Saturday, November 10, 2007

US teacher gives first lesson from space

The first teacher in space has taught her first lesson in zero-gravity, answering questions from school children in Idaho from an orbiting station hundreds of miles above Earth.

Barbara Morgan, flanked by crewmates Alvin Drew and Dave Williams, talked for 25 minutes to children at the Discovery Center in Boise, Idaho, the north-western state where Morgan taught at a primary school early in her career.

"Astronauts and teachers actually do the same thing. We explore, we discover and we share," she told the class via videolink. "Those are absolutely wonderful jobs."

Mrs Morgan, now 55, trained as understudy to fellow teacher Christa McAuliffe in the 1980s, as NASA hoped that sending a teacher into space would fire the imaginations of millions and keep up support for its shuttle program.

But McAuliffe never made it to space. The Challenger shuttle exploded shortly after take-off in 1986, killing all seven people on board.

Twenty-two years later, Mrs Morgan has fulfilled the aim, riding aboard the shuttle Endeavour on a construction mission to the International Space Station.

In a session broadcast to Earth by the space agency NASA, she fielded questions such as how fast a baseball travels in space, and how to drink in zero-gravity.

She and her fellow astronauts demonstrated, throwing real balls and swallowing floating bubbles of liquid.

Asked how astronauts exercise in space, Mrs Morgan grabbed one of her colleagues and lifted him.

Mrs Morgan returned to teaching after the Challenger disaster, but in the 1990s started six years of training in the astronaut corps.

She is the star of this year's second shuttle mission to the International Space Station.

NASA is seeking to burnish an image tainted by recent scandals including stories that astronauts had shown up for missions drunk, and a bizarre love-triangle vendetta involving a female astronaut and her married colleague.


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

10/24/06: Christer Fuglesang of Space Shuttle Mission STS-116.

Landing Site: Kennedy e Center map, December 22, Main gear touchdown: 5:32:00 p.m. EST; Nose gear touchdown: 5:32:12 p.m. EST; Wheels stop: 5:32:52 p.m. EST; Total miles: 5.3 million

Inclination/Altitude: 51.6 degrees/122 nautical miles

Primary Payload: Twentieth station flight (12A.1), EHAB, P5

Crew: Polansky, Oefelein, Curbeam, Higginbotham, Patrick, Fuglesang, Williams (up), Reiter (down)

Video, Mpeg

With NASA's launch of e Shuttle Discovery on flight STS-116 scheduled for the night of Thursday 7 to Friday 8 December at 01:38 GMT (02:38 CET) at the earliest, ESA astronaut Christer Fuglesang of Sweden is set to become the first citizen of a Nordic country to fly to the International e Station.

Fuglesang is currently undergoing intensive training at NASA's Johnson e Center in Houston to prepare for the mission.

In 1992 Christer Fuglesang was chosen as a crew member of the STS-116 e Shuttle mission to the International e Station, which is now scheduled for launch in December 2006.

Fuglesang started training at Star City cosmonaut training centre near Moscow, Russia, in 1993. It was here he first met fellow ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter, whom he will bring back from the ISS in December. At Star City he learned how to operate the Soyuz ecraft, but the toughest part of the training was to learn the Russian language.

Astronaut Christer Fuglesang, mission specialist representing the European e Agency (ESA); Image credit: NASA

: At EHAB in Cape Canaveral, Fla., the STS-116 crew takes a break from equipment familiarization to pose for a group photo. From bottom to top are Pilot William Oefelein, Mission Specialists Joan Higginbotham, Nicholas Patrick, Robert Curbeam, Christer Fuglesang and Sunita Williams, and Commander Mark Polansky. The Swedish Fuglesang represents the European e Agency. Mission crews make frequent trips to the e Coast to become familiar with the equipment and payloads they will be using. STS-116 will be mission number 20 to the International e Station and construction flight 12A.1. The mission payload is the EHAB module, the P5 integrated truss structure and other key components. Launch is scheduled for no earlier than Dec. 7. Photo credit: NASA/George Shelton; caption: NASA

Flight STS-116 is a very demanding undertaking and begins a series of complex missions scheduled to complete the construction of the e Station. Two days after launch, Discovery will dock with the ISS and the seven Shuttle crew members will ingress into the Station. They will be welcomed by the three resident astronauts from the Expedition 14 crew, which includes ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter of Germany, who has been onboard since July.

