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Sidepodspace - Space robots, watery helmets and a new NASA class // Get your science and space fix with news, photos, videos and more

Published by Steven Roy

Instructional astro-video

One of the best things NASA has done for a while is a series of Youtube videos called ISS Science Garage. These are presented by Mike Massimino (@Astro_Mike) who many of you will know from The Big Bang Theory when he gave Howard the nickname Froot Loops, and Don Pettit (@Astro_Pettit) who did some of the best educational science videos while he was on the ISS. All of them are on Youtube if you search for them. In this episode of ISS Science Garage they interview Sidepodcast's favourite astronaut Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) and his ISS crew mate Tom Marshburn (@AstroMarshburn). It is great to watch all these experienced and interesting astronauts talking about anything but when they discuss aspects of their missions that normally get no coverage I just can't get enough.

Tom Marshburn popped up in another video which demonstrates some of the problems facing astronauts returning to Earth. Unlikely as it sounds, this actually happens. He may be hamming it up in the video but imagine having spent six month just letting things go and knowing that they will stay more or less where you put them then returning to Earth and forgetting that you have to place things on a surface.

Commander and hero

Since he retired from the space hero business Chris Hadfield has been popping up all over the place. He has been speaking to schools and he has been the marshall at the Calgary stampede complete with cowboy boots and stetson. Recently he appeared at a sport that has recently caught the attention of Sidepodcast HQ. He threw the ceremonial first pitch at a Toronto Blue Jays baseball match. I am not sure that he is the reason Mariano Riveira is retiring from the sport while his reputation as the greatest closing pitcher ever is still intact. He even tweeted where people could go to meet him and get autographs at that game. There are a good few professional sportsmen who could learn from him. People even raised some charity money as a birthday present for him.

His Twitter account is well worth following for the useful things you can learn. Who else can tell you these things?

His own book is now available for pre-order and I expect Amazon to deliver mine in early November. If you are in North America you can even get a Commander Hadfield moustache free with your book. I wonder if the moustaches will turn up in as many places as the F1 Minute stickers did.

The space hero business is a tough life at time so it is best not to be superstitious. Of all the photos I have seen tweeted involving Chris Hadfield my favourite was a kid heading out to his first day of school with a Hadfield mission patch on his bag. It is so great that kids are looking up to someone who has done something worthwhile rather than some plastic celebrity. The photo is on his twitter stream but nowadays you have to be careful with even the most innocent photos of children so I will not post it here.

Astronauts in training

When old astronaut's retire you need new astronauts to replace them. NASA recently announced its latest astronaut class. It will be a while before you see any of these eight fly in space but for now they provide a useful scale for the next generation NASA space capsule. You know there has been a huge change in the culture of NASA when you have a 50/50 male/female split. It will be interesting to see how many of them go the whole distance and actually fly in space.

I am prepared to bet though that if any of them are assigned command of the ISS they will not walk away because they have found a better job unlike Yuri Lonchakov. I can't imagine having spent all those years training for a mission and knowing that in two years time you will be blasting off to spend six months on the ISS and for the second half of that time you will be its commander and just walking away from it. It is not as if it is even a normal mission as he would have been launching with Mikhail Kornienko and Scott Kelly who are scheduled to be the first two people to spend a year in space. It is their longer mission that will result in a couple of empty Soyuz seats that will take Sarah Brightman and A N Other up to the ISS. Maybe the thought of being in an enclosed environment with Sarah Brightman was too much for him.

The space gallery

We have always liked a good photo or photo collection on Sidepodcast. Photos from space have always been popular to the point that a Sidepodspace post seems naked without an interesting photo or ten. Today I found a very unusual collection of erupting volcanoes photographed from space. I think number five is the outstanding shot in this group but Sidepodcast wouldn't be Sidepodcast if someone didn't argue in favour of another.

If you prefer your space photography to be of other planets try this shot of the Martian south pole. On first sight it looks like a very simple photo but I find I can't help going back and finding some detail I missed before.

We have all loved the photographs of the Earth we have seen from the ISS and someone has put a lot of them together on a world map so that you can see photos of your local area or anywhere else that you are particularly interested in.

