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Why astronauts fall

If you’ve ever watched this video, you might wonder whether an astronaut’s suit is too ungainly to be graceful, or alternatively, if astronauts might just lack coordination.

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Spaceship docks with ISS, astronaut immediately tweets awesome photos

A Russian spacecraft carrying three people docked successfully at the International Space Station today after a flawless launch from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Our guy in space, NASA's Reid Wiseman, got right to work tweeting totally awesome photographs that masterfully convey the wonder and beauty of being, holy crap, an astronaut in space.

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Astronaut Luca Parmitano's first-person account of almost drowning in space

Who needs coffee when you have this little horror story to wake you up in the morning? Money quote: "I think the liquid is too cold to be sweat, and more importantly, I can feel it increasing."

How do you get a water leak in a spacesuit helmet?

Astronaut Luca Parmitano had to cut short his spacewalk yesterday, after his helmet flooded with more than a liter of water. How's that happen? Initially, Parmitano suspected a leak in his 32 oz. drink bag, which is fitted into the front of the suit and connects to the helmet via a tube and built-in drinking valve, writes Thomas Jones at Popular Mechanics. But the actual culprit is likely to be the suit's cooling system — a series of water-filled tubes that run all around the astronaut's body.

Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at Kennedy Space Center: photos from opening night

Space educator Sawyer "@thenasaman" Rosenstein, 19, might also be described as a space fan. His enthusiasm for space flight was captured in this Boing Boing feature, and shines weekly in his "Talking Space" podcast. He traveled to Florida this weekend for the opening of the new permanent exhibit of Shuttle Atlantis at KSC, and shares these photos with us back home. All images in this post are Sawyer's so ask before you re-use them. —Xeni Jardin.


The Atlantis exhibit: 90,000 square feet, $100 million, and one precious piece of American space history. Give that to any organization and they'll come up with something pretty cool. Give it to Delaware North, the company that runs the Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex, and you get one of the most impressive displays I've ever seen.

Atlantis is displayed with quotes from the people who worked on her. There are more than 60 interactive exhibits. The orbiter steals the show. These pictures do not do the experience justice, but I hope it'll give you, Boing Boing readers, a glimpse into what was done at Kennedy. And I hope it inspires you to go and see it yourself.

A view from underneath the model external tank and solid rocket boosters. They are impressive in size and visible for miles.

Space history is a beautiful thing.

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Meet the NASA Astronaut Class of 2013

More than 6000 people applied, eight were chosen. And, for the first time, NASA has an astronaut class with gender parity — four men, and four women.

How the Russians pee in space

I don't know if I can fully define human nature, but I'm pretty sure it includes a prurient and/or practical interest in how one uses the bathroom under strange circumstances. Thus, the various videos you've seen over the years explaining how astronauts use the toilet on board the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station. Until a recent visit to Seattle's Museum of Flight, however, I'd never seen how cosmonauts do their business — an issue with increasingly broad reach, now that Americans and other international space voyagers are being ferried into the heavens aboard Soyuz.

The Soyuz toilet does not look much like the ones on board the Shuttle or the ISS. Those are recognizably toilets, for one thing. The Soyuz sanitary unit is more akin to peeing into a soda bottle in the back seat of the family station wagon — if that soda bottle were hooked up to a vacuum cleaner.

This video — kindly shared with us by The Museum of Flight — was filmed in 2009 by NASA astronaut Michael Barratt. It features the urination demonstration talents of spaceflight adventurer Charles Simonyi and Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka. Please note that this video only demonstrates how the "part Number 1" works — and even that really only seems to apply to gentlemen cosmonauts. As best I can tell, women apparently just pee into something akin to a compact diaper or sanitary pad. (Fun!) As for "part Number 2", here is how it was described in a 2007 NASA publication written by James Lee Broyan, Jr.:

For fecal collection, a porous bag is placed in the receptacle. Once defecation is complete, the bag is removed, placed sequentially in three bags, and then placed in a wet trash compartment. Based on personal conversations with АСУ trainers, urine collection is acceptable but fecal use is avoided if at all possible with the crew using diet restrictions and preventive measures prior to flight.

