In space no one can sleep… or rather sleep all that well

Tuesday, 19 August, 2014

Crews aboard long haul space flights, such as trips to Mars, should one, be introverts, and two, be possessed of the gene variant that allows them to function on less sleep than others since space, it seems, is not particularly conducive to slumber

Researchers tracked the sleep patterns of 85 crew members aboard the ISS and space shuttle and found that despite an official flight schedule mandating 8.5 hours of sleep per night, they rarely got more than five. In fact, getting a full night’s rest was so difficult that three-quarters of shuttle mission crew members used sleep medication, and sometimes entire teams were sedated on the same night.

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If we can’t go to the stars maybe they can come to us

Friday, 15 August, 2014

Even the Stars screen cap

Wandering through space without a purpose. Getting old and getting lost. That’s what interstellar space exploration might actually be like, given the time it’ll take to get anywhere… a game by Pol Clarissou.

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The greatest space flight hacks to date

Thursday, 14 August, 2014

Photo by NASA

We all know that the Apollo 13 Moon mission was essentially one long space flight hack that returned the crew safely home, but there have been other instances of space missions going awry for one reason or another, even if the problems have not been of quite the same severity.

In April 1985, nine months before the Challenger disaster, the crew of Space Shuttle Discovery deployed the satellite Leasat-3. With the shuttle doors open, it drifted away. But within minutes it was clear that something was wrong: the satellite’s antennae had failed to deploy. Rather than abandon the $85m satellite, the crew set to work putting together a less-than-sophisticated device that could be used to poke the satellite to activate a lever on its side. Dubbed the “fly swatter”, this improvised space stick was constructed using clear plastic covers from spacecraft manuals, sticky tape and a metal pole.

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We set forth for the stars in search of a massive diamond

Friday, 4 July, 2014

The discovery of a diamond the size of a white dwarf star, simply drifting through space, some nine hundred light years away from Earth, might just be enough to motivate some to solve the problems of interstellar travel…

The biggest diamond ever found in the universe, whose discovery was announced this week, has no name, will never be cut, and weighs approximately a million trillion trillion pounds. This makes it as massive as the sun, and no wonder: it’s the corpse of a star that once looked very much like the sun, lying nine hundred or so light-years from Earth.

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A model of NASA’s faster than light ship… and it is the Enterprise

Thursday, 19 June, 2014

What you can go and see here is a model of an actual faster-than-the-speed-of-light space ship that NASA is said to be designing. I’m not sure if an actual, workable, way to travel faster than light speed has been found, but I guess there’s no harm in giving thought to the sort of vessel that will, eventually perhaps, be used.

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How many people might it take to to colonise another star system?

Tuesday, 15 April, 2014

Because I enjoy this type of conjecture and know you do as well. You’re sending humans on a multi-generational, two thousand year long, voyage to colonise a habitable planet in a distant star system. How many people do you place on the vessel?

It had been suggested, a little over ten years ago, that a crew of one hundred and fifty might be sufficient, but a more recent analysis of the question puts the figure at closer to forty thousand.

That would make for a pretty big ship, unless you sent a fleet (fewer eggs in the same basket as it were), but whatever way it is looked at, setting up a human colony outside the solar system would be, or is going to be, a huge undertaking.

The nearest star systems – such as our nearest neighbor, Proxima Centauri, which is 4.2 light-years from home – are so far that reaching them would require a generational starship. Entire generations of people would be born, live, and die before the ship reached its destination. This brings up the question of how many people you need to send on a hypothetical interstellar mission to sustain sufficient genetic diversity.

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Was a Space Shuttle Columbia rescue mission possible?

Thursday, 6 March, 2014

While mission controllers knew that the Space Shuttle Columbia would probably break up on its return to Earth in February 2003, they decided not to tell the crew of the danger, reasoning that there was little they could do to save them.

It seems though a rescue mission, using the Space Shuttle Atlantis, was “considered challenging but feasible”, though it depended on preparing Atlantis in enough time to reach Columbia, before the spaceborne craft’s life support systems failed.

One problem confronting mission controllers trying to plan a rescue was not a shortage of oxygen or water as such, but rather the build-up of carbon dioxide that would ensue, in the keeping of Columbia in a low powered orbit until Atlantis could reach it:

How long those 69 canisters would last proved difficult to estimate, though, because there isn’t a lot of hard data on how much carbon dioxide the human body can tolerate in microgravity. Standard mission operation rules dictate that the mission be aborted if CO2 levels rise above a partial pressure of 15 mmHg (about two percent of the cabin air’s volume), and mission planners believed they could stretch Columbia‘s LiOH canister supply to cover a total of 30 days of mission time without breaking that CO2 threshold. However, doing so would require the crew to spend 12 hours of each day doing as little as possible – sleeping, resting, and doing everything they could to keep their metabolic rates low.

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Animating the Apollo 8 “Earthrise” photo

Thursday, 9 January, 2014

Earthrise by William Anders

There couldn’t be too many people unfamiliar with “Earthrise”, above, the photo taken by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders, while he was orbiting the Moon in 1968.

Now Reddit member Notbrit has stitched together a series of photos to create an animation depicting the scene Anders, and his crew mates, would have witnessed as their craft came around the Moon, and into view of Earth.

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Deep fry your potato chips in high gravity for fast, crispy, results

Monday, 6 January, 2014

Cooking meals off planet Earth has its challenges… varying atmospheric pressure, the presence, or otherwise, of oxygen, plus who knows how many other factors, all combine to make the job of a chef difficult in other part of the solar system.

Depending on how your like your deep fried potato chips, or french fries though, Jupiter, with its higher gravitational attraction, renders a fried potato slice with a “thick, crispy crust”, but best of all, does so with a relatively short cooking time:

Higher gravity levels significantly increased the heat transfer between the hot oil and the potato, shortening frying time and resulting in thick, crispy crusts, the team reports next month in Food Research International. In fact, the scientists may have discovered the ideal gravitational condition for creating crunchy fries: The crust reached its maximum thickness when the potato was fried at three times Earth’s gravity; any further increase in gravity levels did not improve the fry’s crispiness.

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No wonder they don’t have money in the twenty-third century

Monday, 4 November, 2013

Forget using time travel to bet on sports matches whose outcomes you’d already know. You could instead invest money today at a certain rate and then travel forward through time, several hundred years maybe, to retrieve your greatly appreciated nest egg.

It might be the only option many of us have in these times of relatively low interest rates. All you need access to, a mere detail for sure, is a time machine.

Tyler Cowen, of George Mason University, in Virginia, makes another point. Relativity means that on a starship travelling near the speed of light, a handful of years might pass for the crew while hundreds passed on a planet it was travelling from or to. That makes calculating interest rates hard, since savers could pay starship captains to carry them forward in time, to reap the benefits of centuries of accumulated interest. In a Star Trek-style world, then, Dr Cowen thinks the chief determinant of interest rates would be the price of starship fuel.

Otherwise, I’m of the feeling that speed-of-light travel, and money, may not co-exist all that harmoniously in the future.

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