Monday, March 30, 2015

Book Review: "The Orbital Perspective- Lessons in Seeing the Big Picture from a Journey of 71 Million Miles"

"You don't need to be an astronaut to have the orbital perspective.."

I've never reviewed a book before. I've read lots of them, sure, but I've never gotten around to sharing my thoughts on something I've read. However after reading "The Orbital Perspective," the newly released book by astronaut Ron Garan, I've never felt so compelled to spread a universal message before. That is, the message of trust, hope, and global collaboration.
"The Orbital Perspective" is for sale from Feb 2nd
credit: Amazon

Having flown in space twice, including a five and a half month flight to the International Space Station in 2011, Garan has seen the beauty of planet Earth from space. He beautifully recalls the history and stories of the US-Russian space programmes, and how both nations have evolved from being the bitterest of enemies, into the friendliest of partners on board the ISS.

This is more than just a good book, nor is it just a book that only the space enthusiasts in your life should read. It appeals to everyone of all ages and nations who would like to see the Earth in a better state than it's already in. Astronauts and cosmonauts always say that if everyone could get the opportunity to see our planet from space, that the world would be a better place. The same is true for this book. If everyone could get their hands on Ron Garan's new book "The Orbital Perspective," the world and we, the citizens of "spaceship Earth" would be much better off.

After reading it, one immediately feels that all of the problems that we face on planet Earth today are able to be overcome. The only question we need to ask ourselves is how exactly do we knock down the barriers that stand in place between nations being able to trust one another, and Ron Garan certainly does a fantastic job in coming up with possible solutions.

Garan has successfully just written the textbook that will provide people from all corners of the globe with the information on how to view ourselves and our planet a little differently- by shifting our perspective to that of the orbital perspective. Immerse yourself in a journey around the world, hearing first-hand stories of successful cooperation between different nations and organisations working toward a common good, all from the comfort of your home.

"The Orbital Perspective- Lessons in Seeing the Big Picture from a Journey of 71 Million Miles" is available for purchase from February 2 2015 at:
Ron Garan conducting a spacewalk aboard the ISS

-Amazon
-Barnes and Noble
-iBook Store
-Google Play Store
-IndieBound
-Powell's
-Goodreads

More information about the book can be found at www.orbitalperspective.com
Also be sure to follow Ron on Twitter @Astro_Ron



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The Challenges of a One Year Mission to Space



On Friday March 27 2015, astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko launched atop a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, marking the beginning of a year-long mission to the International Space Station.

Kelly and Kornienko, known as the "One Year Crew" launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan along with cosmonaut Gennady Padalka at 19:42 GMT on Friday. The pair will live aboard the orbiting complex for one year, before returning to Earth in March 2016.
Padalka, Kelly and Kornienko prior to launch from Baikonur
credit: NASA

The one year mission will allow scientists to see how the human body will adapt to the microgravity conditions found aboard the ISS, as well as examining the psychological effects of living off the planet for one year.  The scientific community will also be carefully watching how Kelly and Kornienko re-adapt to life back on Earth after spending a year in low-Earth orbit.

Changes in vision are just one of the many side effects that have been observed in some astronauts returning from long-duration spaceflights, and researchers want to learn more about its root causes and develop countermeasures to minimize this risk.

The duo will also have to combat bone and muscle loss (which happens to every astronaut when they fly in space for several months) by exercising for 2.5 hours each day, using the station's treadmills, bike machine known as CEVIS(Cycle Ergometer with Vibration Isolation and Stabilization System) and a weights machine called ARED(Advanced Resistive Exercise Device). For a six month mission, astronauts can lose up to 15% muscle volume.

Just in case you were wondering, this will not be the first time human beings will be sent into orbit for a year-long mission. In 1994, cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov spent 437 days living aboard the Russian space station Mir, before returning to Earth in 1995. Despite suffering from a clear decline in morale for the first two months of his mission, Polyakov was able to regain his pre-flight mood for the rest of his stay aboard the station.

Upon returning to Earth in his Soyuz capsule after a successful mission, Polyakov decided he would rather walk the small distance from his spacecraft to a nearby reclining chair, demonstrating that humans would be able to walk on the surface of Mars after several weightless months in transit from Earth. This extra-long duration mission showed that the human body could deal with the strains and stresses of living in space for such an extended period of time. However, Kelly and Kornienko will be the first space farers to spend a year living on the International Space Station.

Recently I began asking astronauts who have spent time living and working aboard the ISS about the one year mission, and what they thought the biggest challenges will be for Kelly and Kornienko.

ESA astronaut and Expedition 26/27 Flight Engineer Paolo Nespoli, who spent six months living on the ISS in 2010 & 2011, told me that now is a good time to attempt a mission of this nature:

 "I feel we need to know more about what happens to the body and what happens to the mind when you stay in space for a long time, so I think that now is a good time and I think we should do it."