• Read the 2007 NASA publication comparing different space toilet systems. Apparently, part Number 2 has also been used by female cosmonauts to dispose of menstrual waste.
• Read a description on the RuSpace site, which gives a little more detail on part Number 2.
• Watch the video at YouTube

Thanks to Ted Huetter at The Museum of Flight!

Tumblog of Greatness: F*ck Yeah, Female Astronauts


Valentina Tereshkova, first woman in space, launch date June 16, 1963.

A wonderful website: fuckyeahfemaleastronauts.tumblr.com [new expletive-free URL] womeninspace.tumblr.com.

Only 10% of people in space have been women, and on tumblr that seemed even less. so here it is for your inspiration. Fuck yeah! Female Astronauts!

(via s.e. smith)

You can cry in space, but it's not recommended

Robert Frost trains astronauts for NASA. At Quora, he answered an interesting question about what happens when astronauts cry. It's certainly happened, Frost says. But it's pretty uncomfortable. Without the aid of gravity to send tears streaming down your face, they just ball up around your eyes

Unloading supplies onto the International Space Station

As Matt Lynley put it, "Meanwhile, in space ..."

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Fantastic tour of the International Space Station

Sunita Williams was in charge of the International Space Station for six months. On her last day in space, she made this 25-minute video — a much more in-depth tour of the ISS than I've personally ever seen before. This is the first time I've actually been able to get a sense of the whole interior layout of the ISS, rather than just seeing one place and then another with no understanding of how they connect. What's more, you really get a sense of the unearthly weirdness of moving through this space where walls are never just walls and "up" and "down" are essentially meaningless.

The video includes a detailed (but safe for work) demonstration of how to use the ISS bathroom; a behind-the-scenes peek of the pantry (with separate pantries for Russian and Japanese food); a visit to the Soyuz craft waiting to take Williams home; and the vertigo-inducing horror pod where all the really great pictures of Earth get taken.

Money quote: "I haven't sat down for 6 months now."

Also, for some reason, it bothers me that she refers to the "left" and "right" side of the Space Station, instead of port and starboard.

There is no crying in space

Or, rather, there can be. But it's really, really awkward.

Mars needs seitan

There will be no bacon on Elon Musk's Mars. UPDATE:Elon Musk would like you to know that he is not trying to be the Emperor of Mars and has no authority to ban meat there. (Thanks Carl Franzen!)

Another danger for astronauts: Super bacteria

Bacteria living zero-gravity environments become more virulent. People living in zero-gravity environments have less-than-fully-functional immune systems. The result is a danger for space travelers that few of us on Earth ever think about — even though a lot of early astronauts, right up through the Apollo program, suffered severe infections in flight, or shortly after landing. Ed Yong's article for Wired UK from 2011 is a reminder that there's a lot of details that need to be worked out before humanity can become a space-faring species. We've got more worry about up there than just radiation.

How space radiation hurts astronauts

Space is full of radiation. It’s impossible to escape. Imagine standing in the middle of a dust storm, with bits of gravel constantly swirling around you, whizzing by, pinging against your skin. That’s what radiation is like in space. The problem is that, unlike a pebble or a speck of dirt, ionizing radiation doesn’t bounce off human flesh. It goes right through, like a cannonball through the side of the building, leaving damage behind.

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Mutiny on the Skylab

December 1973: The month that astronauts rebelled against NASA.

We left the moon 40 years ago today. Will we ever return?

It was forty years today (at 22:54:37 UT) that human beings left the moon for the last time. Miles O’Brien remembers Commander Gene Cernan’s last words from the moon, lofty, rehearsed and memorized: “as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return: with peace and hope for all mankind.”

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The effects of space travel on the human body (past and present)

Last week, an American and a Russian — Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko — were selected to spend a year living continuously in space, aboard the International Space Station. Only four other people have done this before. All them were Russian, so Scott Kelly is going to break the American record for time spent in space.

The mission won't start until 2015, and it's part of a much longer term goal — sending people to Mars. We know that spending time in space does take a toll on the human body. For instance, hanging out without gravity means you aren't using your muscles, even the ones that you'd use to support your own weight on Earth. Without use, muscles deteriorate over time. Bone density also drops. Basically, after a few months in space, astronauts return to Earth as weak as little kittens. Which is, to say the least, a less than ideal situation for any future Mars explorers.

