Sending People and Animals into Space

laika

I watched NASA TV all afternoon today. I wanted to see the launch of the new US Space Agency flagship Orion, but unfortunately technical issues led to it being postponed. They will (and I will) try again tomorrow.

Space Difficulties

This is an interesting launch for one major reason, it is the first test flight of a capsule that will carry people, possibly to Mars, but certainly into outer space. The test is going to send it way out beyond the orbiting space station (3600 miles), into an area that is much more inhospitable.

One issue that is different at that kind of distance is radiation. The radiation level is high, high enough to effect machines let alone humans, and so the test will measure how much the engineers have managed to insulate the capsule from this problem. Incidentally this problem is often cited as evidence that the US moon landings were faked, with critics saying that the astronauts would not have survived the radiation levels if they had actually gone there. But that is another post!

Another thing to be tested is its capacity to withstand the temperatures of re-entry in to the atmosphere. You might recall one of the Space Shuttle missions ending in disaster as it burnt up on re-entry due to faulty tiles on the underbelly.

Now I would like to see a rocket launch, but it is a completely different thing to see one with a capsule carrying people attached. I remember the golden days of space travel, when it was only animals that had the chance of orbit. (I don’t really remember them).

Animals or People?

It is after all a dangerous game going into space. This Wikipedia article lists all of the deaths involving space travel, both on the ground and in the air. 19 people have died during space flight, but another 11 have died in training, and if we think that only 533 people have been into space then the fatality rate is high.

So will they send animals in the capsule to test it out again? I doubt it, but alongside the 500 odd people in space we should not forget our animal friend heroes, some of whom gave their lives for this great mission.

Fruitflies, a pest sometimes and national heroes on other days. Fruitflies were after all the first animals sent into space, way back in 1947. In 1949 they sent a resus monkey up called Albert 2, although he died on re-entry. They did have some sensor data however so it ewas not all in vain. They are little remembered though, unlike Laika the dog. Laika was rescued from the streets of Moscow, trained, and sent on a one way mission into space. It is not known how long she lived, the capsule burned up on re-entry, and I am not sure why she was sent, but a heroic end to a flea ridden mut it was in November 1957. There she is in the photo above.

2 dogs did however make it back in one piece after a quick orbit. In 1960 Belka and Strelka made it back home, and I am sure received the welcome they deserved.

Then there was Ham, a chimpanzee. He was trained to interact with the vessel, pulling levers and feeding himself. He became a celebrity upon his return and there is even a documentary film available about his and his friends’ pioneering lives.

If you would like to know more about animals in space (I bet you can’t wait) check out this link.

I am looking forward to a launch tomorrow, with or without animal passengers.

On a final note follow this link to see a photo reportage about abandoned NASA facilities. The places that launched some of these great missions are now in ruins. Makes you think!

Speed in space

One of the many problems with space travel is how we measure speed.

Speed is relative – as this very good Ted video shows.

Speeding Up

One of the problems facing human space travel isn’t travelling fast, it’s getting to that speed. The g-force excreted on the body whilst accelerating poses major health issues. So even thought we may be able to invent ways of travelling faster, unless we can control the g-force, its pointless going faster, as if we get to a fast speed too quick (accelerate too fast) the people travelling at that speed will die.

If you are driving a fast car and you very quickly put it into a lower gear and put the accelerator to the floor, you feel yourself fly into the back of your seat. If you are travelling at 60mph your body feels fine, as it does at 0mph, however in the few seconds it takes to get you there, you are subject to huge g-force’s.

Travelling from 0-60mph in 30 seconds puts the body under a lot less stress than if you do it in 3 seconds. It’s the same with space travel, the body can cope with moving reasonably quickly, however it cannot cope with getting there too fast.

F1 Example

Raikkonen F1 Crash British GP

Kimi Raikkonen’s 47G crash at Silverstone 2014

Those who enjoy F1 may remember Kimi Raikkonen’s horrific 150mph crash at Silverstone this year. For a matter of seconds the Fin had 47 Gs of force excreted upon him. For an F1 driver, 150mph is not an unusual speed, however spinning at that speed and coming to a sudden stop caused the dramatic force that Raikkonen endured. Had Raikkonen been spinning with 47 Gs of force for over a minute, the likelihood is he would have died, however because it was only for a short period of time, he was able to race again two weeks later, having sustained no lasting injuries.

