Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Astro Websites


Okay, back to Astronaut trivia! While researching my new Space Map series, I read the profiles of all 522 space travelers from 51 nations, and linked to their profiles at their various programs or space agencies.

Along the way, I noticed that some astronauts, in addition to government biographies, had their own web sites. However, it was not as many as I would have thought! I found 44 total, but would love to hear from anyone who may know others.

A few other space sites have older lists, but most are incomplete or out-of-date in terms of those sites that no longer exist. So here is the most updated listing I could compile:

Buzz Aldrin

William Anders

Jerome Apt

Alan Bean

Roberta Bondar

Fernando Caldiero

Duane Carey
*Award for Awesomest Domain Name

Scott Carpenter

Gene Cernan

Franklin Chang-Diaz

Leroy Chiao

Pete Conrad

Walter Cunningham

Charles Duke

Ron Garan

John Glenn

Richard Gordon

Umberto Guidoni

Miroslaw Hermazewski

John Herrington

Jose Hernandez

Thomas Jones

James Lovell
*Okay, this one is a restaurant, a little off-theme...

Ed Lu

Yuri Malenchenko

Franco Malerba

Edgar Mitchell

Mike Mullane

Story Musgrave

William Nelson

William Oefelein

Greg Olsen

Scott Parazynski

William Pogue

Dumitru Dorin Prunariu

Vladimír Remek

Sally Ride

Wally Schirra

Rusty Schweickart

Rick Searfoss

Deke Slayton

Thomas Stafford

Franz Viehböck

Edward White

Al Worden

John Young

Monday, November 28, 2011

Meteorite Men


Take everything you learned from yesterday's trivia flap, and get ready to have your world ROCKED (literally) by the new season of Meteorite Men! Sounds like a band of science super heroes, doesn't it?

Those who might read regularly know that I have a borderline-loathing for most television. It takes an awful lot to get my attention onto something other than NASA TV. Many of you feel the same way I do, so I thought I'd provide this handy list of reasons to watch Meteorite Men:

Pros: No hoarders, no toddlers, no tiaras, no dancing, no Kardashians.

I have not gone on a road trip with these chaps, and I resent it deeply.

Meteorite Men
Geoff & Steve at the Secret Alpha Site in Kansas

Seriously? I've thrice driven through Kansas, and joked to a friend that the state colors were "Red, White & Boring" -- but if I had known there were olivine meteorites to be had, I may have stayed longer. It's truly amazing what you can find when you know how and where to look. Turns out Kansas is America's "Cosmic Bullseye", with more meteorites per square mile than any other state!

This is just one of the many things I have learned watching their adventures; all the James Bondy toys (watch for their industrious amphibious vehicle, the Rockhound) must just tickle the gadget geek contingent, but being more of an academic, I like the part where they meet up with experts from esteemed universities to verify the possible history and authenticity of their extra-terrestrial treasures.

Season three of the popular Science Channel series premieres tonight (11/28/11) at 10pm ET, but of course check your local listings for specifics. Now that there are thousands of channels to choose from, I learned the hard way that satellite company details can often be harder to find than meteorites themselves.

No matter the weather conditions, with or without paved roads, through swamps and deserts, intrepid explorers and world-prominent meteorite hunters Geoff Notkin & Steve Arnold pursue some of the rarest ancient objects on Earth, compliments of the cosmos.

Tonight's first episode will see them visiting to secure a sample from the Morasko Crater Field of Poland, and also pay a visit to the amazing SOFIA, the Boeing jet serving as NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Airborne Astronomy.

The season will feature eight episodes total, taking the Meteorite Men through a few US states, across remote areas of Russia, up through northern Sweden to the Arctic Circle and into Whitecourt Crater in Canada. Brave, they are! Heck, I've only been as far north as Edmonton...and that was more than snowy enough.

If you're an off-the-grid dweeb like me who lacks cable television, you can watch their YouTube channel clips or also go onto Amazon MM, where episodes are $1.99 apiece. Worth every rock.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sky Bullets


The word meteor comes from the classical Greek meteoron, which means "atmospheric event", and technically, this modern term refers merely to the streak of photons trailing a meteoroid. A meteoroid, in turn, is any interplanetary object bigger than a speck of dust and smaller than an asteroid.