The mission's main objectives are to attach the P5 connector element of the integrated truss structure to the Station and to connect the power from two large electricity-generating solar array panels already onboard since September. The solar array panels will provide a permanent supply of electricity for the ISS, which has been running on a temporary electrical power system since it went into orbit in 1998.

During the twelve-day mission, Christer Fuglesang and his NASA counterpart Robert Curbeam will carry out two extra-vehicular activities (EVAs or ewalks). During the first, the P5 truss structure will be installed. The main task during the second EVA is to rewire the power system for one half of the Station. The other half of the power system will be rewired during the third EVA, carried out by Robert Curbeam and Sunita Williams. The astronauts will head outside the ISS in their EVA suits and wait for mission control to switch off the ISS power. Once permission has been granted, they will unplug existing cables and plug them into new locations along the ISS.

Christer Fuglesang's mission is called 'Celsius' after Anders Celsius, the inventor of the thermometer. The famous Swedish astronomer had a deep impact on the daily lives of his contemporaries in the 18th Century, just as e exploration is changing the lives of all of us today.

After completing his twelve-day mission, Christer Fuglesang will return to Earth accompanied by Thomas Reiter, who will by then have completed his six-month Astrolab mission onboard the Station.

The Shuttle landing is scheduled for no earlier than 18 December at around 22:04 GMT (23:04 CET) at the Kennedy e Center.


Sunday, November 4, 2007

Final Stretch

Her energy comes in fitful bursts, and then she's wiped out for long stretches. Sleeping is erratic, and she's just plan sick of the whole thing now.

Yesterday I stopped by for a brief visit and she admitted, "I'm not doing this again." I'm not quite sure what to make of that yet, but I respect it. She called on my way over and asked me to bring her a grilled chicken sandwich and tater tots from Sonic for dinner.

It looked nasty. (The curbside service was remarkably good for around here, I might throw in - better than some of Columbus' nicer restaurants.) Mom couldn't really taste it, and I don't think she even wanted it. But she didn't want to cook, she didn't want me to cook, and making strange requests of people willing to do anything for her is one of her only control valves right now.

I mean, what can you do when you have cancer? Nothing. Have the radical procedure, take the follow-up treatments, feel like shit for a couple of months or years and hope the whole thing takes is about the sum of it.

So, she's taken to controlling things she can do, and even that is pretty innocuous stuff. About four weeks ago, between treatments, she woke up one Saturday and decided she wanted a home theater system with a 41" HD television. Done. She can now watch Meerkat Manor in full high-definition digital, which admittedly is pretty cool.

She also has fixated on other things, like this extremely minor dental procedure I needed to have for years but kept putting off. She fairly insisted I have this done in recent weeks, and she constantly asks me about my progress. (I had a labial frenectomy, by the way. And for those who follow such things, yes, the alignment has improved.)

There are other things: Insisting on a special brand of toothpaste that can only be found at one store in Columbus. Other fetch it requests for tater tots, watermelon, loose-fitting clothing. Lots of questions about the playlists that Matthew and I created for her iPod Nano.


Friday, November 2, 2007

Mind the gap: Space scientists uncover causes of gap in Van Allen belts

A team of British and US scientists have discovered that the gap in the Van Allen radiation belts is formed by natural wave turbulence in space, not by lightning. The discovery settles years of controversy among space scientists about the mechanisms responsible for causing the gap and has important implications for space weather forecasting.

High above the Earth's atmosphere, energetic charged particles are trapped in the Earth's magnetic field where they form the Van Allen radiation belts. Energetic electrons, travelling close to the speed of light, occupy two doughnut shaped zones, usually separated by a gap known as the slot region.

The underlying mechanism that clears the slot region of electrons has been the subject of intense scientific debate. Now, based on analysis of wave data collected over 13 months by the CRRES satellite, Dr Nigel Meredith of British Antarctic Survey and colleagues from BAS, the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Iowa, believe that the gap is most likely formed by natural wave turbulence in space, rather than by lightning as the alternative theory suggests. Their results are published in the Journal of Geophysical Research this week.

According to lead author, Dr Nigel Meredith:

"Last year NASA scientists suggested that lightning-generated radio waves leaking out into space are responsible for the gap between the two belts by dumping particles into the atmosphere. Since lightning occurs far more often over land than water, waves in space should also occur more over land. However, after analysing satellite data we found that there is no land-ocean variation at frequencies less than 1 kiloHertz where the waves are most intense.