Monday, December 1, 2014

In the sky with ISS

Credit: NASA
The space station isn't the only human made object zipping around the planet. It is, however, the largest at nearly 400 tons.

Quartz did a great graphic showing every active satellite orbiting earth (at least as of August 14, 2014). It is great because you can see them as a function of their altitude above earth.

You will find the ISS the largest circle, as well as one of the oldest active satellites.

Find it HERE

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving in Space

Even though astronauts are in space, they are still human and celebrate holidays. With thanksgiving coming up, what will the astronauts eat on ISS? Well, the same thing you and I will eat: turkey, potatoes, yams, etc. The difference is they can't cook fresh food up there; it has to be sent. It's usually sent weeks, sometimes months in advance. That doesn't mean they are freeze dried all the time, though. In fact, sometimes it is better tasting than what you get in a can here on earth.

We have come a long way from squeezing food from a tube. Now, astronauts get to eat what they want. Unlike us here on earth, though, they can't keep leftovers. It is eat it or toss it. Watch this video to learn more.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Life in Space - Samantha Cristoforetti

Cristoforetti on her first full day - Credit: NASA, ESA
This is an excerpt from Samantha Cristoforetti's Google Plus page. She seems to be doing daily updates on her experiences. You can find it HERE.

----- Logbook L+1 ------

For now, I will tell you of one moment, which was so fortunate and unexpected. You know, when you fly to the Space Station in the Soyuz, unless you are the Commander sitting in the center seat, you can only see your destination from far away in the black and white camera view (the same image that is transmitted to Mission Control and usually shown during media coverage of docking). 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Commander's Thanksgiving Message

I always find this awesome. The commander of the space station (or highest ranking american at the time) usually delivers a special message for those on earth. In this case, it is Commander Butch Wilmore telling us who and what he is thankful for.

After going through what he is thankful for, he talks about what the crew will be eating for Thanksgiving. Turkey, cornbread, grits, cranberry pie and sweet tea to name a few things. Yummy!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Humanity in Space

Here is a really neat video of the three newest crew members being welcomed aboard the station. I like it because it shows a lot of humanity in it. By that I mean there are friends welcoming friends to a wonderful place. These three new crew members just launched only six hours ago, and are very hungry, so we see them eat, as they talk with their family on earth about how they are doing. Also, if you look closely, you'll notice in some of the shots (where they are eating) there are a lot of religious items on the "wall" of the Russian segment, as well as other trinkets from their lives on earth. We don't send "robots" to space, we send human beings. People that are just like me and you.

Inside the ISS and a ball of water

Astronaut Reid Wiseman did a quick video where he quickly flew through the main length of the space stations modules. It was pretty fun. I would love to visit the station someday. This only makes me want to go to space that much more.

Another recently released video was that of the crew (including Wiseman) putting a GoPro inside a large sphere of water! It is amazing to watch things in a place where gravity is no longer the dominant force. In this case, it is the surface tension of water. Watch as the ball of water eventually "assimilates" the astronauts hand.

Videos like these are always released from the station and you can find them on the many NASA YouTube channels.

ISS is a life saver!

The space station has saved lives just by being up there. There is a Vessel ID system investigation on the ISS and it tracks the Automatic Identification System signals that all sea-faring ships have. One ship, the Hallgrimur, was caught in violent weather and overturned in icy waters. The following video shows how the space station helped save a mans life!

How big is it really?

Sometimes it is hard to get a fix for how big the space station actually is. Sure, I can say it is 356 feet wide, but what does that mean visually? LiveScience put together a great info-graphic years ago pitting the ISS up next to some of the most recognizable things in human engineering.

Credit: LiveScience

ISS Assembly Sequence in real pictures

Here is a slideshow of what the ISS has looked like over time. It starts in 1998, and the last picture is the iconic picture of Endeavour docked with ISS in May of 2011.

All of these images were taken by the astronauts in space - Duh...

Build your own ISS

Credit: AXM Paper Space Scale Models
I have found one of the best ways to learn about something like the ISS is to actually assemble it. An easy, and cheap way to do that is via paper models. If you have never made a paper model, it is very simple, but time consuming. I would recommend AXM Paper Space Scale Models for the ISS. You also get a good idea of the scale of the space station. Even at 1/100 scale, it is still pretty large.

