Stories tagged astronauts

It sounds like a dramatic scene of a plan gone awry in a sci-fi movie, but it was real life to Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano while out on a space walk from the International Space Station last month. His helmet began filling with water, disorienting him and cutting off communications with his fellow astronauts and mission control. Click here to read his recounting of the experience and how he found his way to safety.

And here's a link to Buzz's recent feature on the risks and rewards of sending people into space. Does this spacewalk incident can or confirm your beliefs about sending humans to space?

A professional gift from one astronaut to another: "I give you this rocket, sir." "And I thank you, sir!"
A professional gift from one astronaut to another: "I give you this rocket, sir." "And I thank you, sir!"Courtesy NASA
The headline says it all. One Alan Poindexter, a NASA commander, says that the most intimate of relations* is not allowed on the International Space Station. So if you ever wondered how that works, you can stop.

*I'm not referring to two-player Battletoads. But that isn't allowed on the ISS either.

I'd say "In case you were wondering exactly how astronauts go to the bathroom in space," except... of course you were wondering that. Thankfully, there's this video to walk you though it, from the alignment camera on the practice toilet, to the thigh restraints and the frightening, hissing pipes of the real thing.

PS—And what about those "Apollo fecal bags"? How come those weren't in Apollo 13 (the movie, not the mission)?

May
17
2009

Twitter is, like, totes the new Myspace. Everybody’s using it. Your grandma, aunt Milly, that cute girl in your science class, John McCain. Thing is ubiquitous. You can’t escape it. So if you haven’t capitulated yet, now is the time. Pretty soon, we’ll all be communicating in 140 characters or less, haunted by dreams of that cutesy error message. “Not the whale. NOT THE WHALE!”

So you can follow Lil Wayne, and you can follow Shaquille O’Neil (seriously, do it. You will not be disappointed), and now you can follow Astro_Mike, a real live astronaut named Mike Massimino, currently a member of the space shuttle Atlantis crew, en route to the Hubble Space Telescope to make repairs. Yeah. That’s right. Tweeting from outer space.

hi-tech astronaut technology
hi-tech astronaut technologyCourtesy NASA

Last Tuesday afternoon, Massimino made history. Yeah, he entered the earth’s orbit, and that’s pretty cool, or whatever, but more importantly, he sent an 139-character post to his Twitter account, the site’s first extraterrestrial activity. Well, maybe. I mean, Dennis Kucinich does have an account (cue rimshot). Thanks, folks, I’ll be here all summer.

I can hear you now: “Okay, Elana, that’s great and all, but why should I care?” Well, my dudes, the answer to that question is twofold. First off, you can read material straight from the mouth (or fingers) of a real person in Earth’s orbit. That is pretty awesome. Astro_Mike ’s Twitter is a record of the day-to-day life of an astronaut. Secondly, I think this story speaks pretty strongly to the power of the internet and social networking devices to learn and link the entire universe (literally!) together. Or maybe not. What do you think?

Nov
20
2008

You can't hear her: But I think I can see the gold foil blistering off of her face guard.
You can't hear her: But I think I can see the gold foil blistering off of her face guard.Courtesy NASA
***Apparently MDR already wrote this post a few days ago. Either he and I are just on the same wavelength here, or I totally copied him without realizing it. Er... oops.***

In space, no one can hear you say G%#@&^$ M@&%&!#^@&!

Remember the modifications planned for the International Space Station that would allow resident astronauts to drink their own pee (among other things)? Well, early this week, visiting astronauts from the space shuttle Endeavor were actually doing that work (among other work) on the ISS. Things went pretty smoothly, over all, except that one of the astronauts dropped her tools. Outside of the station. In space.

Whoops.

Normally this isn’t a big deal, of course. It is estimated that working people across the country spend as much as 30% of their time dropping tools of one variety or another. (It’s only 9:40, and I’ve already dropped a video camera, a laptop computer, and my toothbrush—all in the toilet! How did that happen?) In space, however, things are a little different. It’s not exactly like a Loony Toons situation, where the space tools would fall to Earth in a deadly rain of super-sonic, flaming wrenches—the ISS is in orbit, and so the dropped tools stayed in orbit. That means that the astronaut’s two grease guns, putty knife, and briefcase-sized tool bag have all become space junk.
What happens when space junk hits something?: This happens. This is the "energy flash" from a 17,000 mph projectile hitting  solid surface. This test was performed by NASA to simulate what happens when a piece of space junk hits a spacecraft in orbit.
What happens when space junk hits something?: This happens. This is the "energy flash" from a 17,000 mph projectile hitting solid surface. This test was performed by NASA to simulate what happens when a piece of space junk hits a spacecraft in orbit.Courtesy NASA

“Space junk” is a term for the growing cloud of man-made debris orbiting our planet—everything from flecks of shuttle paint, to spent rocket stages, to grease guns, putty knives, and tool bags. Items like these may sound pretty innocuous, but a grease gun traveling at a few thousand miles an hour is really dangerous. Space debris is so dangerous, in fact, that the ISS is now armored to help protect it from orbiting junk, and that the a planned launch of the space shuttle Atlantis in October, 2008, had a 1 in 185 chance of “catastrophic impact” with debris.