The atmosphere is something of an Ellis Island stopover. Once it hits Earth, a meteoroid undergoes a scientific immigration process to become a "meteorite".

I particularly like "Aurora Particles" and "Fireballs"

The strewnfield is the area where meteorites from a single fall are dispersed. There are two ways strewnfields can form:
Mid-Air Fragmentation
happens when a large meteoroid enters the atmosphere and explodes due to thermal shock, sending pieces of material over a wide area.
Impact fragmentation is exactly how it sounds, usually creating a circular crater and spreading debris in a smaller, concentrated area.

About 4 billion meteoroids hit Earth every single day; that's about a hundred tons per day of meteor dust. However, most are so tiny as to be harmless, even though they travel at hundreds of kilometers per second.

Photo of Arizona Meteor Crater I took from an airplane!
(Click for closeup)

The largest meteorite known to hit Earth has never been moved from where it fell in Africa. Weighing 60 tons and landing about 80,000 years ago, the "Hoba West" has been declared a national monument by the government of Namibia.

To protect it it from the estimated 100,000 meteoroids that will hit it during it's 20-year life span, the International Space Station is covered with Kevlar ... about a foot thick! This same material is used to manufacture bullet-proof vests.

Perseid Meteor Shower

Meteor showers are named after the constellations they appear to be falling from.

In Sylacauga, Alabama in 1954, a woman named Ann E. Hodges was napping in her home when an 8-pound meteorite smashed through her roof, bounced off a radio and struck her in the arm and hip. This was the first recorded meteoroid to hit a human being on Earth.

If you happen to find a fallen meteorite, the Meteoritical Society demands that you donate 20% or 20 grams (whichever is smaller) for research, but it's all right to sell the rest... unless you live in South Africa, where meteorites are protected under National Heritage Law and must be surrendered whole to authorities.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Astro Entertainers


Heaping capsule-fulls of astronauts have been featured in or interviewed for space program documentaries and science shows. Still others have consulted on feature films about historical events.

Many many many astronauts have appeared on talk and variety shows, alongside Ed Sullivan, Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Johnny Carson, Oprah Winfrey, Craig Ferguson, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert.

Almost an entire Shuttle Endeavour crew appeared on "Home Improvement". Commander Dick Covey and his team from STS-61 discussed repairing the Hubble Space Telescope. Story Musgrave and Claude Nicollier got in some good zinger jokes alongside the laugh track, Jeff Hoffman played a video of himself on EVA, imitating Tim Allen's famous manly grunt… and Tom Akers displayed some of the tools used in space... one of which Tim Taylor tried to "shoplift"! Mission Pilot Ken Bowersox went on to feature in two more episodes as the series progressed.

In their first attempt at comedy acting… turns out they were pretty good space travelers! Dudes, don't quit your weightless jobs.

In perhaps the most famous astronaut movie of all time, actor Tom Hanks portrayed Astronaut James Lovell in Apollo 13 (1995), based on Lovell's book Lost Moon. Lovell himself makes a cameo in this movie, playing the captain of the USS Iwo Jima at the end of the film.

Buzz Aldrin Dancing With The Stars
In the children's genre, Buzz Aldrin appeared on "Sesame Street"! Kenneth Stanley Reightler, Jr. also appeared on the Barney and Friends home video "Barney in Outer Space".

Buzz Aldrin also performed with partner Ashley Costa on season 10 of "Dancing With The Stars". At 80, he was the oldest dancer to ever appear on the show, though after Waltz, Foxtrot and Cha-Cha numbers, he was eliminated by audience vote in round 3.

Season 7, Episode 12 saw NASA Goddard hosting Top Chef: Gastro-Nauts, which featured TJ Creamer and Tracy Caldwell Dyson on the ISS, displaying some onboard nutritional choices. Later in the food judging panel of the same airing, Buzz Aldrin, Sandra Magnus and Leland Melvin tasted some of the cheftestants' attempts at making palatable dishes for use in microgravity.