Iconic Countdown lock being removed

Credit: NASA
This barely relates to the space station, but I feel like it is worth mentioning. Anytime you have ever watched a space shuttle launch (which launched dozens of times to the space station before retiring), you likely saw the iconic countdown clock.

It was used for every manned spaceflight since Apollo 8 in 1968. It has gotten to expensive to maintain, and the parts for it are getting harder and harder to come by. So, NASA will be putting it at the visitors center where Atlantis is housed. In its place will be a new LED countdown clock that will be similar to boards at baseball stadiums. It will be able to display things besides the countdown, such as NASA TV, or interviews, etc.

In the mean time, here is a picture of workers taking it apart.
Credit: NASA

For those who may not know, here is the location of the clock.

How do I find the space station?

ISS Long Exposure Photograph - Credit: Mark Humpage
Some have asked me if you can see the space station on earth. The answer is absolutely yes! In fact, you can spot it nearly anywhere, even if it is fairly cloudy, as long as you know where to look. You won't miss it either. It is the brightest object in the night sky save for the Moon. Earthly objects may be brighter, but you won't mistake them for the space station. Airplanes, for example, have strobes that blink. So if you see a star that is moving, and it blinks, it is a plane, not a flying laboratory 250 miles up.

Where to go to find where to look?

NASA has a website called Spot The Station here: You just enter your information, and it will tell you where to look.

Also, you can find out where the station is by googling where is the ISS. There will be a number of different tracker maps. My favorite is here:

While you are out looking, you might see other small satellites too. If you note where you saw them, you can check to find out what you saw. They have a large database of space objects ranging from spent boosters to active DirectTV satellites. You might even see an Iridium flare if you are lucky.

If you get a few minutes, and what to watch some pretty neat HD video from the ISS - LIVE - then you can head over to the ISS Live link at the top of the page.

Antares explosion up close

Credit: Joel Kowsky/AP
I didn't post about this event, but nearly a month ago, a cargo ship to the ISS had an anomaly seconds after launch. It was pretty spectacular, despite the fact that 230 million dollars of hardware was lost right at the pad.

It doesn't happen that often, and rarely do failures happen this close to the pad (they are usually way out to sea high in the air where nobody can see it), but it is a stark reminder that this is rocket science. It is hard.

I have to admire the small band of individuals that placed remote cameras near the launchpad. There was no embargo on posting the video or images after the failure, but since they were all close friends in the photography business they decided to wait till they all got their cameras back before posting. They did not wan to "one-up" one another, so they posted at the same time one everyone got their stuff back. They news media could learn a think or two from them.

Here is a video from Matthew Travis's GoPro. The best part in my opinion is at about 5:20. Enjoy.

Also, you can find more photos here from the story from zerognews. They cover all the remote images from the site:

Ad astra per aspera.

Get your space Java on!

For years, astronauts and cosmonauts living on the ISS have had to endure the terribleness of instant coffee. If you have never had it, its pretty bland. In space, they don't have hot water either. The best that they can get is warm water. So imagine a warm coffee that is pretty much a coffee powder mix.

Well, the Italian Space Agency aims to fix this problem. They know their lattes and espresso, so they decided to take on the task of figuring out how to make an espresso machine that is easy to use, and safe, and doesn't clog that can also be cleaned very easily, but rarely.

Enter: ISSpresso

It launched just the other day with next part of Expedition 42. On-board with the machine to try it out is none other than the first female Italian astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti. It can also brew tea and other broths with hot water.

Yay for modern commodities catching up with modern spaceflight!

Here is how it works:

Made in Space - 3D printing

3D printing is all the rage on Earth. We are doing some amazing things with the technology, like printing living tissue, small electronic devices, and even rocket engines. But would that technology, which works by printing a 2D layer on top of other 2D layers work in zero gravity?

Well, NASA is testing one on orbit right now. In this video, you can watch an interview of Niki Werheiser, the 3D project manager at the Marshall Spaceflight Center. The technology can and will be used to print tools and spare parts for long duration flights, be it on space station, or later Mars missions without resupply. Think of it like a real live "replicator" from star trek.

