Monday, January 28, 2013

NASA's Dr. Duane Graveline


I'd like to extend a vast and hearty thank you to everyone who tuned into The Space Show this past Friday, when the esteemed Dr. Livingston invited me to co-host a broadcast where we interviewed the equally-esteemed former NASA astronaut, Dr. Duane Graveline.

Space Show Memoirs
NASA Group #4: "The Scientists" (Duane in top center)

And what a treat! We jumped right in with questions about his first interest in bedrest as an Air Force intern at the famed Walter Reed Army Hospital, where he first seized upon going beyond regular medical corps duties to become a flight surgeon in the mid-1950s, when concerns about "zero-gravity" on future space travelers had just begun.

The good doctor remembered clearly how he selected 10 young men in 1957, and arranged for them to have nothing to do for two weeks but lay in bed at Randolph Air Force Base Hospital. Sounds easy, right? The Air Force guys initially thought that was the world on a platter!  Dr. G conducted baseline tests, including tilt table tests & stress tests, and took measurements of muscle function and blood volume. Amazingly, as I know from my own experiences, these are still staples of all weightlessness simulation programs, 56 years later! They evolved to use different techniques in many cases, but the examination of these measures before and after spaceflight will always be crucial physiological markers.

But then, the troubles began, said Duane with a laugh, and his healthy sense of humor shines through. The subjects wanted to read in bed, they wanted to shave, they wanted to feed themselves... ah, the nerve! LOL!  Turns out, bedrest isn't so simple -- allowances do need to be made in terms of documentting the de-conditioning of space flight, but still ensuring your testers do not grow bored or stir crazy.  What's a space scientist to do?

Astronaut Hall of Fame
Astronaut Hall of Fame, Florida

Determined to find something better, Graveline began water immersion experiments in the AeroMed Lab at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, or as he termed it, a "heaven" for any research-oriented person.  His demands were simple: 9x9x8 rooms full of water with viewing ports, with water maintained at a constant 95 degree temperature. Not too much to ask, right?  He designed a suit for use in the tank and then -- as a former test volunteer, I love this part -- he underwent a solid week of water immersion himself!

If you tune into the Space Show recoding in the archives for no other reason, listen for his experiences in the tank -- how he survived on liquids, and the testing protocols used.  An explosion of interest followed, landing him on the "Today" show, and led to his being given whole series of tests where he worked with both mice and humans in different micro-gravity simulations.

The most detailed of the sims involved specially designed pressure helmets and more complex underwater garments.  And unlike bedrest where immobility is crucial, so as not to bias the data with any influence of gravity, the aquanauts were freer to read books, play games and enjoy their unique environment while Dr. Graveline conducted electrocardiograms or recorded brain waves.

Duane Graveline SpaceDoc Memoirs
LIFE Magazine Centerfold, 1959

See that dude in the picture above? Imagine floating that way for 7 days straight! That's Dr. G to the right, looking into the custom water tank. It would many years before NASA had their own similar facilities, but both water immersion and bedrest techniques would continue to be developed over the coming decades, yielding valuable data about counter-measures in space... and also vital information as to how astronauts are best rehabilitated physically when they finally return to Earth's gravity. As a result, we are able to keep our space workers living in space for longer periods of time -- but without the potential lifelong risks that many suffered in the days of the Mir space station.

I think my favorite part was where LIFE Magazine called BioAstronautics a "bizarre new science".  Well, I guess now it's a bizarre middle-aged science.

To listen to the archived broadcast, please see Dr. David Livingston's web site for THE SPACE SHOW.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Space Show


TOMORROW! 9:30am Pacific Time! I hope you'll join the spacetweep fun over at the The Space Show with Dr. Livingston, where I'll be co-hosting a show at the invitation of Dr. Livingston! After our discussion a couple weeks back about the NASA space flight simulations program at Johnson Space Center (JSC), he took the initiative to find the initiator of the research projects, Dr. Duane Graveline!  In the morning, we will be interviewing him together about his lifetime of space-related research, and his experiences with the Soviet BioAstronautics program.

