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.

A lunar base

You may be wondering whether we have the ability to have a permanent base on the Moon. In the late 1960s and early 70s twelve men set foot on the Moon. Nobody has set foot on the Moon since… but why?

The answer is quite unfortunate really. People got bored.

In the 60s the Soviet Union and the United States – arguably the two most powerful nations at the time – were racing to the Moon. Russia won the race to send a man into space – and return him safely. Russia also won the race to construct a space station. America however won the all important race to the Moon.

For a space explorer looking up into the night sky in the 50s and 60s, the goal was always to get to the Moon. So what happened when America got there? The space race lost public support. People started questioning why there was a need to go into space, why money wasn’t being (better) spent elsewhere. The US had shown that it could get to the Moon, and it could get there first, so why carry on?

Today

As the recent crash of the Virgin Galactic test flight and the ISS destined rocket which exploded show, going into space can still be dangerous. That said however with today’s technology we are more than capable of travelling into space reasonably safely.

It is thought that the Moon has a lot of water buried within its surface. Water is a critical element required by us to live. Water can also be used to make rocket fuel. Rocket fuel uses hydrogen and oxygen – the key components of water.

Rockets on Earth need huge amounts of fuel to escape the reaches of Earth’s gravity. The Moon is significantly lighter than Earth, and therefore rockets would need much less fuel to take off. This makes flights into space (to Mars for example) much more viable, if they take off from the Moon.

A manufacturing plant on the MoonNow, you may be thinking that we would need to get the rockets to the Moon in the first place, so why waste time relaunching them from the Moon? Well maybe we wouldn’t. The Moon has many of the resources we would need to build rockets. We would be able to create manufacturing bases on the Moon, with very little supplies from Earth. Progress would only be accelerated by the use of our new friend (or foe?) 3D printers.

All electrical power could be provided by solar panels – which we could build on the Moon. Lunar sun is very predictable, and with no atmosphere, the energy we could generate would be much greater than here on Earth.

Moon Base

A permanently manned Moon base is not a new idea. The US has had many plans over time to create a Moon base – originally for military reasons, however now for other reasons like energy and space travel. Japan, Russia and India are also currently all exploring the concept of establishing a base on the Moon within the next few decades.

What a Moon base could look like

The Moon could be a great service station for rockets. Missions into outer space could use the Moon as a pit stop to pick up supplies and refuel, before going on their way.

The Moon’s potential for solar energy could also be another interesting use for a Moon base. If we could cover vast areas of the Moon in solar panels and then transmit the energy back to Earth, we would be able to solve the global energy crisis. Naturally you would have to somehow persuade fossil fuel companies that it is a good idea first – and considering the power and influence they have, this could be difficult.

We currently have the technology and capabilities to create a permanent lunar base, now all we need is the enthusiasm and funding to make it happen.