Whoops.

NASA technicians are scrambling to develop new methods of scrubbing the swearwords out of the astronaut’s space suit, but they remain cautiously optimistic that the equipment will eventually be reusable.

Nov
18
2008

Woman contemplates a future of urine drinking: As she sips her apple juice.
Woman contemplates a future of urine drinking: As she sips her apple juice.Courtesy vcalzone
Hey, hey, don’t get too excited, Buzzketeers. We’ve been drinking our own pee for a long time. Way back in the past, we drank it for ceremonial purposes. And back in the present we drank it all the time! We drank it to stay alive, we drank it to be on TV (we loved TV back then, didn’t we?), and sometimes we drank it just because we were into that sort of thing.

But here in the future, we’ve really perfected drinking pee. And not just in the Kevin Costner/Waterworld way—that method requires gravity and science fiction, and we’ve figured out how to do it without gravity, with science.

The obvious application here is astronauts. As intriguing as zero gravity and space travel might sound initially, the fact remains that astronauts are trapped in a relatively tiny capsule for great lengths of time with little to occupy their time beyond telling dirty jokes and drinking their own urine. Unfortunately, there are only so many dirty jokes (although mixing and matching punch lines can extend things), and, as wikipedia’s entry on urophagia reminds us, you can only drink your own wiz so many times before problems arise. (Although, as I understand it, the problem with repeatedly drinking pee isn’t that you end up drinking super-pee, but that you get dehydrated, and your body has to reabsorb the toxins from the urine.)

With this new development in urophage tech, however, it looks like astronauts will be able to while away mission hours drinking pee to their hearts’ content.

Now, it should at least be mentioned that the aim of technology here is to turn the pee into something called “water,” and to then drink it. But the principle remains the same. Existing urine-recycling systems rely on gravity, but, again, that’s not an option for astronauts. The new system, soon to be installed on the International Space Station, will take urine, along with water from hand washing, tooth brushing, showering, and space suit sweat, and extract free gas and solid materials from the fluid, before removing remaining contaminants with “a high-temperature chemical reaction.” The result, according to one astronaut, can be “purer than what you drink here on Earth.”

That, ma’am, sounds like a challenge.

Potential efforts to defeat the system through dietary or medical methods aside, the water reclamation process makes a lot of sense. Previously, urine was vented into space, and more water needed to be delivered to the space station. This process should cut about 15,000 pounds from the amount of water and consumables that need to be brought to the station each year, and with the cost of shipping each pint of fresh water into space hovering around $10,000, the savings are nothing to sneeze at. (Considering that “a pint’s a pound the world around,” the system should save something like $150,000,000 a year, if the cost is actually as simple as those figures.)

And no doubt it’ll keep the astronauts happy.

Sep
09
2008

Okay, hold that pose: But we're going to want to try it without... without...  Forget it.
Okay, hold that pose: But we're going to want to try it without... without... Forget it.Courtesy NASA
And they didn’t just have sex; they actually reproduced, which turns out to be important for naked astronauts. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, aren’t we?

No, we aren’t.

Tiny, naked astronauts were recently exposed to the vacuum environment, harsh temperatures, and dangerous radiation of space for a period of several days. The space travelers went into an almost entirely dormant state for the duration, slowing their metabolisms to .01% of their normal levels.

After they were brought back into the low-orbit space vessel, most of the astronauts were completely revived. (Some died. It was very sad.) Aside from enduring the vacuum of space, and the extreme temperatures outside of a space capsule, the astronauts’ ability to survive the radiation of space most surprised scientists. On the surface of earth, solar radiation (as you no doubt are aware) is strong enough to give us sunburn, and cause genetic damage to our skin cells (leading to skin cancer). The levels of radiation in space are 1,000 times higher, enough to sterilize an organism, yet the astronauts did fine with it, and were even able to successfully reproduce on their return to earth. Scientists hope to isolate whatever mechanism allowed the astronauts to repair the genetic damage they likely incurred while in space. Such research might be applied to radiation therapy techniques.

We salute you, tiny, naked challengers of the unknown.

So what would really happen if and evil computerized spaceship locked you out of the spaceship. In many sci-fi movies you see people explode in the vacuum of space. Not surprisingly, Hollywood has lead us astray. Find out what would really happen if your spacesuit popped a hole.