The Space Show with Dr. David Livingston

Friends, this is "THE" talk show about all things space. But why am I telling you this? If you're a reader of mine, you already know all about it and are probably a regular listener, since I've promoted many of his guests on Pillow Astronaut over the years, such as my blogger bud A4H Brian Shiro, Lunar luminary Dr. Paul Spudis, Apollo 9's Rusty Schweickart,  and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Radio stations generally limit their questions to a 5 to 15 minute spot for science topics, but this will be well over an hour, and of course, I always welcome a chance to speak about my passion for NASA research.  It is a great honor to be able to speak with such an amazing radio and media guru, who brings so many truly important space science subjects to public attention.  Together, I know we have lots of great questions for Dr. Graveline, one of the "scientist astronauts" of NASA's early days in Group 4 (1965).

David Livingston Space Show

In fact, in preparing to write this post prior to the show, I was trying to thinkg of a space-related subject he has NOT discussed, and I can't. From research to rockets, asteroids to aerospace companies, government policies to exoplanets, SOFIA to CubeSat,NASA to DARPA, Kepler to Kennedy, he has covered it all, and gotten everyone's opinion about it!

Falcons and Dragons and Dream Chasers, he leaves no stone un-turned about the new developments in commercial space initiatives as well; so, definitely check out his website and explore his many esteemed guests.

His motto? "Space is the path to a better future for all people on Earth."

If you haven't found these resources already, you can also follow updates and details about shows and guests on The Space Show Twitter Feed, and Dr. Livingston's personal page.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Bed Pilot Pioneer


The ultimate "unsung hero" to us modern pillownauts... so we're going to do some singing!

Dr. Duane Graveline was the first scientist to conduct a space flight simulation study to analyze the effects of weightlessness on the human body. He entered the USAF Medical Service in 1955 to study aviation medicine, and was granted the rating of "Flight Surgeon" in February 1957.

Graveline went to Brooks AFB Aerospace Medical Laboratory in 1960, where his specialized research involved bed rest and water immersion to study biological changes in extended micro-gravity.

NASA Astronaut
In June 1965, Dr. Graveline was selected with NASA's fourth group of scientist astronauts for jet pilot training, supporting the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo eras as a flight controller. This man who laid the groundwork for astronaut biodata (from Enos the Chimp to Alan Shepard!) also developed the lower body negative pressure device for zero-G tolerance testing – used in Skylab, Mir, Shuttles and the ISS.

Now 81, Graveline is the author of medical books, science fiction, and a fantastic website of collected medical research adn articles conducted by practicing or retired doctors who have no influence by or affiliation with any pharmaceutical companies. Anyone applying for the current studies should definitely read his essays in the Space Medicine section, particularly:
  • Astronaut Post-Flight Syncope
  • Body Fluid Changes in Space
  • Bone Demineralization
  • Musculoskeletal Deconditioning
  • Retinal Flashes and the Moon
  • Stress Exercise Dangers
  • Tilt Table Testing (You have to do this if you join a NASA study!)
  • Weightlessness
Key excerpt: "...assigned to Bruno, one of Von Braun's rigid German scientists. We were to study bed rest de-conditioning, aka couch potato assessment under the old adage: don't use it, you lose it. We would go from a two-week bed rest study to one of freely floating in a tank of water for one week. Now we have proof from MIR and the ISS of Mother Earth's gravitational demands that even with two hours of aggressive exercise daily, we are barely are able to stand on return..."

Laika Book Duane Graveline

Graveline also wrote a fascinating book about his time as an Aerospace Medical Analyst for the USAF Foreign Technology Team in the late 1950s.  The Soviets were far ahead of the USA at the time, and his unique, super-secret affiliation with their BioAstronautics program gave him some very different insights about space travel compared to other astronauts training in that early era.

He was part of a small crowd of medical scientists who reviewed preparations and steps for Laika the Dog for her ride on Sputnik2; contrary to many urban legends and conspiracy theories, he personally confirms Laika's electrocardiograms in November of 1957, and that she survived at least the first two days in orbit.  He would also get to later review the biotelemetry of cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov. Check out "From Laika With Love" on Amazon!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Astronaut of the Pillow


Last post, I mentioned the newest Space Flight Simulation, in which the European Space Agency sponsors a study program for 12 participants of both genders, at an ESA facility in Toulouse, France.

