Dedicated to the Health and Safety of the Personal Space Traveler

Friday, December 10, 2010

Who Knew? A Lot of People According to Neil

[Hi, I am Leigh Ervine.  I am a friend of Eleanor's, a self-professed computer geek, and a long time follower/supporter of Exploring Space.  Every now and then I will post something here at SMA.  If you like it, let me know.  If you don't, let me know.  And now for the post.]

I was reading through tweets on my twitter account this morning and came across something from NPR you don't see every day.  Neil Armstrong responding to a blog posting about Apollo 11.

Robert Krulwich posted about how far Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin traveled away from the Lunar Module during their less than three hour excursion.  Robert was posting about a site (you can find a link in his post) that allows you to map things like lunar landing sites over things like a soccer field or your neighborhood.  (Cool stuff for a geek like me.)  I wasn't surprised that the distance traveled was so small.  What was surprising was the usually quiet Neil Armstrong responded.

You can read the original post with the geeky tool here.

Or you can just skip to the post with the Neil Armstrong response here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Dragon Launched

The Dragon ship was launched from Florida on a Falcon 9 rocket, with the aim of entering a circular orbit some 300km above the planet. After completing a number of manoeuvres in space, the capsule will then target a splashdown in the Pacific.

Dragon and Falcon 9 are both products of California's SpaceX company. It has a $1.6bn (£1bn) contract with the US space agency (Nasa) to provide 12 spacecraft with cargo capacity of at least 20 tonnes to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) through to 2016.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

FAA Awards SpaceX First Ever Commercial License to Re-Enter Spacecraft from Orbit

On Monday, November 22nd, the FAA made SpaceX the first-ever commercial company to receive a license to re-enter a spacecraft from orbit.

Next month, SpaceX is planning to launch its Dragon spacecraft into low-Earth orbit atop a Falcon 9 rocket. The Dragon capsule is expected to orbit the Earth at speeds greater than 17,000 miles per hour, reenter the Earth’s atmosphere, and land in the Pacific Ocean a few hours later.

This will be the first attempt by a commercial company to recover a spacecraft reentering from low-Earth orbit. It is a feat performed by only 6 nations or governmental agencies: the United States, Russia, China, Japan, India, and the European Space Agency.

It is also the first flight under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to develop commercial supply services to the International Space Station and encourage the growth of the commercial space industry. After the Space Shuttle retires, SpaceX will make at least 12 flights to carry cargo to and from the International Space Station as part of a Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract for NASA. The Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft were designed to one day carry astronauts; both the COTS and CRS missions will yield valuable flight experience towards this goal.

Friday, November 5, 2010

China's manned spaceflight program

So China's kicked off plans for an unmanned lunar landing in 2013.... a manned space station by 2020... and who knows what else. While I applaud whomever has the determination to explore space to "boldly go", it's still sobering that the US will no longer hold the cards for the first "flags and footsteps." Does this bother anyone else on some level? What else are you hearing out there regarding China's growing space capabilities?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Virgin Galactic's suborbital spaceship, Enterprise, makes its first solo test flight, gliding to a runway after being dropped from an altitude of 45,000ft

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

An inverse relationship?

Is it me, or does there seem to be an inverse relationship between the decline of NASA and the Constellation Program and reports like the following?

UN Ambassador to Aliens (which is now being denied?!)

or this gem:

Former Air Force officers discuss UFO sightings

Alternatively, are we being prepared for something?

What say you?

Monday, August 23, 2010

More showstoppers for long-duration spaceflight

Journal of Physiology, July 2010... muscle deconditioning is apparently even more pronounced during long-duration spaceflight than previously appreciated. Once again, I wish we knew how to generate that 1G dosage for the "gravity prescription"...

Summary article from the lay press:

The news about bone demineralization is a similar story... worse than initially thought.

The news about radiation exposure in space is a similar story.... worse than initially thought.

Are we seeing a pattern here?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Right Stuff?

In response to sky and telescope article "The Right Stuff" April 2010.