Having Kelly and Kornienko stay up for a year will give scientists more data on what happens to the human body in space, give them a chance to test out preventative treatments that could keep astronauts stronger, and allows them to see how the amount of time spent in space affects the amount of time it takes to physically recover from the trip. As an extra research bonus, Kelly is the identical twin brother of Mark Kelly, the astronaut married to former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Which means that there will be a built-in control to compare Kelly to when he comes back from his mission.

In honor of that upcoming experiment, here's an old video that will give you an idea of what we knew (and didn't know) back at the dawn of the space age. Science in Action was a TV show produced by the California Academy of Sciences. In this 1956 episode, they explore the then-still-theoretical physiology of space travel ... with a special guest appearance by Chuck Yeager!

Wikipedia page on the effects of space travel on the human body

Science in Action: Aero Medicine — Part 1 and Part 2 at the Prelinger Archives.

Auction of laptop used by Clinton to email John Glenn in space

NewImage

Hurry, hurry, this is your chance to own the Toshiba Satellite Pro that President Bill Clinton used to email John Glenn in space on November 6, 1998. Apparently, the laptop belonged to a member of Clinton's medical staff who helped the president send the email to orbit. The laptop is listed at $125,000. Wonder how much RAM is in it. "Bill Clinton computer -Presidential email on it, to John Glenn in space!"

Astronauts fix the Space Station with a toothbrush

When NASA's Sunita Williams and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide couldn't seem to get a bolt attached to the outside of the space station, ground crews came up with a clever solution: Fix the problem with a toothbrush. At Space.com, Denise Chow explains the details:

On Aug. 30, Williams and Hoshide completed a marathon spacewalk that lasted more than 8 hours, but the astronauts were thwarted by a stubborn bolt and were unable to finish connecting the so-called main bus switching unit (MBSU). The stuck bolt forced NASA to add [yesterday's] extra spacewalk.

But, following last week's unsuccessful attempt, flight controllers, engineers and veteran spacewalkers worked around the clock at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston to devise a solution to the problem. Using only the supplies available on the space station, the teams came up with creative new tools for Williams and Hoshide to use to install the MBSU.

One was a modified toothbrush that was used to lubricate the inside of the bolt's housing after debris and metal shavings from inside had been removed. Another improvised instrument included a cleaning tool that had been made from wires that were bent back to form a brush, explained Kieth Johnson, lead spacewalk director at the Johnson Space Center.

Read the rest of the story at Space.com

Miles O'Brien: Ride, Sally Ride

At the PBS Newshour website, a post by Miles O'Brien about one of his encounters with the late Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. He writes about the night of January 28, 2003, when Dr. Ride knocked on the door of his house in Atlanta. She was one of the guests of honor at his home that night to celebrate the opening of a new Challenger Learning Center. And at the time, Miles (then a reporter with CNN) had just closed a deal with NASA to become the first journalist in space, on a forthcoming shuttle mission. Snip:

I normally do not ask people for autographs or inscriptions, but on this night I made an exception. I handed her my copy of the book, and she wrote: "Hope you're the first journalist in space!"

Nice words from someone who knows what it means to be first.

While she was signing, and we were celebrating, the STS-107 crew was orbiting a few hundred miles over our head-- unaware of the fatal breach in the reinforced carbon heat shield on the leading edge of Columbia's wing.

In four days, everything would change for the people in my house that night. Columbia, of course, did not make it home. Sally Ride would soon be serving on her second commission investigating the loss of a space shuttle and its crew.

Read the rest: Ride, Sally Ride: My Dinner with the First American Woman in Space (PBS NewsHour)

Update: Here's a video segment from tonight's show, with Miles talking with Judy Woodruff about Dr. Ride's legacy. Alternate [YouTube Link].

Sally Ride, first American woman in space, has died

Dr. Sally Ride, an American physicist and former NASA astronaut, has died of pancreatic cancer. She joined NASA in 1978, and in 1983 became the first American woman to travel into space. From a statement on her website:

Sally Ride died peacefully on July 23rd, 2012 after a courageous 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Sally lived her life to the fullest, with boundless energy, curiosity, intelligence, passion, joy, and love. Her integrity was absolute; her spirit was immeasurable; her approach to life was fearless.

