New oven to bake bread in space

A German start-up has prototyped a bread oven that operated in microgravity that may someday enable astronauts to enjoy fresh-baked goods in space. Currently, astronauts eat tortillas because they aren't crumbly and have a long shelf-life. (See the below photo of a rather unappetizing tortilla cheeseburger on the International Space Station.) From Space.com:

On Earth, bread needs to be baked at a temperature of about 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Once it’s done, the bakers remove it from the heated oven. But that would not be possible in space. Processes such as thermal convection, which helps to mix up air on Earth, don't work in space. If a bubble of air that hot were to escape from the oven in orbit, it could stay floating inside the station for quite a while, posing a serious health risk to the astronauts, (Bake In Space CEO Sebastian) Marcu said.

Marcu said the team has found a way to overcome this challenge.

"We basically put the baking product, the dough, inside the cold oven and start heating it up," he said. "Once it's almost done, we start cooling it down. But at that time, any product will start to get dry, and that's why we need to design the oven so that some water is added during the baking process."

The oven also needs to be able to operate with only 270 watts of power — about one-tenth the power used by conventional ovens on Earth. Marcu said the team hopes to have a prototype ready by the end of this year.

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Today is the anniversary of the first woman in space

On June 16, 1963, Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space. She orbited the Earth 48 times over a period of three days. Inspired by Yuri Gagarin who in 1961 became the first person in space, Tereshkova applied to the Russian space program and was accepted based on her extensive background as a skydiver. It wasn't until 40 years later that Tereshkova's nearly tragic experience in orbit was made public.

An error in the spacecraft's automatic navigation software caused the ship to move away from Earth. Tereshkova noticed this and Soviet scientists quickly developed a new landing algorithm. Tereshkova landed safely but received a bruise on her face.

She landed in the Altay region near today's Kazakhstan-Mongolia-China border. Villagers helped Tereshkova out of her spacesuit and asked her to join them for dinner. She accepted, and was later reprimanded for violating the rules and not undergoing medical tests first.

Valentina Tereshkova: First Woman in Space (Space.com) Read the rest

Watch 'Dot of Light,' inspiring documentary on female astronauts

This lovely short subject documentary gives some cool insights into the awe-inspiring experience of space travel, as told by several women who have had the honor of doing so. Imagine shedding a tear at the beauty, then laughing as it floats away. Read the rest

Lego's new Saturn V/Apollo Mission model rocket set

Lego just announced its new NASA Apollo Saturn V model rocket set. It's based on a Lego Ideas submission by a builder named saabfun, it's a 1:110 scale model of the real thing. Of course the Saturn V was the workhorse rocket that took astronauts to the moon beginning in 1969 and delivered Skylab to orbit in 1973. and The 1,969 piece set will sell for $120 starting in June. It looks fantastic but I'll wait (and hope) for a Voyager Mission set complete with the Golden Record!

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How to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in space

Astronaut Shane Kimbrough, commander of the Expedition 50 expedition to the International Space Station, explains how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in space. He returned from the ISS earlier this month after six months in orbit.

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Watch how NASA trains astronauts with VR

NASA has always been an early adopter of technology like virtual and augmented reality for training. Here's a cool glimpse into how they train future ISS and landing party astronauts. Read the rest

Astronaut unknowingly brought souvenir flags to the moon and now you can buy one

When Apollo 15 astronaut David Scott hopped across the lunar surface in 1971, he was carrying a pouch of tiny US flags in his spacesuit. The stash of flags was such a secret that Scott didn't even know they were there at the time. Now one of the souvenir flags, the pouch, and the bracket where it was attached are up for auction. The flag is estimated to go for $15,000 and the bracket/pouch for $30,000, but I definitely think you need both lots. From Collect Space:

"This [hidden pouch] was apparently unknown to anybody else until the (Portable Life Support System's Oxygen Purge System where the pouch was stowed were) disassembled after the mission by some other member of the CSD (Crew Systems Division) and the flag package was discovered," wrote Scott.

The identity of the original CSD member who hid the flags, or the person who found them afterward, is unknown...

Scott was presented with some of the flags and the 7.5 by 4 inch (19 by 10 cm) bracket as mementos of his flight by his management at the same meeting where he was told of their existence. A law passed in 2012 reaffirmed Apollo-era astronauts' title to the items they retained as souvenirs of their missions...

The hidden flags were not the only secret souvenirs on the Apollo 15 mission. Scott and his two crew mates also took postmarked envelopes, a memorial statue, and timepieces that NASA later labeled as unauthorized. The hidden flags were not associated with those items, though.

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Boeing's new spacesuit is far out

Boeing revealed its new sleek and chic spacesuit designed for astronauts aboard the Boeing/Bigelow CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. Launched on Atlas V rockets the Starliner capsule will shuttle commercial crew members to and from the International Space Station and other low-Earth orbit locales. From Boeing:

The Starliner spacesuit provides greater pressurized mobility and is about 40 percent lighter than previous suits. Its innovative layers will keep astronauts cooler as well. The touchscreen-friendly gloves allow astronauts to interact with the capsule’s tablets while the boots are breathable and slip resistant. Zippers in the torso area will make it easier for astronauts to comfortably transition from sitting to standing. In addition to protecting astronauts during launch and the return to Earth, the suit also helps connect astronauts to ground and space crews through the communications headset within the helmet. The suit’s hood-like soft helmet sports a wide polycarbonate visor to give Starliner passengers better peripheral vision throughout their ride to and from space.