Training for a sub-orbital flight in a vehicle that is supposedly designed for virtually anyone to be a passenger(the medical requirements are negligible) is a bit of an oxymoron. The idea of doing altitude training (which untold thousands of military have done - so is no biggie, unless you have COPD etc) and a centrifuge ride (3g - please , 6g maybe a bit tough - >9 g is standard for military aircrew) well it makes you wonder what the point of it is except to gather data (of which there is plenty on 'healthy' subjects, but precious little on 'unhealthy' subjects - the passengers with the $). If that’s the standard, then they are going to run out of fare paying (and not too healthy) passengers rapidly. "Harrowing" it isnt , a barrier to passengers - maybe.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Apollo 11 Musings

For those who don’t know, one of the myriad of things I do to keep busy is volunteering as a docent at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC (if you ever want to come for a tour-- contact me!) I have been a docent since 1995, and I still enjoy making visitors’ experience in our nation’s capital just a bit more special (or at least that’s my hope!)

While I never grow tired of showing the same artifacts over and over and retelling the stories surrounding them to countless tourists, one can being to feel like you are toiling a bit in vain when you see that space exploration is, for the foreseeable future, a veritable non-starter. Nevertheless, while introducing the Spirit of St. Louis and Charles Lindbergh to a tour group this past weekend, I had a participant ask me “So, how did Lindbergh combat vertigo during his flight?” As it turned out, the person posing the question was a student at Embry-Riddle in Orlando, was planinng on obtaining his PhD in aeronautical (or nuclear) engineering, and was also hoping to earn his wings in the Navy, and then to eventually work for NASA or a viable commercial venture. The student was a delight and his enthusiasm was infectious. Indeed, on the eve of the 41st anniversary of Apollo 11, my random encounter with this guy was just the jolt of reinvestment I needed to regain some of my enthusiasm for spaceflight. Gods Speed, Apollo 11 (and the future of manned spaceflight!)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The real legacy of U.S. Spaceflight?

I read an interesting letter to the editor in "Space News" some weeks back (May 3, 2010). It discussed the usual “justifications” for conducting human spaceflight:

Astronauts as role models: the “best of America”
National pride
Some scientific knowledge is better acquired by humans than robots
Perceived US leadership role in science and technology

What really caught my eye, however, was a followup to this letter in the next issue of "Space News" where the author recalled a conversation he had with Wernher von Braun many years ago where he asked, “Wernher, what did we really accomplish?” in reference to the U.S. space program and lunar exploration.

Take a guess what von Braun’s response was as one of the “great lasting achievements of the space program”, according to the editorialist?

“Hugo, more than anything else, we taught industry the concept of reliability. You know, you take a color television, which is a very complicated device. You take it out of the box, and it works! And it keeps on working. Your automobile, which used to be for repair frequently, almost never sees the shop now. We taught reliability!”

I think it’s ironic that von Braun distills it all down to one pragmatic answer. No lofty platitudes, no pie-in- the-sky dreamy discourse. Just…reliability. Spoken like an engineer through-and-through.

Could this be true? Is that all we have to claim in the end? What happened to "flags and footprints?" National pride? Winning the "space race?"

Did the glory days of U.S. spaceflight all come down to a sophisticated engineering feat with no other real legacy? Have we been bamboozled into thinking otherwise?

What do others think?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

George Whitesides and Virgin Galactic

Looks like George Whitesides has bailed from NASA to assume the CEO role at Virgin Galactic.

As one of my colleagues put it, "this man wants to NASA isn't going anywhere soon."

I think the prevailing wisdom is that Virgin Galactic is the pack leader in terms of commercial launch vehicle development. And, doesn't George want to spend his honeymoon on a VG flight?

That may very well be... but I question when any of these commercial carriers are really going to start flying. Any thoughts out there on the real timelines... and whether this "commercial spaceflight market" does-- or will-- exist? Will anyone make any money... or are we listening to a bunch of "PT Barnums"(to quote another colleague.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

So now that the International Space Station is near completion, here come the platitudes about its value as a research platform being fully realized, etc. Indeed, platitudes abound (particularly promulgated by NASA over the years) regarding the value of space research conducted on the space shuttle as well as the ISS. Some have questioned the "real" return on investment of such research (the IOM report which cited the waste of time that protein crystallization experiments have been is one that immediately comes to mind.)

