Maggie talking space exploration on KCRW's "To the Point"

I got to join in a great conversation yesterday on KCRW's "To the Point" with guest host Madeleine Brand and several people involved in the future of space travel — especially commercial space travel. I was there to talk about my recent NYT Magazine story on the risks of boredom in space, but the rest of the conversation was also great, ranging from the profit motives of space exploration to Brand's excellent questioning of the founder of Mars One.

The least desirable addresses in the Universe

Can I interest you in a summer home on COROT-7b? Sure, the estimated surface temperature is 4,580 degrees F, the year is only 20 hours long, and it's probably just lousy with volcanoes. But, when it rains on COROT-7b, it rains rocks. No takers? Just in case, you should check out Lee Billings' slideshow on fantastically horrible planets.

Video is a "waltz around Saturn"

Fabio Di Donato made this gorgeous video from photos of Saturn taken by the Cassini spacecraft between 2004 and 2012. "Around Saturn"

Warp 0: Why warp drive technologies might never happen

Theoretical cosmologist Richard Easther has an interesting essay on the theoretical physics of warp drive technologies and why — despite the fact that they could work quite reasonably alongside relativity — they still might not ever make it to reality.

Toolbox on the International Space Station


British ISS astronaut Tim Peake has a Flickr gallery of pics of the drawers on an ISS toolchest, each an obsessive, knolled marvel of foam cutouts and the everyday life of a spaceperson.

ISS Toolbox (via Crazy Abalone)

Bezos Expeditions confirms recovered F-1 engine was Apollo 11

"44 years ago tomorrow Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, and now we have recovered a critical technological marvel that made it all possible," says Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. One of the conservators working with his team to scan objects recovered from the sea floor near Cape Canveral, Florida, has made a new discovery: “2044,” stenciled in black paint on the side of one of the massive thrust chambers.

2044 is the Rocketdyne serial number that correlates to NASA number 6044, which is the serial number for F-1 Engine #5 from Apollo 11. The intrepid conservator kept digging for more evidence, and after removing more corrosion at the base of the same thrust chamber, he found it – "Unit No 2044" – stamped into the metal surface.

F-1 Engine Recovery Update, and more in our previous coverage of the recovery mission. [Bezos Expeditions]

Astronauts debate provenance of turd floating in Apollo 10


A declassified mission transcript from Apollo 10 (PDF) includes a passage in which the spacemen argue about whose turd is floating weightlessly through the capsule.

(Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

In the future, astronauts might play MMORPGs to fend off boredom

My newest column for The New York Times Magazine is about the risks associated with boredom on long-distance space journeys, like the one astronauts might someday take to Mars. It's hard to imagine being bored in that scenario, but many experts think boredom is one of the key issues we need to address in order to make a mission like that succeed.

That's because, unlike on the ISS, astronauts traveling to Mars won't have constant contact with mission control or their families. They won't have virtual visits from celebrities to look forward to, and they'll be lacking the mesmerizing views of their home planet that keep current astronauts remarkably entertained. Particularly after the halfway point in a journey, and on the way home from Mars, researchers worry that the mundane reality of life on a spaceship could push some astronauts into a state of chronic boredom — a situation that's associated with symptoms of depression and attention deficit disorders. Neither of which you really want to experience in a place where small mistakes or overlooked responsibilities could lead to catastrophe.

So how will we deal with boredom in space? There are several cool strategies that didn't make it into the final New York Times piece and I thought you all might be particularly interested in one proposed by Sheryl Bishop, who studies human performance in extreme environments at the University of Texas Medical Branch. She thinks games will have an important role to play in keeping astronauts sharp and alert on long missions.

Read the rest

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.

A moon you could walk across in a day

The Hubble Space Telescope has discovered a previously unnoticed moon orbiting the planet Neptune. Given the poetic name S/2004 N 1, it is apparently a mere 12 miles across.

Travel to the stars with The Intergalactic Travel Bureau

If you're in New York between now and the 21st of July, you should stop by 266 W. 37th Street — home of The Intergalactic Travel Bureau. This tongue-in-cheek travel agency offers opportunities to sit down and discuss your interstellar dreams with real astrophysicists who can answer questions, offer suggested itineraries, and help you explore the wonders of the Universe.

NASA ebooks

NASA has a great collection of ebooks about space, science, aeronautics, and the history of science. All DRM-free PDFs. Your tax dollars, at (good) work! (Thanks, Alan!) Cory 4

Soviet space-race magazine covers


Norman sez, "When the space race raged in the 1950s, fantastical visions of the future of travel were everywhere. Magazines like Popular Mechanics ran speculative articles about the rockets and space stations that would take civilization to the stars, and the accompanying artwork blurred the line between fiction and plausible reality. This art had a real affect on the space race in both the United States and Soviet Union; where Popular Mechanics, Mechanix Illustrated, and Disney's Tomorrowland set the tone for the US space program, the Soviet Union's most influential art may have come from the magazine Tekhnika Molodezhi."

They've collected more than 200 covers, some of them absolutely stonking. If this is your sort of thing, try our archive of sovkitsch posts, and including a couple space-themed ones.

The Incredible Space Art of Russian Magazine Tekhnika Molodezhi

UK astronomers team up to search for alien intelligence

Astronomers in the UK are planning to explore the skies for signs of alien life, using a network of telescopes that can detect signals from other planets. The plans would make Britain the world's second-largest center for alien-hunting in the world, after America. [The Guardian]

Archaeology vs. Space: 18th c. plantation site may block commercial spaceport construction


Archaeologist Dot Moore, right, and historian Roz Foster, in hat, excavate the Elliott Plantation site. Photo: National Park Service

Space Florida, the aerospace economic development agency for the state of Florida, plans to construct a commercial spaceport next to Kennedy Space Center. Local business, government officials, and laid-off Space Coast aerospace workers who lost their jobs when the shuttle program ended love the idea.

But the past sometimes reaches out to trip the future. The property along the Volusia-Brevard county line where Space Florida wants to build its spaceport turns out to be already occupied. It contains the ruins of an 18th century English plantation, complete with slave villages, a sugar factory and a rum distillery. National Park Service officials have declared it "one of the most significant properties in North America."

Read the rest