Here is another video.

You can find out more info from the company partnering with NASA, called Made in Space.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Super Space September, and Upcoming October Events

It has been a few weeks since my last post, but a lot has happened with the International Space Station since then. Because of that, this post will be dedicated to a review of September highlights and a list of upcoming October events.

TMA-12M crew after landing
Credit: NASA

~ September 10, 2014

At 6:01 PM Central time, three members of the expedition 40 crew departed  the space station in their Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft and landed in Kazakhstan 3.5 hours later. Aleksandr Skvortsov, Oleg Artemyev, and Steven Swanson spent a total of just over 169 days in space. The three crew members that remained ISS were Maksim Surayev, Gregory Wiseman, and Alexander Gerst. With the departure of TMA-12M, Expedition 41 officially began for the remaining crew.

Dragon V2 and CST-100
Credit: SpaceNews

September 16, 2014

NASA announces winners of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) to be Boeing's CST-100, and SpaceX's Dragon V2. CCtCap is NASA's program to help the commercial industry develop a domestic human spacecraft. Since the end of the Space Shuttle Program, the United States has relied on Russia to get crews to and from ISS.

September 21, 2014

Eleven days after the landing of TMA-12M, an uncrewed Dragon cargo capsule was launched to ISS by SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket. It was captured by the crew with the space station robotic arm two days later on September 23.

Barry Wilmore, Aleksandr Samokutyayev,
and Yelana Serova - Credit: NASA

September 25, 2014

The big ISS story of the month was the launch of Soyuz TMA-14M with three fresh crew members to join the current Expedition 41 crew. The capsule launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Russia's launch complex in Kazakhstan, and carried Aleksandr Samokutyayev, Barry Wilmore, and Yelena Serova. Yelena Serova is only the fourth Russian woman to fly to space, and the first Russian woman to visit ISS.

Soyuz on ISS approch - Credit: NASA
After launch and capsule separation from the rocket, normally two solar panels deploy to power the ships computers. Unfortunately, only one of the two twin panels deployed. Since the crew was on a fast track to ISS (only 6 hours), Russian flight controllers deemed it safe to proceed to ISS. Upon docking, the vibration caused by the two ships connecting was enough to jostle the un-deployed panel to where it finally extended.

Upcoming ISS Events

  • October 7 - Wiseman and Gerst are scheduled to perform a spacewalk
  • October 8 - ISS reboost by ATV-5
  • October 15 - Another spacewalk scheduled for Wiseman and Gerst
  • October 18 - Dragon cargo ship unberthing and de-orbit
  • October 21 - Cygnus launch at 8:29 PM CDT
  • October 22 - Spacewalk by Samokutyayev and Suraev
  • October 24 - Cygnus capture and berthing to ISS
  • October 27 - Progress M-24M cargo ship undocking and de-orbit
  • October 29 - Progress M-25M launch at 2:08 AM CDT

Friday, September 12, 2014

Space to Ground: 9/12/14 and September Station Events

This is a video created by NASA highlighting recent events on ISS. These are short videos that I will occasionally post, since they are very well done.

In this episode, they talk about the recent return of three Expedition 40 crew members aboard Soyuz TMA-12M, and the beginning of Expedition 41.

Upcoming Events for ISS in September:

September 18 - ISS reboost by ATV-5 "George Lemaitre" engines
September 20 - SpaceX CRS-4 Dragon Launch from Cape Canaveral @ 1:16 CDT
September 22 - Dragon berths to station
September 25 - Soyuz TMA-14M launch with 3 Expedition 41 crew members

History of ISS - Part 2

An Unlikely Guide

In order to continue our journey into the history of the ISS, I am going to introduce you to a little creature that has been to space. He's a bat, and has quite a fascination with space stations. 


Don’t call me little! I’ve seen way more of space and time than you ever will! 

I’m sorry about that; I don’t like being called little. I know, I know, I AM little, but thats besides the point. Anyways, I’m Ato. That is pronounced “auto,” as in I’ll automatically dive bomb you if you pronounce it wrong, so don’t.

