Astronaut’s Mission Is To Snatch A Dragon Without Crashing The Canadarm

When there’s a Dragon spacecraft coming your way at the International Space Station, you’d better be ready to grapple it with a robotic arm. For if there’s a crash, you will face “a very bad day”, as astronaut David Saint-Jacques points out in this new video (also embedded below the jump).

That’s why the Canadian (along with European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen) was doing robotics training this month at the Canadian Space Agency headquarters near Montreal. The most terrifying thing for astronauts must be the limited view as they do delicate maneuvers with the multi-million dollar Canadarm2.

“All you’ve got, really, while you’re working, is this workstation,” Saint-Jacques said. “You’ve got a couple of camera views to work from. You’ve got your hand controllers to move the arm, and you’ve got some computer displays, and a bunch of switches here on the left.”

“That’s all you’ve got,” he added. “You’ve really got to think ahead: how you’re going to maneuver this arm without crashing into anything.”

The video is the latest in a training series by Mogensen, who will go to the International Space Station in 2015. Saint-Jacques — a fellow 2009 astronaut class selectee — has not been assigned to a flight yet (at least publicly).

The first Canadarm, which cost about $100 million in late 1970s dollars, flew on the second shuttle flight in 1981. Canadarm2 was constructed for space station construction in the 2000s, and is still used today for spacewalks.

Berthing spacecraft is reportedly not what it was originally designed for, but the robotic arm has proved an able tool to pick up the Dragon spacecraft and other visitors to the station.

Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques at the simulator used to train astronauts on Canadarm2, a robotic arm used on the International Space Station. The facility is located at the Canadian Space Agency near Montreal, Canada. Credit: Andreas Mogensen/YouTube (screenshot)
Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques at the simulator used to train astronauts on Canadarm2, a robotic arm used on the International Space Station. The facility is located at the Canadian Space Agency near Montreal, Canada. Credit: Andreas Mogensen/YouTube (screenshot)

Got Back Pain? This Suit Could Counteract Spine Problems In Space (And On Earth)

If you’ve ever felt insecure about your height, orbit is a great place to be. Astronaut spines lengthen up to 2.75 inches (7 centimeters) while they’re in microgravity. There are big downsides, however. First there’s the backache. Second, you’re four times as likely to get a slipped disc when you return to Earth.

The solution could be as simple as tight clothing. Above you can see French astronaut Thomas Pesquet (already flying high this week after he was publicly named to a flight in 2016) trying out a prototype of the skinsuit. Essentially, it’s so tight that it could prevent you from growing, which in turn would stop the pain and risk of damage.

“The skinsuit is a tailor-made overall with a bi-directional weave specially designed to counteract the lack of gravity by squeezing the body from the shoulders to the feet with a similar force to that felt on Earth. Current prototypes are made of spandex, although new materials are being examined,” the European Space Agency wrote.

A model poses in the "skinsuit", a tight-fitting garment being tested to counteract back pain in space. Credit: ESA
A model poses in the “skinsuit”, a tight-fitting garment being tested to counteract back pain in space. Credit: ESA

The first astronaut to test the suit out in space will be Andreas Mogensen, who will launch to the International Space Station next year.

ESA says if it works, the suit would not only be useful for astronauts, but also could be great for people with back pain on Earth — and possibly, even those with conditions such as cerebral palsy.

Prototypes are being developed between ESA’s Space Medicine Office, King’s College London (United Kingdom), University College London (United Kingdom) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (United States).

Source: European Space Agency (1 and 2)

How Astronauts Could Survive In The Cold After A Soyuz Landing

If your spaceship comes back in rural Kazakhstan, and it’s blowing snow, and rescue forces can’t get there right away, how would you survive the cold? This winter survival video below shows how cosmonauts and astronauts would leave the spacecraft and make shelter while waiting for help to arrive.

An even more complicated scenario would arise if the crew member was injured, explain European Space Agency astronauts Andreas Mogensen and Thomas Pesquet, who were reflecting on Mogensen’s survival training in January in the video.

The video shows crew members creating a makeshift brace for a broken arm, which would be painful — but would not necessarily inhibit walking. If it was a broken leg, other crew members would need to carry the injured person — slowing down the march if they needed to move to another location.

For more information on the rigors of winter survival training, check out this 2004 blog post from NASA astronaut Clay Anderson.

)

At ‘Star City’, This Is How Astronauts Learn About Soyuz Spacecraft

While the world is having a good time watching Olympic sports in Sochi, about a day’s drive north in Russia there are a bunch of astronauts using their evenings for a different purpose: reading an 18-inch high stack of Soyuz spacecraft textbooks.

“So let’s study all this real quick, let’s learn everything, we’ll learn everything we have to learn, and then let’s go to sim[ulation],” says European astronaut Thomas Pesquet in a new video from living quarters in training facility Star City, near Moscow.

“Okay, but I think it takes about a year,” answers fellow European astronaut Andreas Mogensen.

“Oh … so we better get started,” Pesquet says, handing gobs of books to his colleague.

Mogensen has his hands full in other ways as well as he shows us around Star City: there’s a new baby in his family, as you see at the beginning. We doubt he’s getting a lot of sleep right now, but this will certainly be a memorable time as he prepares to be the first Dane in space in 2015.

