Chris Hadfield Drives in the Desert With a new Lunar Rover Prototype

The FLEX (Flexible Logistics & Exploration) rover. Credit: Astrolab.

As the Apollo astronauts found out, mobility is everything. Apollo’s Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) – sometimes called the Lunar Rover or Moon Buggy – completely changed how the astronauts could explore the lunar surface.

Harrison Schmitt of Apollo 17 said, “Without it, the major scientific discoveries of Apollo 15, 16, and 17 would not have been possible, and our current understanding of lunar evolution would not have been possible.”

Continue reading “Chris Hadfield Drives in the Desert With a new Lunar Rover Prototype”

Richard Branson and Friends Reach the Edge of Space, and Lived to Tell About it!

Early this morning, Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic achieved a major milestone in the development of commercial space travel. Along with a team of specialists, Branson traveled to the edge of space aboard the VSS Unity and made it safely back to Earth. In so doing, Branson and his company have also fired the latest salvo in the ongoing race between the titans of the commercial space industry (aka. NewSpace).

Continue reading “Richard Branson and Friends Reach the Edge of Space, and Lived to Tell About it!”

Cool Photo of Canadarm2 With its Dextre Hand. Oh and the Earth. That’s Nice Too.

The Canadarm 2 with the robotic hand Dextre attached riding shotgun on the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA

Check out this image of the Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA) Canadarm2 on the International Space Station. The CSA’s Dextre is attached to one end of the arm. The Canadarm2 played a vital role in assembling the ISS, while Dextre helps maintain the ISS, freeing astronauts from routine yet dangerous spacewalks, and allowing them to focus on science.

Continue reading “Cool Photo of Canadarm2 With its Dextre Hand. Oh and the Earth. That’s Nice Too.”

Settle the Moon Before Mars, Says Astronaut Chris Hadfield

Chris Hadfield recently explained how humanity should create a Moon base before attempting to colonize Mars. Credit: Foster + Partners is part of a consortium set up by the European Space Agency to explore the possibilities of 3D printing to construct lunar habitations. Credit: ESA/Foster + Partners

In the coming decades, NASA has some rather bold plans for space exploration. By the 2030s, they hope to mount their “Journey to Mars“. a crewed mission that will see astronauts traveling beyond Earth for the first time since the Apollo era. At the same time, private companies and organizations like SpaceX and MarsOne are hoping to start colonizing Mars within a decade or so.

According to Chris Hadfield, these mission concepts are all fine and good. But as he explained in a recent interview, our efforts should be focused on renewed exploration of the Moon and the creation of a lunar settlement before we do the same for Mars. In this respect, he is joined by organizations like the European Space Agency (ESA), Roscosmos, the Chinese National Space Agency (CNSA), and others.

When it comes to establishing a base on the Moon, the benefits are rather significant. For starters, a lunar outpost could serve as a permanent research base for teams of astronauts. In the same respect, it would present opportunities for scientific collaboration between space agencies and private companies – much in the same way the International Space Station does today.

On top of that, a lunar outpost could serve as a refueling station, facilitating missions deeper into the Solar System. According to estimates prepared by NexGen Space LLC (a consultant company for NASA), such a base could cut the cost of any future Mars missions by about $10 billion a year. Last, but not least, it would leverage key technologies that have been developed in recent years, from reusable rockets to additive manufacturing (aka. 3D printing).

And as Chris Hadfield stated in an interview with New Scientist, there are also a number of practical reasons for back to the Moon before going to Mars – ranging from distance to the development of “space expertise”. For those interested in science and space exploration, Chris Hadfield has become a household name in recent years. Before becoming an astronaut, he was a pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and flew missions for NORAD.

After joining the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) in 1992, he participated in two space missions – STS-74 and STS-100 in 1995 and 2001, respectively – as a Mission Specialist. These missions involved rendezvousing with the Russian space station Mir and the ISS. However, his greatest accomplishment occurred in 2012, when he became the first Canadian astronaut to command an ISS mission – Expedition 35.

During the course of this 148-day mission, Hadfield attracted significant media exposure due to his extensive use of social media to promote space exploration. In fact, Forbes described Hadfield as “perhaps the most social media savvy astronaut ever to leave Earth”. His promotional activities included a collaboration with Ed Robertson of The Barenaked Ladies and the Wexford Gleeks, singing “Is Somebody Singing? (I.S.S.) via Skype.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to serve as commander of the ISS. Credit: CTV

The broadcast of this event was a major media sensation, as was his rendition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity“, which he sung shortly before departing the station in May 2013. Since retiring from the Canadian Space Agency, Hadfield has become a science communicator and advocate for space exploration. And when it comes to the future, he was quite direct in his appraisal that the we need to look to the Moon first.

