How could astronauts could fall into black holes, let’s count the ways

Monday, 10 February, 2014

There are three ways, apparently, that an astronaut could fall into a black hole – it’s a good thing they’ve been catalogued then – and while the chances of survival are pretty slim, non existent really, at least “information” about the astronaut would be preserved, even if the hapless space explorer were to be completely crushed:

This original picture of black holes holds that they essentially destroy all information about anything that ventures past their event horizons – astronauts included. But quantum physics, the best description so far of how the universe behaves on a subatomic level, includes a principle known as unitarity, which maintains that information cannot be destroyed. To resolve this conflict, some scientists have recently (and controversially) suggested that black holes have “firewalls” at their event horizons. These are zones of extraordinarily destructive radiation. In this scenario, our astronaut would be instantly incinerated when crossing the event horizon, as would anything else falling into a black hole. The radiation released by the firewall would preserve information about the destroyed objects, astronauts included.

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Alan Shepard’s personalised list of pre-space flight preparations

Monday, 19 August, 2013

The pre-mission regimen of NASA astronauts flying in the Project Mercury space flight program, such as Alan Shepard, wasn’t quite as harsh as some the preparation and training astronauts were ordinarily subjected to:

NASA asked the pilots to go to bed early, but did not require it, or give them chill pills. “On the evening before the flight, the pilot is encouraged to retire at an early hour, but he is not required to do so. The pilot of MR-3 spacecraft retired at 10:15 p.m. e.s.t.”

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Aesthetics over function? The evolution of spacesuit design

Thursday, 2 May, 2013

Spacesuit design through the… space age. The final suit, the sleek Bio-Suit, as designed by Dava Newman, looks far easier to wear and work in than some of the earlier versions, but I wonder how robust, how radiation resistant, and what have you, it would be.

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Your mission should you accept it, travel to Mars and stay for life

Friday, 8 June, 2012

The Mars One project intends to establish a human colony on Mars in just over ten years time in 2023. The undertaking, to be funded privately by creating “the biggest media event ever around it” according to project co-founder Bas Lansdorp, will see groups of four astronauts sent to the fledgling colony every two years.

While the prospect will certainly appeal to the pioneering types among us, there is one significant point to bear in mind, the journey will be one way only, and those involved will see out their days on the red planet. But why would that stop the right people from being part of such a bold and ambitious project?

And for anyone wondering why Venus, having been in the news a little this week, was not considered as a human outpost, this should address any concerns:

The only other two celestial bodies close enough are our Moon and Venus. There are far fewer nutrients and vital elements on the Moon, and a Moon day takes, well, a month. It also does not have an atmosphere to form a barrier against radiation. Venus is an veritable purgatory. The average temperature is over 400 degrees, the barometric pressure is that of 90 meters underwater on Earth, and the cherry on top comes in the form of occasional bouts of acid rain. It also has nights that last for 120 days. Humans cannot live on Mars without the help of technology, but compared to Venus it’s paradise!

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Aside from all the travel could you handle being an astronaut?

Wednesday, 4 January, 2012

The prerequisites list is not short… and that’s just to get your foot in the door.

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The wisdom of long distance interplanetary travellers

Wednesday, 8 June, 2011

The five crew, or marsonauts, of the Mars-500 project, a 520 day simulation of a return flight to Mars, which to date has proceeded without any major hitches, offer individual responses to the same 18 questions, to mark the one year anniversary of the “mission”.

The simulated flight experiment, which is primarily intended to study the effects of long-term isolation of a crewed mission to Mars, concludes in October.

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Looking for a job like no other? Then become a pilot-astronaut

Friday, 15 April, 2011

Could this be a first? Virgin Galactic is in the process of recruiting “pilot-astronauts” for its commercial sub-orbital spaceflight service, which is expected to commence operations in the next year or two.

These will be the very first commercial Pilots-Astronauts, something which will undoubtedly excite the interest of a great many. Successful candidates will have to be very special: both a full course graduate of a recognised test pilot school and highly and broadly experienced. Virgin is looking for pilots with significant experience of both high performance fast-jet type airplanes as well as large multi-engine types – not only that but “prior spaceflight experience is an advantage”.

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The isolated experiences of astronauts may help trapped miners

Thursday, 2 September, 2010

The experiences of astronauts who spend long periods in space could help in efforts to bolster the morale of the group of Chilean miners who are trapped underground, and may not be rescued until the end of December.

By using questionnaires to score the mood and behaviour of crews aboard Mir and the ISS, Kanas’s teams showed that constant and high-quality communication and support from the ground is key to helping people cope with long periods of physical isolation. These and other studies show that maintaining communications, honesty and day-night cycles, and keeping the miners occupied, will be key in the four months it may take to rescue them.

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Don’t panic, prepare: the astronauts guide to space exploration

Tuesday, 10 August, 2010

If yesterday’s link to an excerpt from a new book about the rigours of life as an astronaut hasn’t deterred you from pursuing a career in space exploration, then this series of New Scientist articles will help prime you for the task:

The first spacemen might have been distinguished more by their grit than their learning, but today’s astronauts are a more educated bunch. Would-be astronauts at NASA need, at a minimum, a bachelor’s degree in science – preferably engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics. In fact, the typical astronaut also has a master’s degree: two out of five have a doctorate. You also need to have three years of relevant professional experience. Strong academic credentials aside, NASA’s roster are a motley crew. Previous astronauts have included a NASCAR driver, a magician and even a weightlifter.

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For here am I sitting in a tin can… contemplating murder

Monday, 9 August, 2010

An excerpt from Mary Roach’s book Packing for Mars, an insight into some of the aspects of space travel that many of us probably don’t give a great deal of thought… namely trying to keep your cool for weeks or months on end, while sitting right next to someone whose throat you want to tear out

The bottom line is that space is a frustrating, unforgiving environment and you are trapped in it. If you’re trapped long enough, frustration metastasizes to anger. Anger wants an outlet and a victim. An astronaut has three from which to choose: a crewmate, mission control, and himself. Astronauts try not to vent at each other because it makes a bad situation worse. There’s no bedroom door to slam or driveway to speed out of. You’re soaking in it. “Also,” says Jim Lovell, who spent two weeks on a loveseat with Frank Borman during Gemini VII, “you’re in a risky business and you depend on each other to stay alive. So you don’t antagonize the other guy.”

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