For more information on the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center at Star City, check out this link.

Astronaut Does A ‘Moon’ Walk In The Sea. Better Yet, It’s Just One Of Many Recent Underwater Missions

The black-and-white tones of this photo evoke a famous Moon walk of 1969, but in reality it was taken in Mediterranean waters just a few days ago.

For the “Apollo 11 Under The Sea” project, European Space Agency astronaut Jean-François Clervoy (pictured above) and ESA astronaut instructor Hervé Stevenin took on the roles of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first two men to walk on the moon during Apollo 11.

A major goal was to test the Comex-designed Gandolfi spacewalk training suit (based on the Russian Orlan spacesuits) during the sojourn. The mission was considered the first step (literally and figuratively) to figuring out how Europeans can train their astronauts for possible Moon, asteroid and Mars missions in the decades to come.

“The Gandolfi suit is bulky, has limited motion freedom, and requires some physical effort – just like actual space suits. I really felt like I was working and walking on the Moon,” Clervoy stated.

Even the photos come pretty darn close to the real thing. Compare this picture of Apollo 12 commander Pete Conrad during his Moon walk in 1969:

Apollo 12 commander Pete Conrad on the moon in 1969. The glow is due to the sun being at a low angle, NASA says. Credit: NASA
Apollo 12 commander Pete Conrad on the moon in 1969. The glow is due to the sun being at a low angle, NASA says. Credit: NASA

Water is considered a useful training tool for spacewalk simulations. NASA in fact has a ginormous pool called the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. Inside are duplicate International Space Station modules. Astronauts are fitted with weights and flotation devices to make them “float” similarly to how they would during spacewalks.

With trained divers hovering nearby, the astronauts practice the procedures they’ll need so that it’s second nature by the time they get into orbit. (NASA astronaut Mike Massimino once told Universe Today that one thing he wasn’t prepared for was how spectacular the view was during his spacewalk. Guess it beats the walls of a pool.)

The first tests for the Apollo 11 underwater simulations began at a pool run by Comex, a deep diving specialist in France, before the big show took place in the Mediterranean Sea off Marseille on Sept. 4. The crew members used tools similar to the Apollo 11 astronauts to pick up soil samples from the ground.

ESA astronaut Jean-François Clervoy collecting a rock sample underwater off the coast of Marseille, France. He was simulating the Apollo 11 mission underwater  to prepare for future missions to the Moon, Mars or an asteroid. Credit: Alexis Rosenfeld
ESA astronaut Jean-François Clervoy collecting a rock sample underwater off the coast of Marseille, France. He was simulating the Apollo 11 mission underwater to prepare for future missions to the Moon, Mars or an asteroid. Credit: Alexis Rosenfeld

“Comex will make me relive the underwater operations of [Neil] Armstrong on the moon, but with an ESA-Comex scuba suit and European flag,” Clervoy wrote in French on Twitter on June 4, several weeks ahead of the mission.

And ESA promises there is more to come: “Further development for planetary surface simulations in Europe will be co-financed by the EU [European Union] as part of the Moonwalk project,” the agency wrote.

Clervoy isn’t the only European astronaut working in water these days. Starting Tuesday (Sept. 9), Andreas Mogensen and Thomas Pesquet joined an underwater lab as part of a five-person crew. Called Space Environment Analog for Testing EVA Systems and Training (SEATEST), it also includes NASA astronauts Joe Acaba and Kate Rubins, as well as Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi underwater during the September 2013 SEATEST mission in the Atlantic Ocean about seven miles from Key Largo, Fla. Credit: Soichi Noguchi (Twitter)
JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi underwater during the September 2013 SEATEST mission in the Atlantic Ocean about seven miles from Key Largo, Fla. Credit: Soichi Noguchi (Twitter)

“The crew will spend five days in Florida International University’s Aquarius Reef Base undersea research habitat, conducting proof-of-concept engineering demonstrations and refining techniques in team communication. Additional test objectives will look at just-in-time training applications and spacewalking tool designs,” NASA stated on Sept. 6.

“We made it to Aquarius n [sic] did our first “spacewalk” today. From the ocean floor to space: Aquanaut to Astronaut. It is quite the adventure,” Acaba wrote on Twitter on Sept. 10. He walked twice in space on shuttle mission STS-119 in March 2009.

You can follow the livestream here (it runs intermittently until Sept. 17).

And a few days ago, ESA astronauts Alexander Gerst and Reid Wiseman, both bound for the station in 2014, were doing underwater training in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. “Worked with @astro_reid in the pool today, and guess who we met?”, Gerst said on Twitter Sept. 5 while posting this picture below.

"Worked with @astro_reid [ESA astronaut Reid Wiseman] in the pool today, and guess who we met?" joked ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst on Twitter on Sept. 5, 2013. Presumably the joke referred to the protagonist in WALL-E, a 2008 Pixar-animated film that features space exploration. Credit: Alexander Gerst/Twitter
“Worked with @astro_reid [ESA astronaut Reid Wiseman] in the pool today, and guess who we met?” joked ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst on Twitter on Sept. 5, 2013. Presumably the joke referred to the protagonist in WALL-E, a 2008 Pixar-animated film that features space exploration. Credit: Alexander Gerst/Twitter