One of these pockets must have Tabasco.
Does this zero gravity make me look fat? Yup. It’s called the Charlie Brown effect, according to Michele Perchonok, NASA’s shuttle food system manager, and it’s not because she’s fattening them up with shrimp cocktail and chicken consommé. Without the benefit of gravity, bodily fluids accumulate in the head, giving the astronauts rounder, cartoon-like faces.
As anyone who’s had a cold knows, more fluid in our facial cavities also means congestion and weakening our sense of smell. But is lack of gravity actually responsible to for all this? There’s only one way to find out: “Perchonok has asked [food engineer Jean Hunter] and her crew at Cornell to test the stuffy nose theory. To do that on Earth, volunteers will spend several weeks in a bed where their heads are lower than their feet to try to re-create that Charlie Brown effect.” This might not be what people had in mind when they volunteered for astronaut simulations.
In the noble pursuit of contacting aliens, we humans have broadcast images, music, voices, and more into space, but have you ever stopped to think that maybe we’re sending mixed messages? Some astronomers have, and to counter that problem they’ve suggested creating standard rules for all future space-bound missives–and they want to harness the power of crowdsourcing to “edit” these messages.
In their Space Policy paper, a team of alien-hunting scientists say that standard message protocols would increase the likelihood that aliens would hear us, one goal for those involved with SETI, or the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Wired Science quotes astrobiologist Jacob Haqq-Misra:
“The paper is really a call for unity among thinking about messaging exraterrestrials,” Haqq-Misra said. “Right now it’s messy, it’s kind of all over the place. Maybe we can increase our success chances by being more unified about this.”
Cell phones will soon make a giant leap for mankind–right into outer space. In the coming year, British engineers from Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) plan to send a cell phone into orbit to test whether cell phones are tough enough to withstand outer space, and whether they’re powerful enough to control satellites. As the BBC reports:
“Modern smartphones are pretty amazing,” said SSTL project manager Shaun Kenyon…. “They come now with processors that can go up to 1GHz, and they have loads of flash memory…. We’re not taking it apart; we’re not gutting it; we’re not taking out the printed circuit boards and re-soldering them into our satellite – we’re flying it as is,” Mr Kenyon explained.
The jury’s still out as to what cell phone model will be the world’s first orbital smartphone–but the scientists have already decided to pick one that uses Google’s Android operating system. That software is open source, allowing the engineers to tweak the phone’s functions. Not every phone, after all, comes off the shelf with the ability to navigate a nearly 12-inch-long, GPS-equipped, pulsed-plasma thruster satellite.
While watching the science news for you here at Discover blogs, we’ve seen our share of bad science coverage. Most of the time, we let it slide. Most of the time, we write the truth and hope to overshadow the erroneous and exaggerated stories. But this time… this time we’re calling it out.
Last week’s coverage of the bacteria that live in Mono Lake, CA was over hyped because of a cryptic message in a NASA press release (namely, that the discovery would “impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life”). And even after all the build up, the early embargo break, and a long press conference, many news outlets STILL got the story wrong.
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The United Nations, tackling head-on the problem of what to do if an alien says “take me to your leader”, is poised to designate a specific individual for the task…. An obscure Malaysian astrophysicist who is head of its little-known Office for Outer Space Affairs (Unoosa).
The story, which was widely reported over the weekend, was published on Sunday at 12:50 pm AEST (Saturday, 9:50 pm EDT). It compared Unoosa and Othman to the Men In Black and even quoted experts in space policy:
Professor Richard Crowther, an expert in space law and governance at the UK Space Agency and who leads British delegations to the UN on such matters, said: “Othman is absolutely the nearest thing we have to a ‘take me to your leader’ person.”
The story was then picked up by The Telegraph, which published on Sunday at 11:30 am BST (Sunday, 6am EDT), discussing the details of Othman’s push for her new role:
She will set out the details of her proposed new role at a Royal Society conference in Buckinghamshire next week. The 58-year-old is expected to tell delegates that the proposal has been prompted by the recent discovery of hundreds of planets orbiting other starts, which is thought to make the discovery of extraterrestrial life more probable than ever before.
From there the story spread to various other news sites, including CNET, Daily Mail, Wired.co.uk, and Time before anyone thought to actually check the facts of the Australian article. At around 8 am EDT on Monday The Guardian posted a story claiming that that Mazlan Othman has officially denied the statement:
Finally an email from Othman herself would have prompted our Martian to trudge back to his spaceship. “It sounds really cool but I have to deny it,” she said of the story. She will be attending a conference next week, but she’ll be talking about how the world deals with “near-Earth objects”. Our alien will just have to try someone else, or stop reading the Sunday Times.
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On August 30th, after seven years gathering data on ice sheets and sea ice dynamics, a NASA satellite met its fiery end in the Earth’s atmosphere before plunging into the sea. And it was University of Colorado at Boulder undergraduates who plotted the satellite’s fatal course.
Happily this wasn’t the result of a Hacking 101 class gone awry, or a particularly sophisticated prank. The students’ destructive mission had NASA’s full endorsement.
NASA decommissioned the Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite, or ICESat in July, before turning the show over to the students, who worked with experts from the university’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.
The chances of being struck by a meteorite are extremely small, but, according to Lajic, his home has served as meteorite target practice since 2007. According to The Telegraph, where we found this story, Lajic says that the rocks tend to come when it rains. Ok, sure–and maybe Paul the psychic octopus can predict when the next one will come hurtling down.
A Wired article from last year cites a 1991 study by The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada of worldwide meteorite strikes near humans and built structures. The study records only a total of 57 strikes on human infrastructure in the 20th century.
Never mind facts and statistics, though! Lajic has set up a meteorite museum in his backyard. The Telegraph also reports that he has paid for a steel girder for his home by selling the first of the meteorites and has now launched an investigation into the magnetic fields around his home. Maybe it would have been better to take the cash from the first rock and move?
Lajic’s explanation for his home’s apparent meteorite attraction is that aliens are out to get him. He told The Telegraph:
“I have no doubt I am being targeted by aliens…. They are playing games with me.”
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Image: flickr / Tobin
In an interview with Buzz Aldrin just published in Vanity Fair, contributing reporter Eric Spitznagel finally got this answer:
“We were well skilled in the art of disposal waste. There was such a thing called a ‘blue bag,’ which was kind of messy. There was a stickum on it, and you could stick it around your posterior. For urinating we had an ego-buster, which was like a condom catheter. We were cautioned not to overestimate our size. (Laughs.) Because if the condom was too big, there might be a little leakage.”
The story continues: Aldrin describes in full detail what happens if you *do* have a little “leakage” (wiggle it out into a larger bag) and where astronauts flush those blue baggies. Aldrin tells Spitznagel about a newbie mistake of tossing the bags (during extra-vehicular activity) in a trajectory that brought them straight back at their capsule.
“We looked out the window and there were three bags in a row, heading straight for us.”
In case, Spitznagel isn’t the only one wondering about space crap, you should know that taking care of business has come a long way since blue bags. Astronauts potty train using simulators before their travels. The Space Shuttles and International Space Station both have air-flushing toilets, and the International Space Station recycles pee.
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