Leland Melvin and fellow astronaut Sunita Williams also appeared with their dogs in the 7th season of NatGeo's "The Dog Whisperer".

Survivor Panama
Daniel T. Barry was one of 16 contestants on the CBS program "Survivor: Panama-Exile Island", operating within the La Mina tribe. He came in 11th place, being the 6th person voted off the island on Day 15 of the reality competition trials.

Astronaut Thomas David Jones is a science/space contributor for the Fox News channel.

Astonishingly, no astronaut has ever hosted Saturday Night Live.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Americans in Space II


Map completion! My newest project is a mapping of where every space traveler was born. And it's been a heck of a lot of reading... 522 profiles altogether, of astronauts, cosmonauts, spationautes, taikonauts and the first handful of space tourists.

I've just finished the final column in the listings, and used this resource to place the final markers on the Google map, showing a total of 51 nations that have contributed to off-Earth exploration.

Map of Astronauts
For a larger map of the birth places, you can also go straight to the source on my Google site.

In each case, the very first person into space from various ethnic groups are noted, as well as those who walked on the moon, perished in unfortunate disasters, completed famous firsts or still hold world records.

Along the way, I kept track of how many NASA astronauts came from each state. The leaders of the pack are New York, California, Texas and... Ohio? Well, the first three are no surprise, given their large populations. However, percentage wise in comparison to inhabitants, OHIO is the state that has contributed the most to the Astronaut Corps -- and there was even an all-Ohio Space Shuttle crew!

Perhaps it's because Neil Armstrong was from Ohio? He must have inspired a great many people from his state to become space travelers.

Number of Astronauts Per State
Number of astronauts per state

Also, there are thus far NO astronauts from Vermont, Wyoming, Nevada or Alaska? Well, if you are from one of those states, you could still make history as the first!

I also tracked birthdates and names along the way, and have been compiling separate research pages for those stats... interesting stuff. See all the first names of the space travelers, and perhaps you share a name with someone who isn't Story Musgrave... because let's face it, the chances of another Story astronaut are pretty slim. Birthdates, including breakdowns of birth months and birth years are still to come; stay tuned!

Tech notes: If you are using IE9 or upgrade to Firefox8, the custom icons can disappear at random. O the joys of technology! ;)

Note also that since the map grew so large, all the markers do not show up on one page. Google requires a scroll down through the place holders to skip to the next set of markers.

Monday, November 21, 2011

NASA Astronaut Groups


One for the trivia geeks! Or you know, kids. Do kids still get into space history these days? Do they still want to be astronauts? Let's hope so, because sometimes it can be both fun and humorous. The previous class of astronauts bestows a nickname on every new class of astronauts selected. To date, the NASA astronaut groups are:

Group 01: April 9, 1959 - The Original Seven or The Mercury Seven
Group 02: September 17, 1962 - The New Nine (Also: Nifty Nine)
Group 03: October 17, 1963 - The Fourteen
Group 04: June 28, 1965 - The Scientists
Group 05: April 4, 1966 – The Original 19
Group 06: October 4, 1967 - XS 11 or The "Excess Eleven"
Group 07: August 14, 1969 – (No nickname on record)
Group 08: January 16, 1978 – TFNG (Thirty Five New Guys)
Group 09: May 29, 1980 - (No nickname on record)
Group 10: May 23, 1984 - The Maggots
Group 11: June 4, 1985 – (No nickname on record)
Group 12: June 5, 1987 - The GAFFers
Group 13: January 17, 1990 - The Hairballs
Group 14: March 31, 1992 - The Hogs
Group 15: December 8, 1994 - The Flying Escargot
Group 16: May 1, 1996 - The Sardines
Group 17: June 4, 1998 - The Penguins
Group 18: July 26, 2000 - The Bugs
Group 19: May 6, 2004 - The Peacocks
Group 20: June 29, 2009 – The Chumps

The Mercury Seven
The First.

Trivia tidbits:

Group 2
: The New Nine included Neil Armstrong.

Group 4
: The Scientists Included the first medical doctor in space (Joe Kerwin) and many of the folks who ran experiments on Skylab.