One oft-cited "factoid" about space research concerns the value of biomedical investigation... and how knowledge of the physiological effects of spaceflight can lead to effective "countermeasures" to mitigate such effects. Nevertheless, has any of this research really led to breakthroughs in true countermeasures? What has the NSBRI been doing all these years? As one colleague has put it, the only effective countermeasure to the physiologic effects of spaceflight is.... a Gravity Prescription. Indeed, man has evolved in a 1G environment... and if taken out of that environment, logic would dictate that replacing that G force is the obvious answer to the deleterious physiologic effects which occur in microgravity.

The problem is.... what IS the Gravity Prescription and how to we "make" it? I'd love to hear some of your ideas and speculations (or frank disagreements with my opinions regarding the "real" value of space research.)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Neil Armstrong on the offensive-- too little too late?

I have to admit I am a bit shocked that the typically silent Neil Armstrong is so vocal about President Obama's space policy. A little late to open his mouth, in my opinion. Nevertheless, I am also in a bit of a quandary as to whether he and his like-minded former Apollo comrades are right... or backward-looking:

While I want to applaud Obama for throwing the gauntlet down regarding a greater role for commercial space in LEO and perhaps beyond, the reality of the situation is that.... we have no launch vehicles flying yet... or likely in the very near future! And I don't know about anyone else, but does it bother you that we may be hitching rides to the ISS on a very expensive Soyuz (though, admittedly, it probably is a bargain, relatively speaking.)

The question becomes, philosophically, who's right? Is anyone right? Does anyone care? Should we care?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Obama's plans for NASA-- shades of military procurement disasters?

The Space Review has a provacative article this week which compares the Obama "space plan" to the disasters which have befallen the military in the past with their miscellaneous schema for procurement, project oversight etc:

The horror stories contained within remind me strikingly of the similar idiotic procurement nightmares I deal with daily in the pharmaceutical industry. No surprises there; I'm surrounded!

Thoughts on the legitimacy of this comparision/prediction with the Obama plan?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Facebook | Space Medicine Associates

Facebook Space Medicine Associates

Can human spaceflight be justified?

On the 20th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Atlantic Monthly just published a great article in which the following series of questions were posed:

"So in the highly segmented world of NASA, is the Hubble a triumph and justification for human space flight? Or proof that we can be equally thrilled, excited and humbled by our robotic explorations in space...and proof of how much more we can learn from non-human voyages and missions?"

Former NASA astronaut Story Musgrave has an interesting perspective on these questions.

What's your take?

Enabling safe passage to NEOs

On April 15, 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama, in a speech at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, proclaimed that "By 2025, we expect new spacecraft designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first-ever crewed missions beyond the moon into deep space. We'll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history."

A manned mission to a near-earth asteroid is a bold endeavor, and proponents believe that it may represent a more viable deep space target for exploration than a return to the moon. However, the capabilities for sustaining a crew for such a mission are many-fold more complex than caring for astronauts in low earth orbit, which is the bulk of our recent experience with spaceflight.

What issues and hurdles are likely for astronauts to be successfully launched-- and returned!-- from a near-earth asteroid mission? How is crew selection, training and the need for enabling technologies going to evolve to make this all possible? How does a near-earth asteroid mission prepare astronauts for an eventual sojourn to Mars, which President Obama hopes to also see in his lifetime?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Welcome to the Space Medicine Associates' BLOG!

The Mission of Space Medicine Associates is to provide multidisciplinary space medicine and bioastronautics consultation, training and oversight in support of all aspects of off-world travel. Serving both the commercial launch industry and the personal space traveler, SMA endeavors to safely open human spaceflight to as many individuals as possible.

Consistent with this mission, the SMA BLOG will include discourse on a variety of space medicine and bioastronautics topics relevant to the nascent commercial launch industry and the personal space traveler.

SMA founders, advisors and guest experts will be blogging from time-to-time.

The SMA BLOG is intended to open a dialog regarding medical qualifications and safety for commercial spaceflight with the spaceflight-aspiring public.

We look forward to hearing from you as we begin the conversation!