it to the test, as evidenced by similar interviews of astronauts Jeff Hoffman, Jim Reilly, Mike Fossum and Ron Garan, among others.

So, time and time again we prove we cannot whistle in space. Hey, there's no such thing as a "good hair day" in space either, but why should we care? Coifs? Whistling while we work? Does it matter? Probably not.

It's just a reminder of how different life can be away from Earth's atmosphere. Likewise, all bets are off when we leave the gravitational field, leave the magnetic field, and/or leave the biosphere of Earth behind. We did not evolve in the vacuum of space, and it will thus forever be a foreign environment, full of surprises great and small.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fragile Oasis


"As we got further, Earth diminished in size. Finally, it shrank to the
size of a marble, the most beautiful you can imagine. That warm,
living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it
with a finger it would crumble. Seeing this has to change a man."
~ James B. Irwin, Apollo 15

You've been to the Fragile Oasis web site, haven't you? Everyone knows when an astronaut starts embracing social media, right? Well, that's what I thought. Sometimes, I don't bother commenting on or writing about things that seem "obvious" to me… like everyone in the space community knows about certain things that simply don't need mentioning.

However, I just had an online conversation with some Spacetweeps yesterday who hadn't yet visited Fragile Oasis, begun by astronaut Ron Garan in June 2010, and I was shocked. Shocked, I tell you… shocked! ;)

Fragile Oasis mission patch
Some astronauts have blogged while on assignment, and still others have joined Twitter or Facebook, but few have been as dedicated or prolific in their writing as Ron Garan, who shares his thoughts on training in Russia's "Star City", quarantine, flight traditions, living and working in the ISS, and how one comes to think of our amazing world when they get to see it from 250 miles up each day.

The Bloggernauts section features an archive of posts from Ron over the past year, as well as posts from fellow astronauts Don Pettit, Doug Wheelock and Nicole Stott; guests posts are a frequent treat, most notable from Russian Cosmonaut Dmitri Kondratyev, singer/songwriter John Ondrasik, and Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte (Canada's first private space traveler).

You can also see some great materials about Fragile Oasis on Twitter and Vimeo, where their roving reporters go to events and ask people what they think about our planet Earth. And yes, I'm in there chattering ;)

Astronaut Ron Garan
Astronauts are the lucky few who get to rise far above the Earth and see our planet in space in a way no other humans can, and this tends to have a dramatic emotional effect on their psyches. They see the oneness and beauty of everything without national borders, without close-ups – and they are able to do so as a result of scientific progress that MUST continue forward.

"The stark contrast between the beauty of our planet and
realities of life for many inhabitants reaffirmed
the belief I share
with so many. Each and every one of us has
the responsibility to leave it a little
better than we found it."
~ Ron Garan, STS-124 & Soyuz TMA21

Fragile Oasis
Fragile Oasis started as a blog, but has now grown to include a community of shared projects, and an interactive map of where all the members are seeing their Earthcare projects through to completion, including green business initiatives, energy-efficient engineering, famine relief, disaster preparedness, widespread literacy & education concerns, and clean water efforts.

It all started from an orbital perspective, once we'd be wise to share. Come check it out, and vote for projects to follow where you live! Thanks, Ron!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Space Race 2012


In honor of the 50th anniversary of Seattle's Space Needle (1962-2012), click here to enter the sweepstakes being held by Space Needle LLC. Over the next few months, the following prizes will be awarded:

September Winner: Celestron NexStar 8SE Telescope

October Winner: Breitling Aeromarine Colt Quartz watch

November Winner: SuperCade Upright Classic Arcade Machine

December Winner: Seattle & Space Needle Adventure Vacation

Finally, a thousand entries will be chosen in December, and as of 2012, one final winner will receive a seat aboard G-Force One for a Zero Gravity experience.