Group 6
: The "Excess 11" were assigned as backup crew members for the last Apollo missions or as backup for Skylab, though many later flew as Shuttle Mission Specialists.

Group 8
: Ironically, the "Thirty Five New Guys", the only gender-specific nickname, included the first American woman in space, Sally Ride.

Group 10: Of this group, main Maggot William Shepherd would become the commander of the first ISS crew (Expedition 1).

Group 12: The nickname GAFFers is an acronym for "George Abbey Final Fifteen".

Group 13: The "Hairballs" nickname came after the class put a black cat on its group patch.

Group 14
: Beginning with the Hogs, non-US astronauts representing their home nations' space agencies trained alongside NASA personnel as mission specialists.

Group 16
: The "Sardines" were so named because they were the largest class since TFNG's.

Group 17
: Garrett Reisman said that "Dodos" was kicked around for a nickname because a dodo is a flightless bird and it would be a while before any of them flew. It was changed to Penguins, another flightless bird, the difference being that dodos are extinct...

Group 18
: The Peacocks group was the first to include Educator mission specialists.

Not the last.

Friday, November 18, 2011



Cosmonauts Aleksandr Volkov and Sergei Krikalev were aboard Space Station Mir during the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. When they left Earth, they were Soviets. When they returned to Earth, they were citizens of the Russian Federation, and remain the only two space travelers whose citizenship changed while they were away from their planet.

A total of 112 cosmonauts have traveled in space, 77 from Russia and 35 from other former-Soviet republics. Only 3 out of the 112 were female.

Russian Cosmonauts
Since 1951, precisely 268 cosmonauts have been selected for training in 18 rounds of candidate groups. In other words, far more than half of the cosmonauts selected have never actually flown missions. 156 vs. 112.

Why? Quite a few were unremarkably grounded due to medical reasons over the years, and still others participated in simulations or experiments, but simply never flew because there weren't enough projects to go around. Four were released due to "disciplinary reasons" involving alcohol, and a fair smattering disappeared after "personal" differences. A few died in air crash or car accidents, one was injured from a parachute jump, and another drowned during survival training. One was invited to retire due to a weight problem. The worst case, claiming to be in a "crisis of soul" after suffering depression and alcoholism, stepped in front of a train.

Mayhap the weirdest washout of all time, for any space program? Valentin Yershov was selected as a cosmonaut for the Soviet Union, but then locked out from training by TsPK ("Star City") director G.T. Beregovoy, because Yershov refused to become a member of the Communist Party.

Russian Lunar Lander
Soviet Lunar Lander

The majority of stand-bys were so because of programs that simply never happened, such as the planned Soviet Lunar Landing, the un-realized all-female Soyuz mission, the not-built TKS spacecraft and Almaz space station, and the one-time-launched Buran shuttle orbiter.

Cosmonaut with the worst luck ever? Probably Pyotr Koldin, who was selected five times for missions, and grounded each time, due to project cancellations, re-assignment to the backup crew, or to make more room in the capsule so that spacesuits could be worn by the remaining two crew members.

Soviet Space Poster
Two science cosmonauts were named "Mars". Seriously. Their surnames were Rafikov and Fatkhullin.

The latest round of five Russian cosmonauts were chosen in December of 2010 as the RKKE-18 group. The youngest person now actively training for space travel, Syvatoslav Morosov, was born in August, 1985. The year "Back to the Future" and "The Breakfast Club" were released.

NASA plans to select new astronauts in 2012... wonder if they will select anyone younger?!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Kosmonaut Komrades


As always, research into the Russian space program is a learning experience in spelling and pronunciation, and it's been quite the eye-opener to seek out the profile of every Russian Cosmonaut!

Of the cosmonauts chosen over the decades, fewer have flown percentage-wise than in other space agencies, due to unfortunate program cancellations along the way. Despite this, the Russians hold more important space-related records and milestones than any other nationality!

Map of Russian Cosmonauts
The Soviet Space Program was born in 1951, when the largest nation and its surrounding territories were known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Or more correctly, in Russian: Союз Советских Социалистических Республик (CCCP).