Nespoli went on to mention that the technology we have on the space station is far superior to what Polyakov had at his disposal on Mir, and how it will be easier to connect with family, friends and Mission Control teams all over the world.

Kelly in the station's Cupola during Expedition 26
credit: NASA
"There was a Russian cosmonaut(Polyakov) who stayed in space for well over a year, so the Russians have done this in a more restricted and confined environment than what is today space station, where we have internet, telephone, teleconference capabilities so we can talk to Mission Control whenever we want".

I also asked Doug Wheelock about his thoughts on the upcoming mission, and what challenges would be faced by the one year crew. He went on to say that the biggest obstacles would be dealing with the mental stresses of living off the planet for such a long time:

"I think the greatest challenge will be managing the physiology & psychology of isolation, emotion, & senses... it is critical to stay in the moment".

Finally, I recently spoke with Expedition 35/36 Flight Engineer Chris Cassidy, who returned from the International Space Station back in September 2013, about his thoughts on the one year mission:

"In my experience on coming home day, as we were closing the hatch I thought to myself "What would I think if I was halfway done right now? How would I feel? What would I need? To be honest I felt a little accumulative fatigue- when you're living at your workplace, and you can't shut the door to work and go home in the evening and kick back and watch Monday Night Football- you're there all the time and it eventually catches up to you".

Cassidy, who completed a total of three spacewalks, or EVAs, during his most recent flight, also had a few ideas regarding how the crew doesn't become fatigued with the heavy workload that comes with living aboard the orbiting outpost, suggesting a longer weekend from time to time in the second half of the mission:

"I think my recommendation would be in months 7 through 12, the second half of the year is to have a three day weekend every month because you really need a good recharge. Sunday is a really good day to have a recharge, and to have an extra Sunday thrown in the mix every now and then would go a long way".

The International Space Station
credit: NASA
All in all, it appears that everyone in science and space exploration fields are confident about the one year mission. Both Kelly and Kornienko have lived aboard the ISS before, so it's fair to say that we have a very experienced crew on our hands, logging over 360 days in space between them. In addition, their Soyuz Commander Gennady Padalka will become the first four-time commander of the space station, and upon returning to Earth at the end of Expedition 44 will have logged a total of nearly 900 days in space- the longest time spent in space by any human being.

It is hoped that data recorded from this mission will assist teams on the ground in their understanding of the effects of long terms weightlessness on the body, and what it may be like for humans if they were sent on a mission to Mars in the future. After Kelly and Kornienko return to Earth in 2016, we will no doubt, be one small step closer to the human exploration of the Red Planet.

Godspeed Scott and Misha!


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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Progress Resupply Ship Docks with Space Station

The Russian Progress M-26M resupply ship, carrying 3.1 tons of cargo, has successfully docked with the International Space Station.

Docking obetween the Progress and the aft port of the Zvezda Service Module occurred at 16:57 GMT as the International Space Station flew 257 miles above the Atlantic Ocean.

Current configuration of the station's Russian Segment
image credit: Space Shuttle Almanac
This afternoon's docking comes just six hours after the Progress lifted off atop a Soyuz rocket under overcast skies from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The arrival of the Progress comes in the midst of a very busy traffic period for visiting vehicles at the orbiting complex. Just this past Sunday(February 15), Europe's final Automated Transfer Vehicle vacated the aft port of Zvezda after spending six months docked there.

Inside the International Space Station, preparations are being made on the US Segment of the station for a trio of spacewalks which will be conducted by Expedition 42 commander Butch Wilmore and Flight Engineer Terry Virts of NASA. The first of the three Extra Vehicular Activities(EVAs) will commence on Friday, February 20.

But before all that, after a series of leak checks have been conducted between the newly-arrived Progress and station, the crew will open the hatch and begin unloading over 3,300 lbs of cargo on Wednesday morning.

Progress M-26M is expected to remain on board the station until late August.


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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Europe's ATV Departs ISS for the Final Time


The European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle(ATV) has departed the International Space Station for the final time in the programme's history.

ESA's fifth and final Automated Transfer Vehicle(ATV-5) which is named after the Belgian cosmologist George LemaƮtre, undocked from the aft port of the Zvezda Service Module of the ISS at 13:42 GMT.
ATV-5 docking with ISS last year
credit: NASA

After firing it's thrusters, ATV-5 backed away from the station as the vehicle positioned itself into a lower orbital altitude, bound for a fiery re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.

Europe's flagship cargo spacecraft was originally scheduled to enter the Earth's atmosphere at the end of February in a new, shallow dive that would allow NASA and ESA teams the opportunity to monitor the breakup of the vehicle and learn from it's reentry. 

