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.

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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."

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Russian rocket crashes after launch in fiery cloud of toxic fumes that now threatens residents



Image: Orange smoke in Kazakhstan, resulting from today's rocket crash. kloop.kg.

[AP Video Link] At the Baikonur Cosmodrome today, the most notable spaceflight accident in some time: a Russian Proton-M rocket crashed shortly after takeoff. The rocket was hauling three GLONASS navigation satellites for a navigation system that Russia is in the process of building. The resulting fiery, toxic orange smoke stretched into a cloud that hovered over the nearby city of Baikonur, where some 70,000 people live. Residents were told to shelter in place to avoid exposure.

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Atlantis returns to Kennedy: a review of the space shuttle's new permanent exhibit

Space educator Sawyer “@thenasaman” Rosenstein, 19, is a hardcore space fan. His enthusiasm for space flight was captured in a 2011 Boing Boing special feature, and shines weekly in his “Talking Space” podcast. He traveled to Florida for the opening of the new permanent exhibit of Shuttle Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center, and shared photos with us. All images in this review are Sawyer’s. —Xeni Jardin.

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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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What would our night sky look like if other planets were as close as the Moon?

The Atlantic has a fantastic piece on the work on space artist Ron Miller, showing pictures of the night sky on Earth with other planets swapped in where the Moon should be. Jupiter is my favorite — if that were hovering over us every night, we'd all have deep inferiority complexes.

Lunar gravity-maps

Joly sez,

These print-resolution stills were created for the cover of the February 8, 2013 issue of Science. They show the free-air gravity map developed by the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission.

If the Moon were a perfectly smooth sphere of uniform density, the gravity map would be a single, featureless color, indicating that the force of gravity at a given elevation was the same everywhere. But like other rocky bodies in the solar system, including Earth, the Moon has both a bumpy surface and a lumpy interior. Spacecraft in orbit around the Moon experience slight variations in gravity caused by both of these irregularities.

The free-air gravity map shows deviations from the mean, the gravity that a cueball Moon would have. The deviations are measured in milliGals, a unit of acceleration. On the map, dark purple is at the low end of the range, at around -400 mGals, and red is at the high end near +400 mGals. Yellow denotes the mean.

These views show a part of the Moon's surface that's never visible from Earth.

GRAIL Free-Air Gravity Map for the Cover of Science

A day in the life of a fake astronaut

Kate Greene is on a mission to Hawaii. For the last 65 days, she has lived in a mostly windowless dome on the slopes of Mauna Loa volcano, only venturing outside occasionally — and then through an airlock while dressed in a head-to-toe safety suit. She's part of HI-SEAS, a project aimed at studying the way humans might eat, cook, and stay healthy on a long-term Mars mission.

Greene's adventure will last another 53 days. In this video, she walks you through a typical day in a simulated Martian environment — which involves (surprisingly) P-90x workouts and (unsurprisingly) powdered eggs.

Video Link

Keep up with Kate Green's updates at Discover's "Field Notes" blog

Chinese Astronaut gives science classroom lesson from space

China held its first classroom lecture from its orbiting space module as part of efforts to promote an interest in science and space flight to young people. Astronaut Wang Yaping answered questions live from 330 elementary and middle school students at a Beijing high school from on board the Tiangong-1 lab Thursday morning. BBC News has video.