Space Needle Contest
The fine print? Ah yes, there's always fine print beyond the "no purchase necessary", LOL! Of course,

Here's the kicker: The "Trip to Space" (a slight misnomer since it's really more of a "Trip Through Parabolas") will be awarded to the winner of a skill-based competition that is separate from the ongoing Sweepstakes. The competition is governed by its own rules and restrictions, separate from the monthly giveaways.

One thousand potential winners will be selected randomly from all the entries received between August and December. Then, since they are calling it the "Competition Contestant Prize Drawing", one assumes we will all compete against one another. They don't say what sort of competition they are cooking up, but I entered anyway, on faith that I'll have a bash at whatever it turns out to be.

You can click to their rules page to see all the other fine print and the retail value of the various prizes. Once a participant has been selected as the potential prize winner of any prize in the Sweepstakes, he or she becomes ineligible to win any other Sweepstakes prizes.

Overall odds of winning the monthly prizes or the grand prize at the end will depend on the number of eligible entries over the next four months. Participants need not and may not be present at a drawing to win… so, one assumes they will be contacted by email.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

US Leadership in Space


When I have writer's block (like now) and have trouble getting posts started (like this week), I tend to go minutiae-hunting, and just wait for some sort of passionate inspiration to hit me. I always wonder if people can tell? There are many space issues and projects over which I am naturally passionate… but, actively seeking things to write about can often result in stumbling over things that peeve me.

Like this:

Seems the Pew Research Center of Washington DC, whose catchy motto is "Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World", released the dubious statistic that 58% of Americans see US leadership in space as essential.

Pew Research
Really? I'm certainly not seeing this professed "majority" of support. And I don't think this is entirely an education problem… maybe it's just a lip service problem.

The Pew Research Center @pewresearch professes to be a nonpartisan "fact tank" that provides information on worldwide attitudes and trends by conducting public opinion polling and social science research. They (it?) claim(s) to not take any position on policy for any particular issue, however...

Honestly, if you asked the proper question about this issue, I'm pretty sure the pie chart would look more like this:

Pew Research
Still, the article on the Pew Research web site about the Space Shuttle Program is definitely worth reading. Looking back, a majority (55%) say it has been a good investment for the country, and that it is crucial for America to be the world leader in space exploration. While this is lower than it was when the shuttle program began in 1981, six in ten people (or more, across certain demographics), said the program was a good investment in terms of:
  • Helping to encourage interest in science and technology
  • Leading to scientific advances that benefit all people
  • Contributing to national pride and patriotism

Ed Stein Space Cartoon
A couple of my readers and a few of my friends have pointed out my recent posts have rather a sarcastic bite. True. It's part post-shuttle-launch-anti-climactic-letdown, part fear of what's to come for manned spaceflight. If anything.

In the re-worded words of flight director Wayne Hale, HOPE ISN'T A PLAN. Write to your senators and congresspersons!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Inside the SpaceX Geekosystem


So I'm browsing around the Geekosystem, when...

GET IT? Ha. GEEKoSystem! No really, it's a website. Go for the information, stay for the dark comedy. Anyway, they featured "A Pictorial Review of SpaceX's Eight Dragon Spaceships" that both delighted and peeved me for various reasons.

SpaceX Dragon
Me with the Dragon 3 Space-Flown Capsule

Dragon Capsule #3 of course made history in December 2010 when it became the first commercial spacecraft to reach orbit, and also be successfully recovered back on Earth, following splashdown after traveling roughly 50,000 miles.

That's awesome, and still makes me all warm and runny when I think about watching the launch and recovery. If they pull off their plans for Dragon 4 to reach the ISS before the year is out, no one will be waving pom-poms around more wildly than I. Let me just say up front that I hate pom-poms. But I'll wave them. For the ISS.

HOWEVER. When I visited SpaceX in Hawthorne, California a few months ago, it was with the understanding that my camera would stay in my car. So when did the rules change or who snuck in to take all of these awesome pictures about Dragon 5, 6, 7 and 8 development?

I saw a couple of these projects up close, but was allowed no shutter time, so what gives? Here's hoping they open a small PR department who will arrange proper tours or even social media events, because the demand is definitely there!

