You may be familiar with the celebrity home touring show Cribs, but this video takes the concept of home tours
above and beyond. No, really. It’s a tour of the International Space Station with astronaut Sunita Williams as your guide. She (and her big, zero-gravity hair) bounce around the space station to reveal all the crazy perks that don’t show up in the NASA photos.
So far our galactic adventures have included landing men on the moon, taking pretty pictures of Saturn, and roaming the surface of Mars. So what’s next on NASA’s to-do list? Perhaps snagging an asteroid to keep in our own backyard.
Researchers from the Keck Institute for Space Studies proposed a plan [pdf] in April to bring an asteroid into the moon’s orbit so astronauts can study it up close. How big an asteroid are we talking? Researchers said the sweet spot would be right around 500 tons and 20 feet in diameter—big enough to locate but small enough to transport. After finding such an asteroid, researchers want to send a robotic spacecraft to bag and drag the asteroid into the moon’s orbit. The asteroid would in effect become the moon’s own mini moon. The round-trip journey could take up to a decade, which would give NASA enough time to set up a manned mission to the asteroid to study it up close and personal. So far NASA has not turned the proposal down.
UPDATE: The jump as been canceled, due to gusty wind conditions. Stay tuned…
This afternoon, the Austrian parachuter Felix Baumgartner is expected to leap from a balloon nearly 23 miles above Roswell, New Mexico, and freefall Earthwards, achieving speeds faster than the speed of sound.
You’ll never get to take a deep breath and smell the roses in Earth’s orbit. The distinct lack of air there means you’d die a gruesome death sans space helmet, probably without smelling a thing.
Ah, but what about once you get back in your ship? As many places around the Web have been discussing recently, astronauts have said that upon coming back from space walks and taking off their gear, a certain specific scent seems to hang in the air…some think it smells like charred steak, or maybe like something metallic.
Here’s how astronaut Don Pettit put it nearly ten years ago:
Each time, when I repressed the airlock, opened the hatch and welcomed two tired workers inside, a peculiar odor tickled my olfactory senses. At first I couldn’t quite place it. It must have come from the air ducts that re-pressed the compartment. Then I noticed that this smell was on their suit, helmet, gloves, and tools. It was more pronounced on fabrics than on metal or plastic surfaces. It is hard to describe this smell; it is definitely not the olfactory equivalent to describing the palette sensations of some new food as “tastes like chicken.” The best description I can come up with is metallic; a rather pleasant sweet metallic sensation. It reminded me of my college summers where I labored for many hours with an arc welding torch repairing heavy equipment for a small logging outfit. It reminded me of pleasant sweet smelling welding fumes. That is the smell of space.
What sounds like a similar smell—astronauts describe it as something like gunpowder—also emanates from moondust.
Flattened eye of the astronaut.
Without gravity pulling down on fluids in their bodies, astronauts’ faces get puffy and congested. This Charlie Brown effect—so named for the cartoonishly round faces—may be responsible for amusing anecdotes like hot sauce cravings among astronauts, but it could also pose a permanent problem for their eyes. In a new study, MRIs revealed swelling or flattening of eyeballs in an unusually high proportion—11 out of 27—of astronauts examined.
The abnormalities matched what doctors see in Earth-bound patients with idiopathic intracranial hypertension, or high pressure of fluids in the brain, which could be similar to what’s happening in zero gravity. The study’s authors are careful to note that they can’t rule out other causes, such as exposure to radiation, and that they did not look at astronauts who had never been in space for comparison. Nevertheless vision problems are a known hazard of space travel, and NASA is now scanning all eyeballs before astronauts leave for space.
Image courtesy of Kramer et al / Radiology
Airplane food is notoriously bad. But airlines, in financial free fall over the last decade, have been trying to bring back the luxe food of early flight in business class and first class, to lure in more high-end travelers. Biology is working against them, though. As Jad Mouawad reports for the NYTimes, part of why plane food lacks subtlety is that we can’t actually taste as well when we’re at altitude:
Even before a plane takes off, the atmosphere inside the cabin dries out the nose. As the plane ascends, the change in air pressure numbs about a third of the taste buds. And as the plane reaches a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet, cabin humidity levels are kept low by design, to reduce the risk of fuselage corrosion. Soon, the nose no longer knows. Taste buds are M.I.A. Cotton mouth sets in.
What’s the News: In long space flights, such as a mission to Mars, astronauts will have more time during which they could get injured or sick. And the same apparently goes for the medicine aboard spaceships: According to a NASA-funded study, medicines degrade faster in space than they do on Earth. As the researchers conclude in their paper, “this information can facilitate research for the development of space-hardy pharmaceuticals and packaging technologies.”
MIT may have found the answer to astronauts’ bone loss in space: really, really tight suits.
The new suit — the Gravity Loading Countermeasure Skinsuit — aims to mimic the effect of gravity on the body. The tight catsuit wouldn’t look out of place in a superhero comic. It features stirrups that hook over the feet and it is purposefully cut too short so that it stretches over the body when worn, pulling the wearer’s shoulders down. The aim is to make sure the legs experience greater force than the torso, just as they do on Earth. [Wired UK]
The Man Vehicle Lab at MIT developed the skin-tight apparel. The researchers are testing it out aboard parabolic flights—those airplane rides that simulate weightlessness—to see if it succeeds in mitigating the harmful health effects of life in zero-G.
This morning, astronauts at the International Space Station are once again venturing outside of the ISS, undertaking the third spacewalk in their attempt to fix the station’s cooling system.
The crew is in no immediate danger, as their backup cooling system is working. However, the ammonia leak in the coolant system caused the astronauts to turn off some experiments and backup systems keep keep the ISS from overheating.
The space station has been working at reduced cooling capacity since the pump first failed on 31 July. The enormous pumps circulate ammonia in heat exchangers outside the station, where water cannot be used because it would freeze [BBC News].
Usually, a hitch encountered while fixing an air conditioner doesn’t make the news–except when that AC orbits 220 miles above the earth, requires astronaut mechanics, and remains inoperable after the sixth longest spacewalk in history.
Last week, we discussed a broken ammonia cooling loop–one of two keeping the International Space Station air-conditioned and habitable. Though the second loop is keeping the six astronauts aboard comfortable, they prefer to be more than mishap away from a 500 degree Fahrenheit temperature difference across their orbiting laboratory. Now, following Saturday’s eight-hour spacewalk, the cooling loop is closer to repair but will require two additional walks. The next will occur no earlier than Wednesday, a NASA press release says.