Four pillownauts will spend 21 days in bed while engaging in recumbent weight-training and a vibrating exercise contraption. Another foursome will engage in the same, but add whey protein to their diets to see if there is any difference in muscle building. A final four will spend the same amount of time in bed, but lacking any of these attempts at "countermeasures".  Throughout the program, they will undergo various tests and experiments.

Vladyslav Atavin
The infamous TILT TEST

I was thrilled to hear from healthy volunteer Vladyslav Atavin,who has created very informative and picture-saturated descriptions of his experiences!  Vlad's blog, entitled Astronaute sur l'oreiller: histoire du sujet "L", literally translates into English as "Astronaut on the Pillow: The History of Subject L".

I guess "L" was his identifier in the study!  We had numbers at NASA, but very seldom saw our names on things, unless we made it public ourselves.

Beginning this past November, Vlad described his screening process for SpaceFlight Simulations, his many bouts of medical activities, funny stories such as falling asleep during a DEXA Scan (oops!), and he was even brave enough to allow a camera in their shower facility (SFW).

Vlad Bed Rest Study
All For Science!

Many protocols are identical to those used at NASA: -6 degree tilt, food regimen, calculated fluid intake, blood tests and urinalysis, plasma volume measurements, DEXA bone scans to score bone mineral density, and neurological balance tests; and also minor details, such as having to shave certain body areas to accommodate electrodes, and having massages to prevent thrombosis.

There were a few differences in their program, such as the timing and sequences of tests, use of a vibrating platform to stimulate muscle and bone in one control group, and more advanced ocular testing. Also, they got ginger tea and evening snacks. NASA testers never got those! Must lodge a complaint!

They had a much larger array of French, Irish, Austrian, German, and Italian scientists running experiments, and had to endure far more invasive procedures, such as a biopsy, which a non-squeamish researched caught on film (WARNING: Do not click if blood or medical procedures makes you queasy!).

Vlad in Bedrest Studies
Oh my, what a rough life, eh?

Their full study will take places in 3 major phases throughout 2013. Vlad wrote about the first phase in French (easily translated through Google), will write about the second phase in English, and the third phase in Russian.

He is happy to field comments and questions on his Astronaute sur l'oreiller blog in any of these languages, so please hop on over to give him your support! :)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Pillownauting Across the Atlantic!


PILLOWNAUT has crossed the pond! Well, would you look at that, I [accidentally] coined a word that hopped continents.

 Back in 2008, when I began flight simulations at NASA, I named my blog "Pillow Astronaut" as a joke. Bedrest to be an analog to weightlessness? And our best luxury was a pillow? It's a nonsense combination of Latin and Greek root words, and then I made it worse by shortening it to "pillownaut" for the web URL.

The Original Pillownauts
Devin, me, Candace & Deron - 2008

A few NASA writers hopped on board, and also used the term when reporting about our project on the servers. Then, FOX news got hold of us, and publicity spread to many parts of the world. Over the next year, both and POPSCI would also use the term in articles about various NASA  projects in the Flight Analog Program.

Our little press crew certainly weren't the first analogs, but for some odd reason, the stories struck a nerve with folks at that time, and we happened to become the most visible. Sometimes that was great (astronauts came to visit!) and other times, that had a significant downside (wow did I get freaky emails from a lot of random goofballs!)

Pillownauts Getting Up!
Kjell, Devin (back!), me & Marcus

The studies are still going strong at the NASA facility where we once lived, and such research projects have eexploded to even greater public attention with the Mars500 simulation, a joint project between the ESA, Roskosmos and CNSA.

It was with no small amount of amusement that I see the ESA's newly announced bedrest study calls their participants... wait for it... PILLOWNAUTS.

As of December 2012, the announcement came for the first of three phases for a long term study: Six Degrees of Inclination.  The newly created Bedrest Study website of the ESA has a myriad of juicy details and goals

Happily, one of the participants in the newest ESA study found my blog and emailed me about his experiences!  I'll be sharing those later this week, so stay tuned for Pillownauts, the European Version...

Monday, January 14, 2013

How Many Houses Would Fit Into The Death Star?


So there's this realty company named Movoto, and they somehow grew a sense of humor, despite being a realty company.  You think of realtors as pretty  peeved in this recession, right?  Not these folks.