In December of 1991, many of the former republics declared independence from the Soviet Union, giving way to the Russian Federation or "Rossiyskaya Federatsiya" and I'll spare you the Cyrillic pretense on that one. Almost everyone, in every language, just says RUSSIA.

While the space program of the nation certainly had border changes and budgetary challenges, most of their centers retained the same hardware and personnel, regardless of location or project. An admirable feat for a nation in flux! The new additions to the Space Travelers Map were all born within the boundaries of Russia, and those on earlier flights of course lay claim to Soviet citizenship.

It is worthwhile to note, however, that on the entire list, many cosmonauts of outlying territories at one time considered themselves Russian by birth, if not specific ethnicity – such as those from Azerbaijan, Belarus, the Crimea, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Turkmenistan, the Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

Russian poster 1958Inclusive of Yuri Gagarin's historic flight for humanity, 77 Russians have followed him into the vacuum. Mapping their hometowns is no small feat, being that you have to find both the Russian words on Google, and then fit it to a corresponding spelling in English -- and the vowel variations get pretty wild.

Do you know how many ways there are to spell Alexei, Alexi, Aleksey, Aleksei, Alexandr, Alexander, Aleksandr and Aleksander? Well, now you do.

However, perhaps most puzzling pattern along the way is the glaring LACK of female cosmosnauts, after Russia went pretty far out of their way to put the first woman in space as quickly as they could!

Yuri and Valentina
Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova
First man and first woman in space

Technical note: In many browsers, you will have to scroll down through the Marker listing on the left side of the screen, and move to page 2 in order to see the Russian additions. In still other browsers (Cough*cough Why would you still be using Internet Explorer anyway?!) the markers may disappear at random when you zoom.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Soviet Snowstorm


On this date in 1988, the first and only "Russian Space Shuttle" launched from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

At 06:00:02 Moscow Time, the Energia super-heavy booster carrying a reusable orbiter blasted off, sending the unmanned mission into orbit. This single Buran mission circled the Earth twice in 206 minutes, then automatically landed at the Yubileiniy Airfield in Baikonur.

November 15, 1988: Буран-Энергия = Buran-Energiya

In February of 1976, the Central Committee of the Communist Party planned a program to "respond to the threat" of the American Space Shuttle, which was intended to replace rockets while lowering the cost of launching satellites. Energia-Buran systems, in contrast, were planned as carriers of nuclear weapons – and, as a secondary goal, would assemble and supply Mir-2, their planned space station at that time.

Including prototypes and models, there were 14 Burans – though only two were fully functional and flight-worthy. The first took one space trip, and was then put into a Baikonur hangar for years before being destroyed when the roof collapsed under heavy snow in 2002. The second? Never made it out of the yard in which it was constructed, and was later moved near the Cosmodrome for public display.

Over the 18 year period in which the program was active, 1 million people in 1,286 companies and 86 Soviet ministries were involved in various scientific and industrial aspects of designing, construction and testing.

Sadly, the overall cost of the Burans, which reached nearly 17 billion rubles by 1992, was too much for the weak economy when the USSR fell, and the Soviet Snowstorm program was officially abandoned in 1993.

Soviet Space Program
Glory to the Soviet people – the pioneers of space!

For awesome photographs and schematics of the Energia-Buran systems, including a side-by-side comparison to American space shuttles, see the BURAN.RU site.

For Buran technical specifications and timeline, see also the Russian Space Web.

If you're feeling particular adventurous, you can still visit the Buran at the Cosmodrome, and learn all about how they moved it with no trawler... though a safer and more accessible Buran model is located in the Technik Museum Speyer in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany.

Friday, November 11, 2011



The entire human population that has ever lived on Earth is estimated at 107,602,707,791 (approaching 108 billion). Thus far, 522 humans have traveled off the planet and into space.

Of these 522 people across 53 different nations, 54 were women and 468 were men.

201 space travelers from 9 nations have completed extra-vehicular activities outside of crafts, space stations or on the surface of the Moon. Of these 201 EVA performers, 9 were women and 192 were men.