According to Hadfield, one of the greatest reasons for establishing a base on the Moon has to do with its proximity and the fact that humans have made this trip before. As he stated:

“With long-haul space exploration there is a whole smorgasbord of unknowns. We know some of the threats: the unreliability of the equipment, how to provide enough food for that length of time. But there are countless others: What are the impacts of cosmic rays on the human body? What sort of spacecraft do you need to build? What are the psychological effects of having nothing in the window for months and months? And going to a place that no one has ever been before, that can’t be discounted.”

In that, he certainly has a point. At their closest – i.e. when it is at “opposition with the Sun”, which occurs approximately every two years – Mars and Earth are still very far from each othre. In fact, the latest closest-approach occurred in 2003, when the two planets were roughly 56 million km (33.9 million miles) apart. This past July, the planets were again at opposition, where they were about 57.6 million km (35.8 million miles) apart.

Using conventional methods, it would take a mission between 150 and 300 days to get from the Earth to Mars. Whereas a more fuel-efficient approach (like ion engines) would cost less but take much longer, a more rapid method like chemical rockets would could cost far more. Even with Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) or the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) concept, the journey could still take 5 to 7 months.

During this time, astronauts would not only be subjected to a great deal of cosmic radiation, they would have to contend with the affects of microgravity. As studies that have been conducted aboard the ISS that have shown, long-term exposure to a microgravity environment can lead to losses in bone density, muscular atrophy, diminished eyesight, and organ damage.

Recent studies have also shown that exposure to radiation while on the surface of Mars would be quite significant. During its journey to Mars, the Curiosity rover recorded that it was subjected to average dose of 1.8 millisieverts (mSv) per day from inside its spaceship – the Mars Science Laboratory. During its first three hundred days on the surface, it was exposed to about 0.67 millisieverts (mSv) per day.

This is about half and one-fifth (respectively) of what people are exposed to during an average here on Earth. While this falls outside of NASA’s official guidelines, it is still within the guidelines of other space agencies. But to make matter worse, a new study from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, concluded that exposure to cosmic rays could cause cell damage that would spread to other cells in the body, effectively doubling the risk of cancer.

The risks of going to the Moon, in contrast, are easy to predict. Thanks to the Apollo missions, we know that it takes between two and three days to travel from the Earth to the Moon. The Apollo 11 mission, for example, launched from the Cape Kennedy on July 16th, 1969, and arrived in lunar orbit by July 19th, 1969 – spending a total of 51 hours and 49 minutes in space. Astronauts conducting this type of mission would therefore be subject to far less radiation.

Artist’s impression of a lunar base created with 3-d printing techniques. Credits: ESA/Foster + Partners

Granted, the surface of the Moon is still exposed to significant amounts of radiation since the Moon has no atmosphere to speak of. But NASA estimates that walls which are 2.5 meters in thickness (and made from lunar regolith) will provide all the necessary shielding to keep astronauts or colonists safe. Another good reason to go to the Moon first, according to Hadfield, is because expertise in off-world living is lacking.

“There are six people living on the International Space Station, and we have had people there continuously for nearly 17 years,” he said. “But the reality is we have not yet figured out how to live permanently off-planet. So I think if we follow the historically driven pattern then the moon would be first. Not just to reaffirm that we can get there, but to show that we can also live there.”

But perhaps the best reason to settle the Moon before moving onto Mars has to do with the fact that exploration has always been about taking the next step, and then the next. One cannot simply leap from one location to the next, and expect successful results. What are required is baby-steps. And in time, sufficient traction can be obtained and the process will build up speed, enabling steps that are greater and more far-reaching. Or as Hadfield put it:

“For tens of thousands of years humans have followed a pattern on Earth: imagination, to technology-enabled exploration, to settlement. It’s how the first humans got to Australia 50,000 or 60,000 years ago, and how we went from Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepherd orbiting Earth to the first people putting footprints on the moon, to people living in orbit.

Based on this progression, one can therefore see why Hadfield and others beleive that the next logical step is to return to the Moon. And once we establish a foothold there, we can then use it to launch long-range missions to Mars, Venus, and beyond. Incremental steps that eventually add up to human beings setting foot on every planet, moon, and larger body in the Solar System.

On the subject of lunar colonization, be sure to check out our series on Building a Moon Base, by Universe Today’s own Ian O’Neill.

Further Reading: New Scientist

Ride Shotgun Through the Solar System with Chris Hadfield

A scene from 'Miniverse' where Chris Hadfield travels the solar system with a Tesla. Credit: CuriosityStream.

It sounds like a space nerd’s dream come true: riding in a Tesla with former astronaut Chris Hadfield, doing a science version of Carpool Karaoke. And to top it off, you’re driving through the Solar System.

A new film out called “Miniverse” via CuriosityStream takes you on a ride through a scaled-down version of our Solar System. It’s similar to other scaled solar system models — which make the huge distances in our cosmic neighborhood a little less abstract — like the Voyage Scale Model Solar System in Washington, DC, the Sagan Planet Walk in Ithaca, New York or the Delmar Loop Planet Walk in St. Louis, Missouri.