Death Star

Not only are they funny, they are space enthusiasts! On the Movato blog, they profess an admiration for SpaceX, and say they have been inspired by commercial space initiatives to think up interesting ways to relate to space!  Hey, don't most of us do this all day?  Or at least, we wish we could.

On this same blog is an amusing info graphic about how many average homes could fit into the DeathStar, and I'm digging whomever they go to complete their artwork.  In terms of working environment, this place must be a hoot. Clink on the link or the picture to see the answer. :)

Launch Your House Into Space

It gets better. Want to know how much money it would take to launch your entire house into space? I tried it. It would take $678 million to put my dwelling up into the black. 

To put that number into perspective, that's just slightly over the nominal gross domestic product (GDP) of Ecuador. 

They don't happen to mention whether you will just be orbiting around Earth in your floating house or if you theoretically get to travel somewhere interesting. Pity, as I was expecting the follow-up graphic to be the mileage to Europa!

Earth's Moon

The space fun doesn't stop there. Last but not least, just how large would a house have to be in order for it to be visible on the moon??

No joke, just a little larger than the city of Houston.  I'm betting we wouldn't lack for construction volunteers on the project, however...when do we leave?  Check out Movoto's site -- but make sure it's when you have some time to kill.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Space Show Live!


What a treat! I'll admit, I was a bit anxious at being "live" for a 90-minute radio show where anyone could call in an ask questions, but I had nothing to fear.

It was such a pleasure to be on The Space Show with Dr. David Livingston, and he kindly flattered me about being a "unique" guest, despite my lacking quite the impressive credentials of astronauts or commercial space CEOS! But I just enjoyed the good company and tried to do the best I could.

NASA bedrest studies
In bed for science!

Such a walk down memory lane! The show brought back so many memories. I participated in three NASA Spaceflight Simulations in 2008, 2009 and 2010; since then, I have tried to promote the programs as accurately as possible, making available my own medical materials and testing experiences. Sometimes it was both fun and funny, other times gritty and painful -- but at all times an amazing experience with NASA scientists who work hard to develop counter-measures to micro-gravity side-effects, so that astronauts can stay healthier in space.

The show certainly didn't seem like 90 minutes. When I first heard about the length, I didn't think I'd have anything to talk about for that long.  But, being naturally over-opinionated, and concentrating on people's questions by phone or email, I felt the time slip away quickly.

NASA bed rest study
Learning to walk again after being in bed for science!

Although a fair bit of time has passed since my studies, and new studies are being continually developed, many details came back to me easily when someone asked about a particular protocol, screening criteria, the NASA ward environment, or possible medical applications of the research.

Dr. Livingston is also a gracious host, and allowed me to speak freely, when the average CNN anchor would have cut me off.  Of course, with the well-educated, science-oriented audience of The Space Show, we were all largely "preaching to the choir" about hoping to reach Mars, the future of rocket propulsion possibilities, and usefulness of space technologies here on Earth.  These are all things we love to talk about amongst ourselves endlessly!  Someday, they will hopefully be realities.

The Space Show

If you'd like to listen to the show, please see The Space Show archives, where my interview and Q&A session is listed on January 8th.  Dr. Livingston has already invited me back for another show in February, hopefully to speak jointly with the NASA astronaut who started the simulations in the late 1950s, so stay tuned for news about that! Should be fun!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Fast Eddie & The Robots


Wouldn't that be an awesome name for a punk band?? Some of you may remember Fast Eddie from my article in 2010 about his awesome work with spacesuit glove testing and Hubble mania! Ed has held some amazing positions with NASA over many moons, but may have one of the most important jobs of his career now, in terms of Earth's technological future.

Heather & Ed
Me & Ed with ROSIE

See that big block behind our heads in the Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office (SSCO) at NASA Goddard? THAT is the star of the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) now being tested on orbit by the space station crew and robots.

Humorously named after the cartoon Jetsons robot, the block is ROSIE, or the Robotic Operating Simulator for Integration and Evaluation. She and all her delightful tools and gizmos were the very last American Space Shuttle payload by Atlantis STS-135 in July 2011.  ROSIE was installed into the ELC-4, with the intent for Dextre to demonstrate refueling experiments throughout 2012 and 2013.

Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office
Astronaut Ron Garan delivering ROSIE to the ISS
for joint experiments between NASA & CSA

This is one of the those NASA Projects where I do the research, learn about the work, meet the people involved, and then realize certain things at NASA truly do need budget doubling.

An incredible amount of things in our modern lives depend on satellites. (But I wonder how many people appreciate them until their smartphone or TV aren't working?!) Drawing upon 20 years of experience servicing the Hubble, the SSCO initiated the development of RRM to demonstrate the feasibility and practicality of robotically refueling and servicing satellites on-orbit. Exploring ways to do this without "catching" them or simply adding to the dead, floating space debris junkyard, is worth our time, trouble and future investments!

Robotic Refueling Mission
Artistic representation of Dextre
performing a robotic refueling task on RRM

Someday, it will allow NASA and commercial entities to launch larger and more complex satellites, because they can travel without heavy fuel, then meet with a separate fuel source in orbit, much the same way a car pulls off the highway when it needs a gasoline station.

Dextre will work on ROSIE's multiple activity boards,check-listing through tests on protective thermal blankets, caps, valves, simulated fuel, and other components that need to be pushed back, cut through, unscrewed and transferred.  Each component and activity board represents and individual refueling or servicing task, and each RRM is designed to efficiently complete a wide range of targeted activities.

Ed removing the Wire Cutter Tool from
one of the RRM Activity Boards

Wire sheaths? Nozzles? No problem. Robots got this. The tool collections primary functions are to cut and manipulate wires, unscrew caps, open and close valves and transfer fluid. Tools also have integral cameras for ground operator vision and include specialized features tailored to complete each task.

Technology and techniques are all being verified on orbit as we speak, and you can follow the action at the Satellite Servicing Office's Facebook page.

Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office (SSCO)
SSCO Office and Weightless Testing "Sky"

Curious how refueling a satellite in space can impact your day-to-day activities on Earth?  Check this awesome ROBOTIC REFUELING video by CTV, who crammed a stunning amount of awesome information and NASA coolness into 3 minutes.

To see the entire gallery of pictures from Ed's tour of the Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, click this link or any of the pictures above. Thanks for your time, Fast Eddie!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

NASA Goddard


Another year, another NASA center!  I have long wanted to see the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland... home of Heliophysics, the Hubble Space Telescope, Explorer Program, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and many other amazing NASA projects.

Heather at NASA Goddard

One of the 10 major NASA field centers, GSFC is named for Dr. Robert Goddard (1882–1945), father of modern rocket propulsion in America. Luckily, I was able to make a quick visit while in town working the social media thang at NASA HQ.

This incredible think tank and design/manufacturing center is the largest combined organization of scientists and engineers (over 10,000!) dedicated to increasing knowledge of the Earth, her Solar System, and our entire known Universe, using observations from space.

Plus, it is home to one of the largest centrifuges in the world. Here it is. Well, part of it. It's too darned huge to fit in one shot. So cool.

Centrifuge at Goddard

It is no exaggeration to say that most of what you know, and certainly all the pictures you've seen, of the celestial objects in the known currently-photographable cosmos are due to NASA Goddard!

In fact, the brains at the Goddard center are also largely responsible for everything you know about climate change, arctic ice, storm systems, solar eruptions, coronal mass ejections, interstellar clouds, geodesy, ocean ecology... and for crying out loud, they even accidentally found dinosaur footprints on their campus.
Ed Rezac

One huge highlight was meeting up with my buddy Ed, who showed me all kinds of fun robots in the Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office (SSCO). Details will follow, as his team is definitely worth their own blog post.

I also finally got to see, up close and personal, the James Webb Space Telescope, in all mirroresque glory, and surrounded by exciting optical components! The JWST is now being assembled in the same clean room where Hubble was assembled. A truly historic spot.  Other clean rooms housed the Global Precipitation Measurement Satellite (very big) and the Magnetospheric Multiscale Satellites (even bigger).

Heather with James Webb Space Telescope

Like Hubble, you cannot fathom the sheer size of that sucker until you're staring right at it! Around every corner is something even more exciting, and my only failure in visiting this amazing NASA center was not spending enough time.  Wish I'd had an opportunity to visit the LRO and SDO teams, but I'll have to catch them on the next round.

To see the entire picture gallery, click on any of the photographs above, or click here to visit the Pillownaut Picasa album collection.