Garrett Reisman
With Garrett Reisman at the Air Force
Space and Missile History Center

Your homework for today, space fans, is to memorize vocabulary words for our new era of space travel:

Crew Development Program Manager
– Garrett's title at SpaceX, after years of being known simply as "NASA Astronaut who was on Stephen Colbert's show twice".

Commercial Orbital Transportation Services – COTS, the newest way NASA is trying to build hardware, seeing as how Congress keeps thinking up ways to prevent that from ever happening again.

Commercial Resupply Service – What the Russians now do without us, and we'd like to try it again here in America. Will SpaceX be our answer? Stand by for your November answer.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Tin Foiled Again


Wow, pretty horrible news for the Conspiracy Theory Crowd.

Whether you embrace the contemporary fashion for blocking government beams (or alien beams, in some circles) it turns out that tin foil headgear actually enables mind control!

Go figure.

MIT's Ali Rahimi
Ali Rahimi of MIT. Seriously.

After seeking resource links for yesterday’s post about radio waves, I stumbled over this enlightening piece of news, whereby several people at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (who knew they had so much time on their hands?) experimented with various radio frequencies used by the United States government. Would a tin foil hat truly stem the tide of Big Brothery evil?

Tin Foil Hat Cat
Astonishingly, after testing three common helmet styles, MIT researchers found that the tin foil magnifies the waves instead of blocking them.

So hmm, maybe the aliens among us set this conspiracy theory in motion all along, hoping that tin foil caps would catch on??

Fashion Statement

You have no idea how much I wish I was making this up.

Alas, a quarter million dollars worth of equipment was used, including computer power, a network analyzer, a signal generator and omnidirectional antenna – all used to test signals in various ranges… all to find out that regular old Reynolds foil amplify the bands allocated to the government.

Wernher von Braun
So what CAN one use to block alien beams or government mind-control technology? I have no idea, but I am sure new products for just this purpose are about to hit the market.

Please, please let it be chocolate.

Monday, August 15, 2011

New NASA Office


Seems Charlie Bolden got tired of answering the question, "So, is NASA dead now?" At least, that's my guess. Even many of my personal pals, who I always over-assume are fully educated about the space industry due to my friendship being inflicted upon them, have asked me, "What will NASA do? Are they folding? Is this the end?"

Why, did the International Space Station just blink out of existence? Did all of our satellites and space crafts suddenly fall out of orbit or stop signaling from around the solar system?

I am continually stunned at how many professed patriotic Americans are unaware to a large degree about this agency that largely makes their lifestyle possible. Even worse, why doesn't the American government understand the importance of the space program -- what it has done in the past and could accomplish again if leadership meant more than squabbly politics?

Congressional Space Debates

No idea how long this announcement by Bolden has been planned, but it hit the wire yesterday that NASA opened a new office for "deep space missions" -- although under this official umbrella, they are also including a trip to our nearby Moon. Yeah, remember the Moon? Just when I thought NASA, Spacetweeps and Wiccans were the only ones who remembered it was there! ;)

The new department will be called the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, with the unsatisfying acronym HEOMD. Not even a little catchy. And pardon the implied pessimism, but it will combine the skeletons of two previous organizations under the Space Ops administrator Bill Gerstenmaier, and attempt to define what is next for manned missions sans Space Shuttles.

Not envying Bill his job even a little. Or anyone with the title of "astronaut" right now. Seems even the Right Stuff isn't immune to job uncertainty.

Gus Grissom and Alan Shepard
Don't quit your day job. Oh, wait...

Despite naysaying by certain press outlets who have no facts and rely on speculation, the astronaut corps will remain intact, the ISS will continue operations under the newly created conglomerate, and, as always, a new heavy lift vehicle will be in the plans.

A great deal of pessimism surrounds this latter directive, given that construction and budgets are continually at the whimsy of rotating Presidents, and every new cabinet in the White House changes directions before any path is completed.