Unlike us, robots can be built to sustain such forces, which is one of the reasons why missions like Rosetta and Voyager can see probes sent huge distances in (relatively) small periods of time.

Lets hope in the near future someone discovers a way to keep g-forces at bay, to enable us to travel further into space, faster!

The ISS

The International Space Station is amazing. Humanity has a permanently manned space station.

You may think I’m saying that in every article of this series, and I probably am. But that’s because space and our accomplishments are quite frankly brilliant!

Mir

The International Space Station (or ISS) is not the first manned space station. The Russian space station Mir is widely considered the first successful long-term space station. Before the launch of the ISS, Mir was the largest satellite in orbit, and until 2010 when its record was surpassed by the ISS, Mir housed the longest continuous human presence in space; an impressive 10 years.

The Russians were leaders in space station technology, and without their expertise, I would argue the ISS would not be here today.

A Joint Venture

The International Space StationThe ISS is a joint space venture between Russia, the United States, the European Space Agency (the people who put Philae on a comet) Japan, Canada and Brazil.

The station was initially launched in in 1998 and has been continually manned since November 2000. Currently the station’s future is confirmed until 2020. It’s long-term future is to be determined by the relations between its key partners, the US and Russia.

The ISS is constantly being improved and upgraded, and is still being built. Amongst their most recent upgrades, includes the installation of a 3D printer. All the add-ons and upgrades are making the station heavier and heavier, and it now weighs more than 400 tonnes! But don’t worry, it isn’t going to fall from the sky any time soon.

The ISS can be seen from Earth, and if you have a pretty jazzy telescope, then you can view it in pretty remarkable detail. If you want to give it a go, check out NASA’s ISS spotters guide.

ISS as seen from Earth

The ISS as photographed through a telescope on Earth.

You can also track the ISS, and see exactly where above the Earth it is in real time. Check out this site which has a live view of what part of the planet the station is over. You may be surprised just how quickly it is moving!

Next Week

After the Thursday post last week and yesterdays site issues, I’m hoping that next Monday’s post will go without a hitch! See you then.

…and we have touchdown!

This week I was going to write about Black Holes, however with history being made yesterday afternoon, how could I not write about the Rosetta mission?

Jonny gave some background to the Rosetta mission a few weeks ago, so now that Philae (the probe) has landed, it’s time for an update!

Philae Has Landed

At 16:05 GMT yesterday afternoon, Philae successfully landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It wasn’t a perfect landing, as when Philae first touched down, it is thought that the harpoons did not fire, and as such, it bounced off potentially up to a kilometer high, before landing again. The European Space Agency belive that it first landed at 15:33 and then it landed again at 17:26. It is thought that the second landing wasn’t a success either, but after another short bounce it is believed that at 17:33 Philae finally landed properly. With so little gravity, it is very fortunate that after one unsuccessful landing Philae didn’t sustain major damage, or wasn’t thrown off into space.

Whilst scientists aren’t sure if Philae is properly secured, they do know that it is functioning as it has already sent communication including pictures, back to Earth.

Delay

Sunlight takes 8 minutes and 19 seconds to reach Earth. The signal confirming that Philae had landed took 28 minutes from leaving Rosetta to reach Earth, showing just how far away it is. The comet Rosetta has been tracking takes 6 years to orbit the Sun and is currently around 450 million kilometers from the Sun. To put that into perspective, Earth is around 150 million kilometers from the Sun.

Singing

A sound clip from Rosetta has also been sent back to Earth. Want to know what life on a comet sounds like? Check out the clip below.

The sound is going viral, as millions of people on social media speculate as to what it is. It is the lonely sound of space, or could it be aliens crying out?

More?

If you are interested in finding out more about the landing itself, take a look at this handy BBC guide. You can also follow Philae and Rosetta on Twitter. For more information on anything Rosetta, head over to the European Space Agency’s dedicated site.

Naturally, keep a close watch on social media today, for more exciting developments.