Credit: NASA
Don’t worry, I’m not mean, in fact, I can be quite a nice bat if you get to know me. I used to be famous, after all. You might have heard of me a number of years ago. I caught the attention of the Internets when I severely hurt my wing and decided to rest on what I thought was a giant orange tree. I found out later that it was a space shuttle external tank, not a tree. You can read more about my launch to space here, but needless to say, I didn't know anything about technology, or space travel. I was just resting. 

During that climb to space, the only thing I can think of that saved me, was that my body was somehow hit by a small stream of cosmic rays by some distant star collapsing to a quark star. How do I know that? Well, I don’t really. I just made it up, but something happened. I just know that I seemed to be immortal, and my wing was healed. Oh, and I can apparently travel in time and space. 

That’s impossible you say? I would have agreed with you back in 2009, but now, here I am talking to you, and very much alive. You’re just going to have to trust me on the time travel part. I can’t take you with me, but I can bring back my story. 

I guess I should start talking about my first adventure as a space-time traveling bat, shouldn't I? Well, as soon as I realized I was alive, I quickly figured out that in order to go somewhere that is seemingly inaccessible to me,
Credit: Berkeley
I just had user my echolocation system and create ultrasonic waves, which I normally used to find food at night. When I did this in the darkness of space with an image of my home in mind, I was instantly transported back to Florida. After flying to a library that night, and getting to a computer (don’t ask how I knew how to use it, after the launch to space, there are a lot of things I can do, including write to you as I am now), I found out that the shuttle I was riding with was Discovery, and it was going to a space station called the International Space Station. 

I wondered what a space station was. With a quick search, I found out that all a space station is was an container with air, and docking ports orbiting another body in space. It has no major propulsion systems, and no landing systems. Other spacecraft, like the one that tried to kill me, go to the space station and dock to it, resupply it, build it, and service it. Sounds pretty neat, huh? 

I thought so, at least, so I decided to go there. When I flew out of the library, and circled the building, I generated my super ultrasound, and thought of the picture of inside the ISS. Instantly, I was transported there. 

The moment of transport, I felt like I was falling. How could I be falling if there is no gravity in space? Well, later I found out that a spacecraft orbits the earth is actually falling around the earth. It is just going fast enough that the curve of its fall matches the curvature of the earth! That means I was the fastest bat on Earth. I mean, around the Earth, I guess I wasn't technically on Terra firma.

Credit: NASA
After getting used the the fact that flapping my wings to fly wasn't going to work, started jumping from wall to wall. It turns out I transported myself into the storage section of the Japanese module, called Kibo. It was quiet, but I could still hear the constant hum of computers all around. Peeking round the corner of the storage section to the main Kibo module, I could see that there were no humans currently in that module, so I felt it safe to look around. There were all sorts of racks with science experiments on the walls, covered with white blankets and blue handheld rails. Those were particularly useful for me because I could grab onto them. 

Overall, it was quite spacious inside, but I still didn't see any people. I guess that was natural considering that the ISS, at the time, had the volume close to that of a five bedroom house, but only had 3 crew members. 

Peaking around the exit of the Kibo module, to what is called a node module (they called that node Harmony because it connected the Japanese, European, and United States science modules together), I looked towards the United States’ lab, called Destiny. It was much more crowded with equipment. There were cables, and computers everywhere. The constant hum was a lot louder here too, almost like being in an airplane. I guess that was because it was the oldest lab on the station. 

Unclipping my wings from the blue handrail I was currently on, I hopped, and floated to a rail near the middle of Harmony. That’s when I saw a person, with long hair come out from one of the racks. I guess it wasn't a science rack, it was a sleeping rack. I was stunned by fear instantly! What would happen if, presumably she, would see me?

To be continued on Part 3 
Read Part 1 Here

Monday, September 1, 2014

History of ISS - Part 1

An Orbital View

ISS Long Exposure Photograph - Credit: Mark Humpage
I was fishing in my in-law’s backyard pond one night. It was a late spring evening in Kansas and, overall, cool weather with a nice breeze. I hadn't caught any fish, therefore there was a bit of creeping jealousy since my, then soon-to-be, wife was catching fish on nearly every cast. Once it was time to go, I was clearly upset. Not a single fish for me.