Sally was a physicist, the first American woman to fly in space, a science writer, and the president and CEO of Sally Ride Science. She had the rare ability to understand the essence of things and to inspire those around her to join her pursuits.

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Religion, space, and the power of cultural connections

That's a picture of an Orthodox Christian priest, blessing the launch of a Soyuz spacecraft.

It seems like a weird and outdated pairing: Religion and space exploration. But they're actually a lot more intertwined than you might think, writes Rebecca Rosen at the Atlantic. A lot of astronauts are religious. A lot of astronauts that aren't really religious seem to have an urge to carry the cultural traditions of religion into space. And religion returns the favor. For instance, The Book of Common Prayer now includes an astronaut option in its prayer for travelers: "For those who travel on land, on water, or in the air [or through outer space], let us pray to the Lord."

I'm sorry. I'm an atheist and that just kind of gave me the shivvers. Basically, being out in space, so far from your fellow humans and in such an alien environment, makes for a really good example of the way religion (and ritual) can serve as a tie binding us to the rest of humanity. For some people, it's a connection to a bigger sense of history. And when they look the future (and/or the vast emptiness of space) full in the face, they need that connection to humanity. It doesn't work for everybody. But the relationship between religion and space travel is a good place to start when you want to have a conversation about the fact that there really don't have to be conflicts between religion and science. (Really, people. For serious.)

Here's the scene: It's Christmas Eve, 1968. The spaceship with three men on board had hurtled toward the moon for three days, and they have now finally entered the moon's orbit, a move requiring a maneuver so dicey that just a tiny mistake could have sent the men off into an unwieldy elliptical orbit or crashing to the moon's surface. But all went smoothly, and they are orbiting the moon. On their fourth pass (of 10), astronaut William Anders snaps the famous Earthrise shot that will appear in Life magazine. On their ninth orbit, they begin a broadcast down to Earth. Astronaut Frank Borman introduces the men of the mission, and, then, this:

"And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters and God said, 'Let there be light," Borman read.

Read the rest of the article at The Atlantic

I can't remember who sent this story to me. If it's you, let me know, and I will credit you here!

A new plan for space

Later this month, NASA will start talking publicly about a plan to put humans on an asteroid and bring them back to Earth again. The Telegraph has a preview.

Space is awesome: Astronaut Rex Walheim answers more BoingBoing reader questions

A couple weeks ago, I got a chance to interview Rex Walheim—astronaut, test pilot, and all-around swell guy. He answered five questions BoingBoing readers had about what it takes to be chosen for the space program and what the experience of training to be an astronaut is like.

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The last space suit on the Moon

This is the space suit worn by Apollo 17 commander Eugene Cernan, the last human being to set foot on the Moon.

Side note: I knew these suits were heavy. I had not realized how heavy. With 26 layers of material in the suit, a portable life-support system strapped on, and other mechanical systems attached, the whole thing weighed in at 185 pounds on Earth.

Via Smithsonian

A better astronaut recruitment video

After watching NASA's astronaut recruitment video (which managed to make going to space sort of feel like applying for a lower-level management position at Wal-Mart), Gavin St. Ours made his own version.

Now THIS is what an astronaut recruitment video ought to be: Inspirational, a little tear-jerky ... it even acknowledges the current state of the American manned space program and makes that sound like an opportunity, rather than a crisis. Great work, Gavin!

Video Link

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An Apollo astronaut on political quagmires

Thank you, Tim Lloyd. This made my day.

Atlas rockets could carry astronauts to space again

It looks like Boeing will be the main competitor for Space X in the race to see what U.S. company will provide the commercial space flight services that NASA eventually plans to rely on.

Space X has its Dragon capsule, and Boeing is developing a new capsule system, called the CST-100. That capsule would ride into space under the power of an Atlas V rocket, an engineering descendant of the Atlas rockets that carried the first four American astronauts to space half a century ago.

Lucky Cosmonaut

Everybody say, "Hello," to Russian cosmonaut Yury Malenchenko. Hi, Yury!

I like this photo because he kind of reminds me of one of those Japanese lucky cats.

Image: REUTERS/Sergei Remezov