Unfortunately however, a failure in one of the vehicle's power chains last week led to the cancellation of the shallow reentry experiment, and George LemaƮtre will now follow the standard reentry profile just like his predecessors, and will burn up over the Pacific Ocean on Sunday evening.

ATV-5 Mission Overview

ATV-5 launched atop an Ariane rocket from the European space port in French Guiana last year as the heaviest of the five Automated Transfer Vehicles sent into space. It carried over 6,600 kg worth of supplies and experiments to the station.

Over 186 days docked to the orbiting complex, the crew on board have been busy unpacking vital equipment and in turn, have loaded ATV with rubbish and other waste. Mission controllers in the ATV Control Center in Toulouse have been sending commands to the vehicle to pump water, air and fuel into the station's tanks.

The vehicle has also been used to fire its thrusters to facilitate a change in the station's orbit for debris-avoidance purposes, and also to support the arrival of future cargo vessels by lowering the station's orbit. This enables a larger quantity of cargo to be carried to the ISS.


What's Next?

In a testament to the success of the ATV programme, NASA and ESA announced in 2014 that the flight systems used on the ATV vehicles would be used to comprise the Service Module elements of NASA's next generation spacecraft, Orion on its missions to carry astronauts to deep space.

The first flight of the ESA Service Module will take place on Orion's first flight around the Moon in 2017.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"Houston.. Please be informed there is a Santa Claus" Celebrating Christmas in Space

"Houston.. Please be informed there is a Santa Claus."

At this time of year, as people all over the world gather with their loved ones to celebrate the holiday season, there are currently six people who will literally be having an out of this world Christmas this year. Space Station crews are launched on missions lasting around six months in duration. As a result, every year some astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the station unfortunately don't get to celebrate occasions such as Thanksgiving, birthdays, and of course, Christmas, with their families back on Earth. But that doesn't mean they don't celebrate them in space!

The Expedition 34 crew celebrating Christmas Day on ISS
On the ISS there are video-conferencing capabilities on board which allow the crew to talk with their family and friends at home. There is even a small plastic tree and stockings are hung on the walls for each member of the crew so that they can be filled with a few Christmas treats. Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti who is currently living aboard the orbiting complex, was asked recently about what kind of items would be included as stocking fillers. She replied"If we come across someone's favourite dish when searching through a food container, we can stick it in his or her sock!" There is also a guitar and ukulele if the crew want to break out a few Christmas carols over the holiday season.

However, astronauts on the space station were not the first people to celebrate Christmas in space. The most famous example of astronauts celebrating the holidays was the crew of Apollo 8 back in 1968.

Spending Christmas at the Moon
On man's first mission to the Moon, NASA astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders launched from the Kennedy Space Center on December 21 1968. While in lunar orbit just before Christmas Eve, in what has become a favourite Christmas memory for many, the crew snapped the famous Earthrise photo, and took turns in reading the first few verses of the book of Genesis. Valerie Anders, wife of Bill Anders said "The words were so beautiful. Christmas. the Moon, they were so far away and everybody cried."

"Earthrise" taken by Apollo 8 crew.
Christmas 1968.
Upon re-obtaining communications with Mission Control back on Earth after passing around the far side of the Moon, Lovell felt compelled to tell Houston and the world of their discoveries while flying over the far side of the Moon.

"Please be informed there is a Santa Claus!"
What's on the menu?
I bet a lot of you are probably wondering what's on the Christmas menu on the ISS. Well, there's a wide variety to choose from, ranging from tortilla wraps to irradiated beef for the crew on board. This sure stands in sharp contrast with the toothpaste-style food that would have been eaten by the Apollo 8 crew.

So when you settle down for a big Christmas turkey dinner and pudding for dessert on December 25, be sure to think of the six people living on the International Space Station, because you never know- maybe you'll be having your meal at the same time as them- as they fly 250 miles above planet Earth.

On behalf of Irish Space Blog we would sincerely like to wish all our readers a very Happy Christmas, a lovely New Year, and finally, to echo the words of Apollo 8 commander Frank Borman, "God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth."

Sunday, December 7, 2014

ISS Passes Over UK & Ireland for December 2014

I've received quite a few emails from people recently asking for advice on how they can see the International Space Station from their own backyard this holiday season, so I've decided to put together the times and info that you need to see it. 

The International Space Station will be back in Irish and UK skies from the evening of December 9 2014 to the evening of December 28.

How to see the space station?
If you're out looking for the space station and worried you might not be able to see it- don't worry! You literally can't miss it!

