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.
When a seed is planted in the ground, the roots tend to grow downward in search of water and nutrients. But what happens when there is no “down” for the roots to grow? Scientists sent seeds to the International Space Station and were surprised to see what plants did without gravity to guide their roots downward.
The crew of the International Space Station would like to wish you very happy holidays this year, and it comes in the form of this pretty timelapse video. On their wishlist? World peace. They’d like to see a little more cooperation on the beautiful blue marble they orbit.
Ever wondered how the Tiangong-1 module of China’s in-progress space station measures up to, say, the International Space Station? Over at the astronomy blog Supernova Condensate, molecular astrophysicist Invader Xan has created an infographic comparing the sizes of various spacefaring vessels. It’s fun to see how different ships stack up next to each other, like the British spaceplane Skylon versus the U.S.’s recently retired spaceplane (i.e., the Space Shuttle). And Invader Xan also made a bonus image to demonstrate how our past may compare to the future, where no man has gone before.
[via Boing Boing]
It’s been a rocky few years for spaceflight. NASA’s budget isn’t getting any bigger. And though the Space Shuttle program was expensive, dangerous, and kept better designs from being developed, once it ended last year, US astronauts have had to hitch rides on Russian rockets, which are themselves not too reliable. But this morning’s launch of SpaceX’s first International Space Station supply rocket was a bright spot.
NASA is betting on the private sector to bring about the next great space age. It has made grants to various private space flight companies, including PayPal founder Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies, colloquially known as SpaceX, to develop space taxi technologies and supply the International Space Station.
And early this morning, after an aborted launch attempt on Sunday, SpaceX’s first rocket left Earth, carrying a capsule bound for the space station. You can watch the unmanned vehicle take off in the video above, and you can hear in the excitement in the NASA launch commentator’s voice as the fiery ship takes off through the night.
What’s the News: With NASA’s last shuttle launch slated for July 8, the news is filled with retrospectives on the shuttle program. And a few of them make this shrewd point: even though the US has no replacement program, even though the vehicles allowed the construction of the International Space Station…good riddance.
The International Space Station
What’s the News: On Monday, China unveiled its plan to build a manned space station in the next decade. This announcement comes from a space program whose development has been, well, skyrocketing; China launched its first astronaut into Earth orbit in 2003 and completed its first spacewalk in 2008. If things go as planned, the station would be the third ever multi-module space station, after Russia’s Mir and the International Space Station.
Image: flickr / daveeza
UPDATE: SpaceX just announced via Twitter that the Dragon successfully splashed down in the Pacific: “SpaceX is the first commercial company to reenter a spacecraft from space!”
Liftoff! As I write this, the Dragon capsule by private space company SpaceX is orbiting the Earth, having been blasted successfully in space by the company’s Falcon 9 rocket.
The rise to orbit served as a test run for future resupply flights to the International Space Station. Before today’s launch, SpaceX’s millionaire founder, Elon Musk, observed that a successful ascent would demonstrate that the Dragon could reach the space station, even if it didn’t later re-enter the atmosphere and make its scheduled splashdown in the Pacific. [MSNBC]
Shortly—a little after 2 p.m. Eastern—the capsule is scheduled to conclude its orbits of the planet and attempt reentry. If SpaceX is successful it will become the first private company to accomplish what only government space agencies have achieved to this point. This test is unmanned. But if it and others succeed, SpaceX hopes it will someday soon be blasting humans into space in preparation for trips to the ISS.
The rocket is a pipsqueak compared with the space shuttle it will partially replace – measuring 157 feet with the capsule and weighing 735,000 pounds. The much larger shuttle was needed to fly parts up to the $100 billon international space station, but the fleet is being retired because of its age and because its job is largely done. [Washington Post]
SpaceX’s Twitter feed has links to images from Dragon’s on-board camera. We’ll update you when the capsule attempts its reentry.
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DISCOVER: Launching Into the Age of Private Spaceflight
DISCOVER: NASA Braces for Course Correction
When the space shuttle Discovery launches on Thursday (weather and technology permitting), it will be ferrying an unusual passenger to the International Space Station: Robonaut 2. This humanoid robot was designed by NASA and General Motors to work alongside astronauts on the space station, and could eventually take over some tedious or dangerous tasks.
Human beings who dream of becoming astronauts acquire things like advanced science degrees or the ability to fly jet planes in hopes of catching NASA’s eye and being chosen as astronaut candidates. If they do become candidates, there’s still scads of training before they can take a flight up to the ISS. But how does a robot qualify for and prepare for that trip to orbit? DISCOVER spoke with Marty Linn, General Motor’s principal engineer of robotics, to find out.
Physical Fitness: Human astronauts have to pass the NASA long-duration space flight physical to prove that they’re healthy, fit, and strong enough for astronaut duties. Robonaut 2 has to be pretty strong, too: Here on Earth, he proved that he can do arm curls with 20-pound free weights. “The limitation is grasp strength,” says Linn. “The weak link is how strong the fingers are.” The robot didn’t have to spend any time on the treadmill, though, because this model doesn’t have lower limbs—it’s simply a torso with arms and a head.
Intelligence: To be honest, R2 (as its buddies call it) isn’t that bright—it can’t make independent decisions. NASA’s top priority for the experimental bot is guaranteeing that it won’t pose a threat to the astronauts or the space station, so for now R2 will be under the strict control of astronauts and ground crew. R2 “isn’t going to go berserk,” Linn stresses, but it’s still nice to have an off switch. He also explains that the robot’s actions can be programmed joint by joint, or it can be controlled by a tele-ops system, in which an astronaut dons the tele-ops gear and puts the robot through its paces by moving her own arms or head.
Vision: NASA has always paid careful attention to the eyesight of its astronaut candidates, and only recently decided that people who have gotten laser surgery to correct their vision can still be considered for the job. R2’s vision is top-notch. It’s equipped with high-resolution digital cameras, can detect motion and distinct objects, and has a 3D mapping tool to allow it to determine where objects are in space. It also has lower resolution cameras for tele-operation, Linn explains, which “allow the operator to see through the eyes of the robot.”