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