All astronauts are allowed to carry a few personal items for friends, family or themselves. Chris Cassidy has gone a bit further by carrying his own personal item through astronaut selection, military missions in Afghanistan, on NASA T38s, on the space shuttle and now to the ISS. I am not surprised the little guy looks a little bit bruised.

To the moon, and beyond

I always like to have a look at the future of space travel in these posts. Of course nowadays this does not just include the major space agencies like NASA but the private sector. The name Chris Kraft may not be familiar to you but he played a huge part in getting NASA off the ground. He literally invented the concept of mission control. So important a role did he play that mission control in Houston is now know as the Christopher J Kraft Jr Mission Control Center. So it is safe to say that when he speaks he is worth listening to. Recently he has been speaking about NASA's next generation manned space vehicle and to say the least he is not happy about it. Amongst his complaints is that it will be way too expensive, they won't be able to afford to fly it more than once a year and they won't be able to fly it enough to make it reliable. Perhaps my favourite part of what he has to say is that the Europeans have told NASA they want to go back to the Moon. To me regardless of whether the long term plan is to go to Mars or beyond the only logical first step is to have an international base on the moon. I have been arguing this for a long time so it is good to see someone of Kraft's stature saying the same thing.

While Spacex have grabbed the lead in commercial space flight with their ISS re-supply missions they are not the only game in town. Sierra Nevada have a mini shuttle called the Dream Chaser which should give us back the thrill of the space shuttle landings on a runway rather than a splashdown in the sea. It will soon commence flight trials and the first stage in that was a captive carry flight below a Sikorsky helicopter. This allowed all its guidance and navigation systems to be tested as well as its aerosurfaces. Hopefully when they start test flying it for real there will be video available.

Somehow I just can't see this next concept ever flying. I think the creator has been watching too many James Bond movies and has a few issues with the laws of physics and possibly with reality. I can imagine them presenting this concept on Dragons Den and after being torn apart about how impractical it is being asked what they expect to achieve with £5 million. If you ignore the weight balance issues with having 50 people crammed into the nose after all the fuel tanks have emptied you have to ask how they are going to control the environment in 12 separate pods plus the crew compartment. The biggest problem of course is if you have people facing in four different directions if one person has their back to the ground another is hanging from his seat belts and two others have all their weight on their sides. That is before anything goes wrong. It is quite clear from the drawings that the pods can't move independently of each other or people could always be feet down. The idea of releasing pods from a spaceship comes straight out of Moonraker. The only difference is these pods have people rather than deadly weapons in them. I am sure at this point Dragons Den would be full of Dragons fighting to see who could say "I'm out" first.

I am not sure how serious this really is but the Japanese have sent a mini robot that thinks it's Neil Armstrong to the ISS. It looks like it is little more than a toy but it's somehow connected to the Tokyo Olympic Games bid although I am not quite sure how. I suppose when long duration space flights to Mars and beyond happen and the distance from Earth becomes so large that conversation with people on the ground become impossible the crew will need toys or something else to occupy their off duty time. Somehow I can't see this robot being high on their list though.

Space travel is dangerous

After two successful moon landings space flight was seen as routine and boring. Apollo 13 changed all that. Since then we have had two space shuttle accidents with the loss of 14 astronauts. Despite that there is still a belief that space missions are now routine and that the worst thing that can happen on a space walk is that a tool bag can drift away. However anything involving going into space is dangerous and being outside in space is very, very dangerous.

Not so long ago a spacewalk from the ISS was cut very short because European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano from Italy reported water inside his helmet. At the time the impression given was that there were a few drops of water inside his helmet and the EVA was abandoned so that they could investigate the cause before it could become serious. Now it turns out that there was so much water sloshing around inside his helmet that he could not see his way back to the access hatch and was concerned that he may even drown. Quite how this is not a major news story I don't know but it just goes to show that regardless how routine space flight looks and how boring some people think space walks are it is still very, very dangerous up there. Fortunately Luca and Chris Cassidy managed to get inside, close the hatch and had the air lock re-pressurised in time for him to remove his helmet before any water got into his lungs.

Finally, if you ever wondered how the Apollo-Saturn V took astronauts to the moon and back, there is now a far better way than finding some overly complicated explanation that you need an engineering degree and a whole new vocabulary to understand. xkcd explain how it all worked in very simple words. This is rocket science an eight year old can understand. If only all high tech engineering could be explained like this.