Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Chinese are going to the International Space Station, sort of...

Credit: NanoRacks
For the first time, a Chinese experiment will be headed to the International Space Station, albeit through a commercial agreement with Houston-based NanoRacks LLC.

The agreement works around a law from the United States Congress that forbids NASA from working in any way with the Chinese. The fear is that China could potentially steal information and/or hardware and use it for their own purposes.

Because NanoRacks, not NASA, is dealing with the Chinese, who are paying $200,000, nobody is breaking the law.

Jeff Manber, who founded NanoRacks, agreed to take a DNA experiment to the ISS next year on board a SpaceX Dragon capsule. The experiment is lead by Professor Deng Yulin of the Beijing Institute of Technology.

According to NASA Watch, a NanoRacks source said the company worked to assure compliance with a 2011 spending bill Amendment which restricts formal NASA cooperation with the Chinese Space Program.

NanoRacks assures that the money flows from China to the U.S. and no hardware or technology flows to China, except the return of data and experiment samples. Manber said the deal is purely commercial and was negotiated with NASAs blessing.

Because of the law forbidding NASA to work with the Chinese in space, China isn't allowed to be part of the ISS program. NASA administrator Charles Bolden thinks the restrictions are too strict and NASA should at least be able to communicate with Chinese officials.

Since NanoRacks flies via the SpaceX Dragon capsule, it is unclear exactly when the Chinese experiment will fly. The Falcon 9 rocket, which carries the Dragon, is currently grounded till at least late September due to a mishap during the June 28, 2015 launch when the second stage over-pressurized causing a rapid unplanned disassembly.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Booze in space

The Suntory space samples - Credit: Suntory
The "best whisky in the world" is getting ready to be launched to the International Space Station.

Suntory, a brewing and distillery company based out of Tokyo, announced they will be sending samples of their whisky - named the best whisky in the world by Jim Murray's Whisky Bible - to the ISS on the next launch of the Japanese cargo ship, the H-II Transfer Vehicle, on August 16, 2015.

These samples, however, are not for the astronauts and cosmonauts. They are for an experiment to test the effects of zero-gravity on the aging process. Their will be six samples of the whisky, in addition to other types of alcohol to learn how the space environment can effect how alcohol ages. 

The samples will be stored on the Japanese Kibo module on the ISS. One group of samples will be returned to earth in about a year, while the rest will stay in space for at least two years.

This isn't the first alcohol to be sent to the ISS. The Ninkasi Brewing Company sent yeast to the station earlier this year to try to brew a craft beer they are calling Ground Control Stout. 

Learning about how alcohol reacts and brews in space is one thing, drinking it is another.

Alcoholic beverages have never officially be part of any American astronauts' space diet. It has, however, been part of Russian cosmonauts' diet.

According to an article written in 2010 by Alan Boyle for NBC news, retired cosmonaut, Alexander Lazutkin said Russian doctors have sent alcoholic beverages to space with the space flyers to help neutralize tension.

During Lazutkin's stay aboard the Mir space station in 1997, a Progress cargo ship collided with the station, causing a leak that nearly forced an evacuation. Lazutkin said he and his crew mates definitely had something to drink right after that.

While adult beverages have been drank on past space stations, and potentially occurs on the ISS too, beer isn't one of those.

Beer is carbonated. Because there is no gravity, there is no buoyant force pushing the gas bubbles upward. This not only effects the taste of the beverage, it makes drinking it somewhat uncomfortable since the bubbles stagnate inside the beverage even when inside an astronauts stomach. Because of that, astronauts can't burp out the excess gas from the carbonation. And when they are able to, the burp can be uncomfortably wet.

The Japanese HTV launches at 8:01 a.m. CDT (1301 GMT) on August 16, 2015. In addition to the samples of whisky, it will carry much needed equipment and supplies to the ISS.