Women Astronauts

First woman in space Valentina Tereshkova married the only bachelor Cosmonaut in 1963, Andrian Nikolayev. They were the first two space travelers to marry, and also the first to produce a child when their daughter Elena was born in 1964.

15 more couples married within the Astronaut Corps of America, Russia and Europe. Of those 15 couples, 4 have since divorced.

The first married American astronauts were Anna and William Fisher, who already wedded when selected by NASA in 1978. Their first child was born in 1983. When Anna flew aboard Shuttle Discovery in 1985, she became the first mother in space.

Space Map
Three travelers have become fathers during their missions. While on Space Station Mir for a week in October of 1991, Franz Viehböck welcomed a daughter named Carina; he also has the distinction of being the first Austrian in space.

While aboard the ISS, Michael Fincke became the first parent on a long-duration space mission, being in orbit for four months, then going home to meet Tara, the daughter born while he was off-Earth in 2004.

Randolph Bresnick also became a parent while in orbit on a 10-day mission, having been aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis STS-129 when his daughter Abigail Mae was born in November 2009.

Space Tourism
For sums as high as $35 million, seven individuals have flown as "Space Tourists". Still others were generated by commercial interest, not government agencies.

The first Japanese man in space, Toyohiro Akiyama, was a commercially sponsored "Space Journalist" for the Tokyo Broadcasting System. He flew aboard Soyuz TM-11 to reach Mir in 1991, and completed as many broadcasts as he could, despite acute space sickness.

The first Briton in space was Helen Sharman, who responded to a Project Juno BBC radio advertisement asking for applicants; after beating about 13,000+ other hopefuls, she flew aboard Soyuz TM-12 to Mir in 1991, where she operated in food chemistry, and conducted both medical and agricultural experiments.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Americans in Space


Map time, once again! My newest project is a mapping of where every space traveler was born. If you understand how CTRL+F works, this is shaping up to be a searchable resource.

The numbers have emerged, showing 310 American space travelers, 78 Russian space travelers, and 134 astronauts, cosmonauts, spationautes and/or taikonauts from an incredible array of 51 other nations!

Astronaut Map
Americans will take up the other two columns. This week, I completed A through J, as listed alphabetically. In each case, the very first person into space from various ethnic groups are noted, as well as those who walked on the moon, perished in unfortunate disasters, completed famous firsts or still hold world records.

Next week will be J-Z, and then I will follow up the last phase with all the Russians. I'll be adding the Cosmonauts last, because two Russian rookies are due to make their maiden voyages this November 14th on the next Soyuz launch! But anyway, back to the first batch of Yankee colonists:

The map looks a bit more cluttered than the one for agencies or space museums, since plotting 522 people is more intensive.

However, a truly interesting part of the research time is recognizing patterns along the way. For instance, who knew there were 5 guys named Oleg who went to space, but only one named Anthony.

Alas, there are no Heathers. So... wow, the spot for the first Heather is still up for grabs! There's hope for me.

First Names of Space Travelers
Do you share a name with a space traveler? Check out the directory of names at my secondary page for Astronaut First Names.

Many common names are conspicuously missing -- just the odds of the selection game, and as "name fads" move through the eras, we will certainly see changes.

The most common name for a space traveler? Michael. A whopping 16 Michaels have gone into space. But, only one guy named Jügderdemidiin. Go figure.

Sunday, November 6, 2011



Ever thought about being an astronaut? Calls for applications are publicized about every 4 years now; the last set was in 2008-2009… and hey, what do you know? There is another call now for selections taking place throughout 2012-2013.

You can see details at the Astronaut Selection Office, which uses the USAJOBS interface, where "Astronaut Hopefuls" or ASHOS are screened in group pools, then sectioned into the pilot category or mission specialists (latter classification also eventually includes payload specialists and mission educators).

2009 Astronaut Class Graduates
2009 ASCANS class complete basic training!

The minimum education requirement to be eligible as an astronaut candidate is a Bachelor's degree. The first person to fly in space with a PhD was Buzz Aldrin, who earned a Doctorate of Astronautics at MIT.

