Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

Next race: Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai

How many people are in space right now? // Keeping track of who is floating through the outer limits of space

Published by Steven Roy

With the end of the space shuttle program and the delay before whatever will follow it becomes operational, it is easy to think the heady days of SidepodSpace are over but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact there is more happening now that at any time since the term SidepodSpace was coined.


In terms of manned missions the Russians have solved the Soyuz problems and recently launched a crew to the ISS. Another Soyuz will be launched shortly as soon as the three long term ISS crew members return. It looks like the Soyuz is back to its old self and will be able to go back to launching regularly. The European Space Agency (esa) has even set up a Soyuz launch pad at their South American base to allow them to use Soyuz along with their existing vehicles.

Mars Science Laboratory

The Mars Science Laboratory mission was due to launch Friday 25th but it has been delayed to allow a battery to be removed and replaced. The launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station will take place at 10:02am Eastern/15:02pm UK. The launch window is a little under two hours.

Included in this mission is the Curiosity rover which recently had its nuclear power source installed. This rover is bigger than the existing rovers and is around the size of a 4 X 4. Normally landing a rover on Mars is a fairly straightforward procedure but the method chosen to land this one looks like it has been designed by a committee on April Fool’s day. Given how often Mars missions screw up it is very brave to choose this method as there are lots of things that can go wrong especially after being stuck in space for 8 months.

Wannabe an astronaut?

As an example of how much is going to be happening in space in the near future NASA are advertising for astronauts. You need to be an American citizen to apply but the good news now with all the private space companies around there is a chance for more people than ever to pilot something in space.

Saturn storm

Sidepodcast image

Probably the most interesting mission anywhere in the last few years has been the Cassini mission to the Saturn system. We have learned so much about Saturn’s rings and fascinating moons. Recently it has been showing us a huge storm that goes all the way round the globe of Saturn. Imagine a storm that starts as an insignificant little storm then a few weeks later is raging all the way round the planet at the same time.

Liquid water on Europa

The one big thing everyone would love to find is life somewhere out there. Europa is a moon of Jupiter and has long been thought of as one of the most likely places in the solar system where life could survive. The latest discovery is that Europa has a large body of liquid water equal in volume to the North American Great Lakes. It has long been known that there is a huge sub-surface ocean on Europa that contains more water than all of the oceans on Earth but the discovery of this surface water makes things a lot more interesting. It would seem that surface water massively increases the chances of life being found there.

It goes without saying that this is a massively exciting discovery and I am sure it is only a matter of time before a mission is sent to investigate. Either that or the Europans will send a mission to investigate us.

Spacex Dragon

We all know that private space flight is about to take off. While Virgin Galactic has grabbed much of the headlines with its tourist flights there are many other players in the market. One of the most exciting is Spacex which is owned by Elon Musk who started PayPal and Tesla Motors. Spacex already has contracts from NASA for supply missions to the ISS so is a very serious player. Their Dragon capsule recently arrived at their base in Cape Canaveral to be mounted for a launch probably in February. Spacex are due to make their first flight to the ISS in 2012 and are confident enough to have a list of planned flights on their website. In the short term they look like being the best of the private space companies.

Voyager 2

From the future to the ancient past. The furthest travelled human space craft are Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. They were launched in the late 1970s and have been touring the solar system ever since. Voyager 2 is currently 9 billion miles from Earth having visited Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune as well as the Kuiper Belt. It is now sending back fascinating data on the area where the sun’s powers end before heading into interstellar space. It is still communicating with the Earth and is even responding to commands to change to back up thrusters. I don’t have a single gadget from 1977 that is still operational but despite a 34 year journey through the harshest environment imaginable Voyager 2 is still working.

Shenzhou 8

China’s space program is progressing well. Recently they docked their Shenzhou 8 capsule to a previously launched module of a small space station. This was an unmanned trial for a planned manned mission in the near future and was a complete success.

How many people are in space right now?

Sidepodcast image

All of these upcoming missions will make it hard to know how many people are in space at any time. How often have you asked yourself how many people are in space right now? If so you need a website which not only tells you how many people are in space right now but which particular tin cans they are occupying.

Faster than light

We all know that much of the science behind space travel is based on Einstein’s work. Well it looks like some scientists are more confident than ever that the light speed limit may not be a limit after all. Time will tell who is right but it is always very exciting when fundamental principles are challenged. One of the things I love about science is that no-one, regardless how respected or important, is above being questioned. Of course even using Einstein’s principles it has always been easy to go a lot faster than light speed. You just need a space ship with negative mass. Easy!