The International Space Station
Traveling at a speed of approximately 5 miles a second at an altitude of around 250 miles above the Earth, the International Space Station orbits our planet every 92 minutes. It's the size of a football field with huge solar arrays to supply it with power. Sunlight reflecting off the arrays mean the station is visible from Earth during dawn and dusk, when skies are a bit darker!

You don't need any special equipment- just your eyes. All you are required to know is what time it will be passing over and where to look. It's that easy!

There's nothing like seeing the ISS for the first time! For me, the best thing about it is knowing that there are people living and working up there. Who knows? Maybe while you're looking up at them, one of the six astronauts and cosmonauts on board will be looking out the window at you!

Once you see the orbital complex for the first time, you'll find that you'll want to keep seeing it over and over again! So be sure to tell all your friends, family and neighbours to watch out for the space station flying overhead. There really is no other site quite like it!

ISS Pass Times for UK & Ireland. December 2014



Be sure to check Irish Space Blog both here and on Twitter for the latest details of the next time the International Space Station will be visible in the skies over your town. And most of all- be sure to look up! Clear skies to one and all, and have a happy Christmas!


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Friday, December 5, 2014

NASA's Orion Spacecraft Completes First Test Flight

NASA's next generation crew vehicle Orion, designed to take astronauts to deep space destinations such as the Moon, an asteroid and Mars, has completed its first test flight around the Earth.

Atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket, Orion lifted off from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 12:05 p.m. GMT. This uncrewed mission, designated Evaluation Flight Test-1(EFT-1) tested systems critical to future crew safety, also marks the first time that a spacecraft designed to carry humans has gone beyond the bounds of low-Earth orbit and into deep space since the days of Apollo.


Less than eighteen minutes of powered flight, Orion reached its initial orbit. After completing one revolution around the Earth, the second stage of the Delta IV fired its engines once again for a 4-minute, 45-second engine burn to raise Orion to a higher orbit, now 5,800 kilometers above the Earth(15 times higher than the orbit of the International Space Station).

Passing through the Van Allen Radiation Belts, data recorders on board measured the radiation levels being received by the spacecraft in order to analyse the doses of radiation astronauts would receive on future missions on Orion to deep space. Two cameras on board were also in a position to capture images of Earth from 5,800 kilometres above the planet.

Trial by Fire
Nearly three and a half hours after launch, Orion separated from its Service Module and the Delta IV Heavy, then fired its thrusters to set it on course for a fiery re-entry through the Earth's atmosphere. Traveling at around 32.000kmh during re-entry, Orion's heat shield experienced temperatures of 4000 Degrees Celsius, 80% of the temperature that would be experienced on a return journey from the Moon, as it made its journey home.


Stunning views of Earth from Orion cameras. credit: NASA TV
During this time there was an expected 2.5 minute loss of communications(LOS) between Orion and Mission Control teams in Houston, who were led today by Flight Director Mike Sarafin, as superheated plasma formed around the vehicle itself, blocking signals both in and out.

Finally, over 4.5 hours after launch in Florida, with its three parachutes fully deployed, Orion, now traveling at less than 30kmh, Orion splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, around 270 miles off the coast of Baja, California at 4:29 p.m.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden later said in a statement:
“Today’s flight test of Orion is a huge step for NASA and a really critical part of our work to pioneer deep space on our Journey to Mars.. The teams did a tremendous job putting Orion through its paces in the real environment it will endure as we push the boundary of human exploration in the coming years.”

Recovery
Members of the US Navy aboard the USS Anchorage were in the vicinity of the landing zone to recover the Orion spacecraft. Once the vehicle was made safe, cables were attached by divers and Orion was towed into the flooded deck of the ship. Once secure, the vessel began the journey home to port in San Diego.

What Happens Next?
Once data from today's flight has been analysed the focus for the NASA teams working on Orion systems will turn to the next flight of Orion. Mission EM-1 will involve another test flight of the Orion Crew Module, this time attached to a Service Module designed by the European Space Agency. This mission will fly beyond the Moon in 2017. The first crewed flight of Orion to the Moon is expected for 2021.

Orion will be used to carry astronauts to an asteroid that will be placed in a stable lunar orbit in the 2020s as part of the Asteroid Redirect Mission. Designed to carry four people to deep space, Orion will facilitate the exploration of other bodies in our solar system for the first time in over forty years.

On a sidenote..
Orion was originally scheduled to lift off from the Cape at 12:05 p.m. GMT on Thursday December 4, but a fault in one of the Delta IV's valves meant launch had could not take place inside the specified launch window, resulting in the scrubbing of the launch by 24-hours.

Also, legendary former NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz, who led teams in Mission Control on numerous Apollo flights to the Moon, was a special VIP guest in the Mission Control Center in Houston this week. Kranz was one of the Flight Directors on Apollo 17, a mission which marked the last time humans have traveled to and returned from deep space.

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