Being a SCUBA diver reeeeeeeally helps. Learn that.

Also, learn Russian. And if you’re really into thinking ahead, learn Chinese.

Things that cannot be learned? An astronaut candidate for the ISS or Exploration Vehicle program must be between 62 and 75 inches (157–190cm) tall. Blood pressure must remain under 140/90 in a sitting position to pass the physical. Visual acuity must be correctable to 20/20 on the Snellen chart.

Astronaut Selection
About two thirds of the US Astronaut Corps have military backgrounds, so service is helpful though not a must. Most of the military candidates from the Navy, followed closely by the Air Force. Handfuls come from the Marines and Army, and 2 have served in the Coast Guard.

Pilots fly the spacecraft and are eligible to become Commanders, while Mission Specialists perform scientific experiments and spacewalks. For Pilot candidates, the minimum pilot time experience is 1,000 hours in a jet.

The website, though sadly inactive since 2002, still has great tips and descriptions for making it to ASCAN status, not the least of which is their Ten Commandments:
  1. Keep smiling, but not grinning.

  2. Keep your humor harmless, pure and perfect.

  3. Keep your weaknesses to yourself. If you don't point them out to others, they will never see them.

  4. Never complain; make survival look easy.

  5. You are expected to say something nice after each flight, class, or simulation.

  6. If you can't say something nice, say something nice anyway.

  7. In particular, practice saying, "Thanks for pointing that out, sir/ma'am. I'll really work on that."

  8. Be aggressively humble and dynamically inconspicuous. Save your brilliance for your friends and family.

  9. Remember, whatever is encouraged is mandatory. Whatever is discouraged is prohibited.

  10. Nothing is sometimes a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say
Once a person is selected as an Astronaut Candidate, or ASCAN, they must undergo an intense 2-year training program before they are eligible to be inducted into the Astronaut Corps. Even once selected, it may take up to 10 years before an astronaut's first space flight.

For many years, ASHOS have used the Astronaut Hopefuls Yahoo Group to communicate, and more recently have tried Facebook Group pages for sharing their experiences.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Mars500 Lands on Earth


After 520 days inside the space ship, the crew of the Mars500 project opened the hatch this morning! Well, morning for me. At 4:00 am crazy space lady time, which was about 2:00 pm in Moscow, 6 men who have dedicated 2 years of their lives to the most complex Mars voyage simulation returned to Earth.

Hatch Opens Mars 500
You can watch the replay on the ESA site, a brief affair where Sukrob, Romain, Wang, Diego, Aleksandr and Commander Alexey emerged from their facility and took turns addressing their applauding organizers (and the press) in 6 languages – Russian, English, French, Chinese, Italian and Spanish. They were then whisked away for medical checks, after which they were finally reunited with their families.

The joy of Twitter allowed me to watch along with my friend Stefania in Italy, who noted they looked good but PALE. You would be too if you hadn't seen the sun in 520 days! She also cracked that they "show no sign of post zeroG dizziness! ;)" … LOL! Okay, so the sim skipped some aspects of spaceflight, such as weightlessness, but the overall exercise yielded amazing results for researchers on the physiological and psychological effects of isolation.

Mars500 Hatch Opening
RIA Novosti declared the experiment a success because no participants opted out, everyone stayed healthy, and according to Mars 500 executive officer Alexander Suvorov, all retained their working efficiency throughout the project. None of the scientists are surprised with these outcomes, given the rigorous screenings for tough, experienced, dedicated Marsonauts.

Only the best of the best would go to the Red Planet, something detractors should keep in mind before criticizing science objectives they barely understand. I won't mention names, and I certainly won't link to the Bozo Factor – but some alleged "news" outlets have entirely missed the point of examining how the human body reacts to stress and prolonged confinement.

Mars 500 Crew
Unexpected findings included decrease in metabolic rates for all crew members, reduced motor performance and increased levels of sleep disorders. It's useful to know what we would be up against when we are prepared, as a species, for long-duration manned flights to other planets.

Are we ready for that? Of course not, and no one in the Mars500 program suggested that the rocket should be ready tomorrow. The single biggest barrier in getting to Mars is the onslaught of invisible beams from our nearest star. They're aware.