So there you have a very brief round up of some of the interesting sidepodspace stuff that is happening now. The demise of the shuttle may be an ending but it is also the beginning of the post-shuttle era and its ending has opened many doors. I guarantee space will be even more exciting in the next few decades than it has been in the past few. Anyone fancy a mission to Europa to see what the locals race?

  • It is truly sad that more people have been on the surface on the moon than dived below 1,000 feet underwater in "scuba" gear on/in earth itself.

  • Nice post Steven

    I think you neglected to mention that the Mars Science Laboratory mission has been postponed until Sat 26th Nov

  • Great post Steven, strange that a lot of these missions don't get the publicity they deserve.

  • Great round-up of what's going up right now on space. You could add to that so many current missions: Messenger on Mercury, SAC-D/Aquarius here on Earth, those pesky hard Mars rovers (err, one now...), the usual gang of "big telescopes" on surface and on space... If you like those things and are curious about space, you can't get bored :D

  • Great post Steven, strange that a lot of these missions don't get the publicity they deserve.

    Wow, so much information here, Steven, thanks so much. I agree about the lack of publicity, Pat.

    The Saturn image is stunning. I can't fathom a storm that is planet-wide. Whoa. I hope they're not relying on CT Light and Power to deal with THAT.

    It's so hard to imagine that something left Earth in the late 70's and still around. I wonder how many of the original scientists and engineers are still around to give it the commands. It's so far away and we still have control over it? wow.

    I'm going to keep that website bookmarked so I can see how many people are in space right now....that we know of/from Earth. :)

  • I think you neglected to mention that the Mars Science Laboratory mission has been postponed until Sat 26th Nov

    I mentioned the delay then didn't give the date. What a plonker.

    Great post Steven, strange that a lot of these missions don't get the publicity they deserve.

    It is very annoying because they are absolutely fascinating. I have followed Cassini from its arrival in the Saturn system and it has been incredible. It has given not only fantastic scientific data but incredible stuff on a human level too. Aside from the rings of Saturn which get everyone's attention there is the moon Enceladus which has volcanoes that spray icy slush so high that some of it feeds into one of the rings of Saturn. How can volcanoes that do that get no coverage. Then the European Huygens probe detached from Cassini and parachuted down to the surface of Titan. There it showed scenes that looked like Earth with oceans, lakes, seas, mountains etc. A black and white image of Titan's surface looks exactly like Earth but the chemistry is very different. The rain is methane and ethane rather than water. THe seas and the ice are organic as well.

    Despite all the differences in chemistry all the processes right down to weather pattern are identical to Earth. How can that get no coverage.

    Absolutely Guille. There is just so much going on that you can only cover part of it in one post. I am thinking of doing a series of these if there is the interest.

    It's so far away and we still have control over it? wow.

    I find it stunning that it still works. Space projects take so long to happen that the technology in Voyager is from the 60s and some probably from the 50s.

  • Nice post. I wouldn't class anyone as 'confident' that the light speed barrier has been broken yet though - pretty sure experimental error can easily account for the results, still. Would be fascinating if they could conclusively show it though.

  • I am thinking of doing a series of these if there is the interest.

    Yes, please! I love this stuff.

    Aside from the rings of Saturn which get everyone's attention there is the moon Enceladus which has volcanoes that spray icy slush so high that some of it feeds into one of the rings of Saturn.

    I want to know more about that ice volcano.

  • I want to know more about that ice volcano.

    There are lots of ice volcanoes. The first picture shows what looks almost like a beard near the southern pole as icy water is blasted out from the moon.…dia/pia12693.html

    The second picture shows a closer view of them. Unlike volcanoes on Earth which tend to be mountainous these are more like geysers with many jets spraying from the surface.…adus20110201.html

    The jets feed into Saturn's E ring. The ring idents can be confusing because they don't appear in any logical order.…dia/pia08321.html

    We have become used to seeing moons with craters all over them but Enceladus has a totally different surface because the spraying water constantly renews the surface so no craters are seen. You can see all tectonic plates which may seem odd as Enceladus is so small it should have cooled a long time ago. Its core like our own moon should be cold. However like other moons close to large planets the gravity of the planet causes it to distort as it rotates and orbits the planet and this causes heat which allows it to remain tectonically active.

    For a long time people said the thing that made the Earth different was that there is liquid water here. We know that there is liquid water on Europa and some people believe there is liquid water on Enceladus too.…feature_1243.html

Comments closed to new entries.