While walking back to the house, I gazed up. The stars had just started to come to be after the sun fell far enough below the horizon. It was a beautiful crimson blue with only the brightest points showing their glory. Right then is when I saw it. There was a bright star-like light moving in the sky. It wasn't blinking in the traditional way that airplanes do when they go by, so I knew exactly what it was. It was the International Space Station. For a space geek, there was no better way to reverse my mood.

The International Space Station, or ISS for short, is one of the greatest science and engineering projects that gets very little press. Why is that? After all, it is the largest object ever assembled in space: just over the size of an American football field. It has a mass of over 450 tonnes and when the sun reflects off its gigantic solar arrays down towards the viewers eyes, nothing in the night sky is brighter, save for the moon. Six people regularly inhabit this point of light, moving around the world every 90 minutes at nearly 28,000 kilometers per hour.

Those star sailors conduct cutting edge research, from fluid dynamics, to plant growth, and the study of the human body in ways that could never be done on earth with hopes to better understand cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, and so much more. Crews are inspiring thousands of young kids into STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) with their regular live streams to classrooms across the globe. The ISS is arguably a bigger, greater, and more challenging project than going to the Moon was over 45 years ago, but the average person rarely hears about it, let alone knows its amazing story.

The ISS shares a similar problem that the recently retired space shuttle fleet had: its apparent routineness. Another problem it shares, is how NASA communicates ISS information. To the average person, the latest twerks from some celebrity meltdown is much more juicy office conversation than the fact that six people just zipped above their heads over 400 kilometers high at over 20 times the speed of a bullet.

Tracy Caldwell Dyson in Cupola of ISS - Credit: NASA
This is a very unfortunate situation because, as a student of history, I find the ISS to have quite a story. Its story includes the fall of a superpower, a government pressuring a company to fail, a program near congressional cancellation, major on orbit failures, near misses from space debris, and yes, even international cooperation for the betterment of the world, just to name some.

The story starts before the space race and is still ongoing. It is the story of our lasting presence in space, the beginning of a private space industry, and the changing from a cold war mentality to something new and sustainable. This encompasses the lives of thousands of people and hundreds of thousands, if not millions of person hours of lifetime work. The ISS is about more than just science research; it is about our future in space. Will the ISS be just a blip in the history of the world, literally falling into the ocean after its use, or will it be the first symbol of a species that grew up on a tiny, fragile world and ventured out to settle others?

Read Part 2 Here

Friday, August 29, 2014

Welcome to 17,500 MPH

Welcome to Orbital Velocity, a blog that will chronicle the history of the International Space Station (ISS). My name is Derek Richardson, a 25 year old Kansan space geek. I'm currently studying Mass Media at Washburn University in order learn ways to help spread my passion for space.

I have been a certified space geek since 1998, and I grew up watching space station construction missions on NASA TV. Yes, I watched NASA TV, and it is as dry as you think. There are some interesting programs on the channel, but in general, its pretty bad. But, when there was mission, such as a space shuttle launch to the ISS, then was pure, raw excitement. There was basic commentary from the Public Affairs Officer in the background, but in general, you got views of the earth, with people doing work in micro-gravity.

Credit: NASA
My initial goal for this blog is to create a basic history template for ISS. This will include early space stations and concepts, to construction milestones, politics, and the future. There's a lot that most people don't know about that football field sized orbital complex. The first modules have been in orbit for over 15 years. Crews have occupied the station, without a gap, since November 2, 2000: The longest continuous human presence in space. Is it worth it? In order to make that assessment, you have to have an understanding of how it came to be, why it came to be, and what it has accomplished. There is more to ISS than just science, and shuttle construction missions.

Continue reading over the next couple months; I plan to post an ISS history topic at least once per week. Occasionally, I'll post something relating to current news of ISS, for example, in September, three of the six crew will return to earth. The three remaining on ISS will start the 41st expedition on the station.

Until then, keep looking towards the stars, and dare to dream above the atmosphere!