Nonetheless, the current administration committed to an asteroid visit, and a trip to Mars; with this newly created department, Charles Bolden announced that NASA was "recommitting to American leadership in space for years to come."

Asteroid Landing
The idea here is that NASA will concentrate on human missions further out into the solar system, but pass the torch of been-there-done-that low Earth orbit to the private space industry... if they can produce results.

I grow weary of typing this phrase, but once again, Time Will Tell.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Alternate Compression Garment Study (ACG)


If you cannot spare the 70+ days required for the study described yesterday, another study seeking healthy volunteers is the ACG, or the Alternative Compression Garment study.

And when I say "volunteers", I actually mean PAID volunteers. NASA covers the cost of travel and hotels while you undergo screening for any program, and also compensate candidates for time spent. Upon entry, active study members make $160 per day, and then they also pay to send you home again – anywhere in the USA. In the 3 programs that I did, I met people from 8 different states!

Alternate Compression Garment Study
Anyway, back to compression garments! Sexy, huh?

Most folks will wear these for one day or three days after 2 weeks of head-down tilt bedrest to mimic weightlessness. I tried the leg compression stockings once in a lunar gravity study that was covered by Fox 26 Houston at the time.

It was probably the warmest my feet had been in years. I always seem to have cold toes! I haven't yet had the chance to try the whole garment, but this upgraded study will see if they are useful in terms of "cardiovascular re-adaptation" after space flight.

Tilt tests are probably the most well-known of the astronaut drills at the NASA study facility, except maybe for centrifuge rides. These are done before and after bed rest phases to determine physiological baseline and later changes.

NASA Tilt Test
The always popular Tilt Test

Results of the study will help scientists describe the time it takes for cardiovascular system to re-adapt to upright posture during recovery days following bed rest. Will custom compression suits affect the amount of time needed to re-adjust to normal, upright posture?

In other words, how can doctors keep an astronaut from fainting and falling when the return to normal gravity on Earth? This answer is often different from person to person, and different between males and females.

Female volunteers are particularly in short supply most times, and NASA always needs more candidates, so I continually encourage eligible women to apply if they can get the time off work to try out the programs. Tell a friend if you know someone who wants to go play astronaut! :)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

NASA Spaceflight Simulations Website


The web site has been updated! The web site has been updated! You're not hallucinating if you detect an element of Reverse Chicken Little Syndrome in that exclamation. Every web update means brand new research studies are being conducted at the NASA Human Test Subject Facility (HTSF) at Johnson Space Center! Always welcome news.

While manned spaceflight has taken a downturn, NASA does still have an 18 billion dollar budget dedicated to various missions and wide ranges of research projects. The flight simulations are definitely a worthy area of research! And these are the kinds where you don't need to be a rocket scientist -- you just need to be healthy and motivated, and you can help your space program.

NASA Bedrest Studies
I've participated in three of these studies, and had great fun performing all the tests and procedures, so I always encourage others to check out the forms and throw their hat in the ring if they think they meet the health standards.

The screening process has remained the same over the years, and it's not always easy, but you are definitely in an exclusive group of specimens if you can pull it off! Do you know a fitness-minded person you can refer? Help NASA find some folks who can participate!

Especially now, in light of how many more scientists are studying How A Long Mission To Mars Could Kill You. In the short term, most of the studies are between 2 weeks and a few months, so there is no harm to be had. But the results of the data over time and in many individuals help NASA keep astronauts healthier.

University of Texas Medical Branch
Many of the programs, while seeking counter-measures for space flight, also benefit people with conditions here on earth, such as cardio-pulmonary and osteoporosis patients, just to name a few. (Hey, Rogaine and Viagra were both discovered by testing potential blood pressure medicines. So, there you go.)

Want to see what your made of and help humanity get to Mars? Seriously, apply to the flight sim program! When the first foot steps on the red planet, you will be able to say that you helped make that happen. Do you know someone who is fit, adventurous and willing? Encourage them to apply, too. Above is the schematic of the NASA facility where all the testing takes place... help NASA fill the rooms :)