Brain neurons are annihilated by high-speed particles emitted by the Sun, and during a 520-day mission, an astronaut might lose between 13-40% of his or her brain. Yikes. (For comparison, the average Alzheimer patient loses about 5% per year). So until we invent effective protection from radiation, actual missions are still considered to be "in development." Heads up: sims like this count as development. And they matter.

I'd also like to give a shout out to my cyber-buddy @Mantic59, who said in June of 2010, and I quote: "This will be interesting to follow but I am very skeptical that they'll complete it. Too many psychological factors."

So here, finally, is my official response: "They made it!"

I waited more than a year for that. ;)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Star Sailors


Return of the Trivia Series! :)

An astronaut, cosmonaut, taikonaut or spationaute is a person who leaves the planet Earth and travels into space.

Most of the terms are derived from Greek words, nautes (ναύτης), meaning "sailor" and:
English: ástron (στρον) meaning "star"
Russian: kosmos (κόσμος) meaning "universe"
Chinese: taikong (characters) meaning "empty space"
French: spatium (borrowed from) the Latin word for "space"

In the United States, the term "astronaut" is typically applied to an individual when they are accepted into NASA and their training begins, while in Russia, an individual is not labeled a cosmonaut until a successful space flight.

The Chinese and the European terms are perhaps the most aptly descriptive. The Russian and English versions are rather mild misnomers. Humans have not yet "sailed" through any significant portion of the known cosmos, or anywhere near stars.

To be more accurate, America and Russia have many "low-earth-orbit-nauts" (wouldn't LEO-Nauts be a much cooler word??) and "lunar-nauts."

On November 3, 1958, the Soviet Union launched the first Earthling into space to orbit the Earth. Sadly, there was no recovery plan for Laika the dog, and there are many stories and guesses as to how and when she died inside the capsule Sputnik 2 after numerous orbits. Laika's trip proved that it was possible for a living creature to leave Earth’s atmosphere, and also sparked animal rights debates all over the world.

In 1961, Yuri Gagarin earned the distinction of being the first human to fly into space. His annual captain's salary was approximately 640 rubles. Translated into US currency, that worked out to about $18 per year.

Alan Sheppard, the first American in space and the fifth Apollo moon-walker, hit a golf ball on the moon that soared 2,400 feet, or nearly one-half a mile.

Besides golf balls, everyone knows that the lunar landing teams tended to leave experiments, flags and plaques on the moon with each trip. Less well known is that they also left space boots, mission patches, cameras, storage containers, tethers, oxygen filters, metal tools, and many other items future alien archaeologists are sure to find fascinating.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Space Travelers Birth Map


Map time!

As soon as I typed that, I realized it sounded like "Nap time". I wish. But no, these Google maps take a lot of research, a lot of typing, a lot of marking and a lot of time. Absolutely worth every minute. Over the past year, I created a map of all the space agencies in the world, and then all the space museums; the newest project is a mapping of where every space traveler was born.

Astronaut Map
Of course, the majority were born in the United States and Russia, and upon compiling a worldwide roster, I wimped out in terms of mapping those first. They're MASSIVE. So, I first tackled all the smaller space agencies and miscellaneous nations who spawned astronauts.

Like the other map projects, columns will be added over time until the map is completed; phase one was a pretty big chunk, consisting of 134 people who traveled into space with NASA, RKA, JAXA, ESA, CNES, CSA… and I also included the first few space "tourists" who paid for the pleasure.

The icons are fairly easy to navigate, with each map-marker color representing the decade in which the astronauts were born. Another key shows the format for all the space travelers' listings. Right now, the listings include 51 nations, with the Ukraine (most born during USSR era), China and Canada including the biggest showings.

China is right now screening their first two female astronauts, and may make the list a bit longer in the not-too-distant future. We'll keep tracking.

In each case, the very first person into space from that nation or ethnic group is noted. So come have a look, and see which Earthlings have thus far traveled into the vacuum!

For a larger map, you can also go straight to the source on my Google site. Next up, some American astronauts!