Regularly scheduled flights for customers doing research and development would be a major leap beyond what government programs had offered the private sector in the past, says Sean Casey, the managing director of the Silicon Valley Space Center, which advises space startups. “Researchers have been turned off by NASA’s traditional time scale,” he says. “With Xcor, you can spend $1 million to $2 million and do 10 flights each with about six minutes of microgravity and make sure your experiments are working.” Blue Origin (logo on left) business development manager Erika Wagner said during the recent space conference that the company’s goal is spaceflight at a moment’s notice. “We will roll out of the garage,” she said. “This is gas and go.”
Now, up in space, comes an impressive low-tech improvisation after an Italian astronaut almost “drowned” in July from moisture flooding his helmet during a space walk.
From Space.com (thanks to reminder from Andrew McCarthy)
"This is your last resort," Bolinger explained, holding up a makeshift snorkel. "If water is encroaching your face, as similar to what happened with Luca in the last EVA, the crew member can lean down and use this to breath fresh oxygen from down near his midsection."
Not that NASA had snorkels just floating around the space station. The astronauts had to "MacGyver" the apparatus that is more commonly associated with ocean divers than spacewalkers.
"We had the crew fabricate these on orbit," Bolinger said. "They basically cut apart the plastic tubing on a water-line vent tube and then attached hook-line Velcro on one side and pile Velcro on the other."
Normally, these tubes are used for piping water to provide cooling around the astronauts' bodies, but team members were inspired by the size of the plastic lines.
"Some smart engineers on the ground were able to figure out, 'Hey! This is a similar diameter to a snorkel that you have for scuba diving,'" Bolinger recalled. "They were able to come up with this ingenious idea."
So Alonso and other research teams at the FAA’s Center for Excellence in Space Transportation are hard at work crunching numbers and simulating flights, trying to estimate space and air traffic levels in the near future – all to determine how to most equitably divvy up the national airspace. The timing is good for space traffic control, because the FAA is in the midst of a $40 billion transition from the ground-based, radar-based air traffic control system that exists today to a satellite-based system called NextGen. GPS units in planes will update air traffic control once per second, rather than once every several seconds, as radar does. And in the event of a crisis, like an exploding rocket and ensuing cloud of flaming debris, air traffic controllers using NextGen will be able to send electronic re-routing information directly to the plane’s flight management program, rather than requiring instructions to be given verbally over the radio.
Alonso and his colleagues have access to NASA's special airspace simulation tool, called FACET (graph below)"It allows us to run back a day in the life of the air-traffic control system," says Alonso.
So Alonso has been running tens of thousands of simulations, taking into account weather variables, air traffic, and frequency of space launches. He models different distributions of flights when there might be a mere one launch a month, or as many as 6 orbital launches per week from different locations like New Mexico, California, Florida, and Colorado. In fact, the FAA has already licensed 8 different locations around the country as spaceports, and is reviewing applications for more. Not all of these spaceport aspirants will survive, but to model the future, Alonso has to create data for each of them.
Digital Globe, a leading provider of high-resolution Earth imagery products and services is holding a contest for readers to vote on 20 of its (spectacular) images on its Facebook page. Click here to admire and to vote.
In space there is no weight and no noise…so the making of the movie took extraordinary measures
“The requirement of realism, paradoxically, compelled Cuarón and his team to pre-visualize the entire film, shot for shot, long in advance of bringing Sandra Bullock and co-star George Clooney onset. This was an animation technique. Each shot was blocked, timed, and the actors "key-framed," creating an "animatic" of the entire script.
Animators had to unlearn years of expectations. Everybody "knows" that objects fly on curved trajectories to the ground based on their weight. But in orbit, weight translates to inertia, there is no ground, and there is only the tiniest hint of gravitational force to change the path.
"It took a lot of education for the animators to fully grasp that the usual laws of cause and effect don’t apply," Cuarón said in a press statement. "In outer space, there is no up; there is no down."
It took more than two years of this "previs" process before the director's first "Action!" call.”
Airline food is not much to write home about, so think about what astronauts have to endure. Well the HI-SEAS program is tackling that challenge. Its mission is
"to boldly study food preparation strategies for long-term space exploration.
Below the jump, see some of the dishes—and their recipes—selected
as the tastiest by the HI-SEAS crew, which intrepid Mars colonizers
might be munching on one day.
Each of these meals was submitted by outside contributors. The dishes
were made of stabilized, non-perishable ingredients during the HI-SEAS
mission by the crew, who then voted on their favorites. The following
three are just a sampling, though. For more, go to the recipe contest page, which also lists runners-up."
Charles F. Bolden Jr., the current NASA
administrator, said, “As long as there are history books, Neil
Armstrong will be included in them, remembered for taking humankind’s
first small step on a world beyond our own.”
Mr. Bolden also noted that in the years after the moonwalk, Mr.
Armstrong “carried himself with a grace and humility that was an example
to us all.” The historian Douglas Brinkley, who interviewed Mr.
Armstrong for a NASA oral history, described him as “our nation’s most
bashful Galahad.” His family called him “a reluctant hero who always
believed he was just doing his job.”
UrtheCast’s (pronounced Earthcast) 4.5-foot-long camera, designed to handle the radiation and
extreme temperatures of orbit, will record 90-second videos 150 times a
day as the spacecraft circles the planet, Larson says. A second camera
will continuously snap still photos. Together, the stills will cover a
47.3-kilometer-wide swath of the planet and generate 2.5 terabytes of
data a day, the equivalent of about 270 full-length movies. UrtheCast’s
engineers will condense and post the visuals to the company’s website an
hour or two later. “With our images, you can see things moving and
changing,” Larson says.
Powered by the space station, UrtheCast will be able to shoot images at
night, something existing providers’ solar-powered satellites don’t do,
Larson says. “That’s something unique. There’s a great application
potential,” says Timothy Puckorius, chief executive officer of Earth
Observation Technologies, which plans to act as UrtheCast’s account
manager for some government clients.
One of the most vexing problems in space research is that so little
has changed in 50 years about the way we get to space. Consequently,
space access remains both expensive and rare. It has still not reached
the stage where scientists can themselves routinely travel there to
conduct research, unlike oceanographers, who routinely reach the deep
ocean, or geophysicists, who venture to the poles.
All this is poised to change. The advent of for-profit commercial
spaceflight—most recently highlighted by the successful launches of the
Dragon space cargo capsule, built and operated by SpaceX, to the
International Space Station (ISS)—will likely transform space research.
Scientists will enjoy lower launch costs, far more frequent access to
space and the opportunity to personally run their experiments in orbit.
These advances will not only help the big space research enterprises at
NASA and the Japanese and the European space agencies, they will also
probably make space access affordable to a broad, global base of
nations, academic institutions and corporations.
While the call for a married couple to sign up for the 2018 Inspiration Mars fly-by has received the most attention, New Scientist (sub required) identifies 4 major challenges that need to be met before the mission can be attempted (the next launch window with ideal Earth-Mars alignment will not happen till 2031)