Video from Boeing:

Photo from Boeing:

Photo from NASA/Cory Huston:

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Watch astronauts perform the "Mannequin Challenge" in space

While the "Mannequin Challenge" is a little played out at this point, I’ll make an exception for this awesome version filmed onboard the International Space Station. French astronaut Thomas Pesquet posted the short video on Facebook, noting that the crew decided to play around with microgravity on their day off. “The result is kind of sci-fi spooky don’t you think?” he added. And while Pesquet's version doesn’t feature the traditional “Black Beatles” underscoring, one fan was kind enough to add the song to the video:

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Celebrate Apollo 17’s 44th anniversary with this footage of astronauts singing on the Moon

Apollo 17—the last manned mission to the Moon—landed on the lunar surface on December 19, 1972. To celebrate, here’s some delightful footage of astronauts Eugene A. Cernan and Harrison “Jack” Schmitt singing as they hop around the Moon. Read the rest

Why did astronauts' space suits leak urine?

Ariel Waldman, creator of Spacehack, has just published a delightful book titled "What's It Like in Space? Stories from Astronauts Who've Been There?" Illustrated by Brian Standeford, it's a fun collection of astronaut anecdotes on everything from sneezing and farting in zero gravity to weird frights and the necessity of Sriracha in space. Here's an excerpt:

The early male astronauts often had leaky space suits. They would frequently complain about their urine leaking into other areas of the suit. For a while, no one could figure out what was wrong with the spacesuits. NASA eventually realized the leaking was due to the oversized condom catheters the astronauts were using. Turns out that when the astronauts were asked by doctors what size they needed, they would often ask for “large.”

Buy "What's It Like in Space? Stories from Astronauts Who'Ve Been There?" (Amazon)

Excerpted from What's It Like in Space by Ariel Waldman, illustrations by Brian Standeford (Chronicle Books, 2016). Read the rest

What's it like in space? Astronauts answer in new book

Ariel Waldman, creator of Spacehack, has just published a delightful book titled "What's It Like in Space? Stories from Astronauts Who'Ve Been There?" Illustrated by Brian Standeford, it's a fun collection of astronaut anecdotes on everything from sneezing and farting in zero gravity to weird frights and the necessity of Sriracha in space. Here's an excerpt:

While performing a spacewalk is an exciting experience, it is also a very serious operation that is meticulously scripted for astronauts. The only time astronauts might get a chance to look around at where they are is when there’s a glitch in equipment and they get a few spare minutes while someone makes a repair. Astronaut Chris Hadfield found an opportunity to look around during one of his spacewalks:

“The contrast of your body and your mind inside . . . essentially a one-person spaceship, which is your space suit, where you’re holding on for dear life to the shuttle or the station with one hand, and you are inexplicably in between what is just a pouring glory of the world roaring by, silently next to you—just the kaleidoscope of it, it takes up your whole mind. It’s like the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen just screaming at you on the right side, and when you look left, it’s the whole bottomless black of the universe and it goes in all directions. It’s like a huge yawning endlessness on your left side and you’re in between those two things and trying to rationalize it to yourself and trying to get some work done.”

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Google Autocomplete interview with astronauts who are in space

From our friend Joe Sabia, a wonderful video his team created with WIRED:

NASA astronauts Tim Kopra and Jeff Williams and European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake are currently living on board the International Space station and answer the internet’s most searched questions in the latest installment of WIRED’s Google Auto Complete Interview.

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Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell, 6th man on the moon, dies at age 85

NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell has died. He was 85 years old.

Mitchell was the sixth human to walk on the moon. He died Thursday night after a short illness. It was exactly one day before the 45th anniversary of the day he landed in the Moon's hilly Fra Mauro region, with crewmate Alan Shepard.

Mitchell was into the paranormal, and the possibility that ESP (psychic communication) could help humans stay connected out in space.

From Bill Harwood at CBS News:

Famous for attempting an experiment in extra-sensory perception on his way back from the moon, Mitchell founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences in 1973 "to support consciousness research and promote awareness of evolving human consciousness," the family said in a statement released by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.

Andrew Chaikin, author of "A Man On The Moon -- The Voyages Of The Apollo Astronauts," said in a recent interview with CBS News that Mitchell was "super bright" and "an intellectual."

"Just a real lover of ideas," Chaikin said. "It shows in his post-NASA career because he pursued this question of consciousness and the nature of consciousness. On his flight, he had kind of a mountain-top experience where on the flight home, looking at the Earth, he felt that he was experiencing the universe as an intelligent entity, almost an organism. And that really changed him."

Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell in front of a graphic of the mission patch. [NASA]

Here are NASA Administrator Charles Bolden's remarks on his death:

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Why are there no bearded astronauts?

To mark the January 12 Blu-ray and DVD release of The Martian, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment has created the 'Life in Space' video series, a lighthearted look at the burning questions troubling all space fans. Read the rest

What happens to an astronaut's body during a year in space

NASA astronaut and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko are halfway through the year they are spending in space. Above is a NASA chart with some fun facts about what Kelly will experience.

“I think the legacy of this mission will be based on the science of having us in space for a year,” Kelly said. “The great data we collected, what we learned about being in space for this long and how that will help our journey to Mars someday.”

Below, NASA's mini-documentary "A Year In Space" narrated by Lando, er, Billy Dee Williams:

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A better solution for astronauts who drink their own piss

Aquaporin A/S made this new small and lightweight filter that uses aquaporins, membrane proteins, to turn urine, sweat, and wastewater into drinkable water. Read the rest

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