Sidepodcast - All for F1 and F1 for all

Sidepodspace - A drive round the streets of Los Angeles - Featuring Austrians jumping out of space and more

Published by Steven Roy

Many people thought when the shuttles stopped flying that activity in space was going to get very dull. Turns out those people could not have been more wrong. This week we have had the first paying commercial space flight, an attempt by an Austrian to take a balloon to 120,000 feet for no other reason than to jump out and the announcement of the first celebrity going to space and it is only Wednesday. Well it was only Wednesday when I originally wrote this but owing to all the F1 stuff and some great posts Christine could not fit this post in till now. That meant either leaving it as was which made no sense or trying to add a bit here and there to bring it up to date. As a result you get a bit more post than I had originally planned.

Spacex Dragon

The first ever commercial space flight launched a few days ago. The unmanned Spacex Dragon capsule today docked with the International Space Station. The Dragon is delivering supplies but the difference between it and the various other unmanned delivery vans is that the Dragon has the ability to carry a crew and has the capability to cope with re-entry not only from Earth orbit but on a return journey from the moon. So far the mission has been a complete success. There was a fault with one of the engines on the Falcon 9 rocket but Spacex have designed it so that it automatically corrects for such a fault. It simply burned its other engines longer to compensate and made orbit as planned.

This has turned out to be a fairly routine mission which is a great thing for the first mission for any new vehicle. It is even better for the first mission from a space operator and the first ever commercial space flight. The most exciting news so far is while emptying all the supplies out of the Dragon Suni Williams the ISS commander opened a freezer to find some vanilla-chocolate ice cream that the nice people from Spacex had sneaked aboard. Ice cream is a huge treat compared to normal space food so the crew were very happy to find it.

Red Bull Stratos

You can almost guarantee that if someone is doing any kind of outrageous stunt that Red Bull are sponsoring it. When the person concerned is Austrian that guarantee it is 100% 24 carat. Felix Baumgartner is a sky diver and BASE jumper. He spent some time in the Austrian military where he did some specialist parachute training and has certainly made the most of that training. He made the highest BASE jump off a building when he jumped from the Petronas Towers, the lowest ever BASE jump from the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro and he flew across the Channel with a carbon fibre wing on his back.

Given that history I suppose it was only a matter of time till he decided to get in a capsule under a balloon, float out of the atmosphere, jump out, go supersonic then open a parachute and float back to Earth. Those of you who have watched any space launch with Sidepodcast know that weather is a pain in the butt. The first attempt had to be called off and the next attempt was re-scheduled for Sunday.

One thing I am sure everyone knows has happened since Wednesday is Felix Baumgartner jumped out of his capsule from higher than anyone has ever jumped out of/off of anything. Many of us live commented the whole two hour ascent and much quicker descent. Felix set a number of records including one before he even opened the hatch - the highest altitude ever achieved by a manned balloon. He then opened the hatch and jumped which got him a second record for the highest jump ever.

His descent was dramatic to say the least and I can't wait to see proper edited good quality coverage of it. In real time we mainly watched from an infra-red camera on the ground and the operator did a great job to even get his target in shot because Felix didn't just break the sound barrier he slaughtered it. He reached a maximum speed of 833.9mph or Mach 1.24.

The only record he didn't get was the longest ever freefall which still belongs to the other star of Sunday's jump Joe Kittinger. Kittinger set the record in 1960 as one of the pioneers of the American space program. Despite being 84 he acted as capsule communicator (CAPCOM) and calmly talked Felix through the ascent and the preparations to leave the capsule. After Felix jumped Kittinger talked to him all the way down. He is a real character and any time Felix needed encouragement or managed to do something difficult he got an encouraging 'Attaboy'. Like any real star Colonel Joe Kittinger signed off in style. After discussing everything he had to he left us saying that he would like to give a one-fingered salute to all those who said that Felix's body would fall apart if he exceeded the speed of sound. After 84 years he is an overnight success.

A year in space

Normally crew members spend 6 months on the ISS but as part of a research project to find out what effects long duration space flight has on the human body. So one American astronaut and one Russian cosmonaut will spend a year in orbit. It is essential to gather this data before crews can be sent to Mars or beyond. It is not known who will be chosen for this mission but it is a safe bet that whoever it is once they return to Earth and go through the recovery process they will not want to go near another doctor for a very long time.

One side effect of this is that there will be two seats available in Soyuz's for space tourists. So far seven people have visited the ISS as tourists and one of them went twice.

Starship Trooper

The first of those two free Soyuz seats has been assigned to a celebrity. It was only ever going to be a matter of time before celebrities went into space. There are any number of publicity seekers who I would have guessed would be the first. I can't imagine Sarah Brightman would have been anywhere on my list but it was announced that she will fly to the ISS on a Soyuz. She has been through intensive medical and psychological checks to make sure she is capable of surviving the mission. She has a lot of training to go through and it will probably be three years before she can fly to space.

One interesting aspect of this is who is paying for her to go to space. There are a few options. Sarah Brightman is the global brand ambassador for Panasonic and the face of Panasonic's strategic partnership with UNESCO. The Brightman STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) scholarship program was launched this year with Virgin Galactic. This program is to help young American women pursue STEM education for four years at college. Either of those companies could be paying for the trip.

It should come as no surprise that she plans to sing from space. It is not hard to foresee some kind of concert from space which obviously has the potential to reach a global audience and make a lot of money so any company behind that could fund the trip.


The Curiosity rover has been driving around the Martian surface trying out all its equipment and sampling rock samples. The latest step is that it has scooped up a sample of Martian soil which will be used for cleaning the scoop. After the scoop can be verified as being clean a sample will be scooped up and fed into the analytical instrument package and analysed.

One surprising find in the first scoopful of soil was a small bright object. No-one expected to find any bright objects of Martian origin and it looks like this one is not. It seems to be a bit plastic wrapping material that has become detached from part of the rover either during the launch, flight or landing. It is a very good example of why we should send people to space rather than just machines. Had there not been a camera onboard that could send pictures to human eyes it is easy to imagine a sample being analysed and the results proving organic polymers or the like exists on Mars. Imagine the explanations and theories that would have sprung from that. Sometimes all the technology in the world is not as good as one human eye.

Final space shuttle mission

One thing that happened after the original version of this article was submitted for publications is that we had an unexpected final space shuttle that also broke a few records. It never left the ground and travelled at slower speed than any other shuttle. Instead of blasting into space to visit the ISS or the Hubble Space Telescope Endeavour went for a drive round the streets of Los Angeles before settling down to life as a museum piece. This journey really brought out the crowds and needed special preparations that have never been required for any other space mission. Trees and traffic lights had to be uprooted and in some places the wings of the shuttle missed buildings or other objects by a scant few inches.

I'm forever blowing bubbles

Sidepodcast has always loved great photography and space provides opportunity not only for great photographs but sights that seem impossible. I am sure everyone at some time has blown bubbles with gum but once they reach a few inches across they burst. You can make bubbles with soapy water but normally again after a few inches they burst and disappear from all but your memory. Space does things on a massively different scale. In space bubbles can get bigger than you can ever imagine. Imagine a bubble that is 23 light years across. Set off from one point at the impossible again speed of light and it takes 23 years to reach the opposite side.