But this is bigger. In the Miniverse, various points across the continental United States indicate scaled distances between the planets.

Here’s the trailer:

The first leg of the trip takes viewers on a journey from the Sun all the way to Mars. In the scaled down solar system, that’s only the distance from Long Island to the other side of New York City. In the sky, Mars appears over the Freedom Tower in New York, and Jupiter towers above the Lincoln Memorial.

Then later, as distances between planets stretch out, the gas giants and ice giants spread across the mid-section of the US. Even our friend Pluto appears over the Pacific Ocean off the West Coast of California.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield and astronomer Laura Danly view Pluto from Santa Monica, California, in a scene from ‘Miniverse’. Credit: CuriosityStream.

Your traveling companions are pretty awesome.

Behind the wheel for the entire adventure is the funny and engaging Chris Hadfield. He’s joined by a distinguished band of interstellar hitchhikers: famed theoretical physicist Dr. Michio Kaku, as well as Derrick Pitts, Chief Astronomer at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, and Dr. Laura Danly, Curator of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. Along the way, Hadfield poses questions to his guests about the various bodies in our solar system.

“The big takeaway is just how vast the distances are in the solar system,” Danly told Universe Today via email. “Every time we look at a drawing of our solar system it reinforces the wrong image in our minds. In reality, the planets are small and the distances are vast. Anyone who has driven cross-country knows that those miles get very long, day after day. So Miniverse provides a visceral feeling to just how great those distances are.”

A GPS-like view of the first leg of the trip through the Miniverse. Credit: CuriosityStream.

If you already have a CuriosityStream account, you can watch the film here. If you don’t, you can take advantage of a 30-day free trial in order to watch Miniverse, and all the other great science offerings available, such as Stephen Hawking’s Universe, Brian Cox’s Wonders of Life, and other topics from astronomy observing tips to info about various missions to theoretical physics. Check it out. If you’re interested in continuing after your free trial, the ad-free streaming service costs $2.99, $5.99 and $11.99 per month for standard definition, high definition, and ultra high definition 4K respectively.

We suggested to the CuriosityStream folks of putting physical markers along this path across the US, which would really make a great cross country road trip. Come along for the ride!

Who Are The Most Famous Astronauts?

Apollo 11 Crew Photo. Credit: NASA

There have been many astronauts who have made tremendous contributions to our knowledge of space. But asking “who is the most famous?” is somewhat tricky. For one, its a bit subjective. And second, it can be hard to objectively measure just how important and individuals contributions really are. Surely, all astronauts are deserving of recognition and respect for their bravery and contributions to the pursuit of knowledge.

Nevertheless, in the course of human space exploration, some names do stand out more than others. And some have made such immense contributions that their names will live on long after we too have passed away. So without further ado, here are just a few of the most famous astronauts, along with a list of their accomplishments.

Yuri Gagarin:

As the first man to ever go into space, no list of famous astronauts would be complete without Yuri Gagarin. Born in the village of Klushino in the Smolensk Oblast on March 9th, 1934, Gagarin was drafted into the Soviet Air Force in 1955 and trained in the use of jet fighters. In 1960, he was selected alongside 19 other pilots to join the newly-formed Soviet Space Program.

Yury Gagarin before a space flight aboard the Vostok spacecraft. April 12, 1961 Credit: RIA Novosti
Yuri Gagarin before a space flight aboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft, April 12th, 1961. Credit: RIA Novosti

Gagarin was further selected to become part of the Sochi Six, an elite group of cosmonauts who formed the backbone of the Vostok program. Due to his training, physical size (as the spacecraft were quite cramped), and favor amongst his peers, Gagarin was selected to be the first human cosmonaut (they had already sent dogs) to make the journey.

On April 12th, 1961, Gagarin was launched aboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, and thus became the fist man to go into space. During reentry, Gagarin claimed to have whistled “The Motherland Hears, The Motherland Knows”, and reportedly said, “I don’t see any God up here” when he reached suborbital altitude (which was falsely attributed).

Afterwards, he toured the world and became a celebrity at home, commemorated with stamps, statues, and the renaming of his ancestral village to Gagarin. The 12th of April is also known as “Cosmonauts Day” in Russia and many former Soviet-states in his honor.

Gagarin died during a routine training exercise in March 27th, 1968. The details of his death were not released until June of 2013, when a declassified report indicated that Gagarin’s death was caused by the error of another pilot.

Alan B. Shepard Jr.:

In addition to being an astronaut and one of the Mercury Seven – the first seven pilots selected by NASA to go into space – Shepard was also the first American man to go into space. He was born November 18th, 1923 in Pebble, California and graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree. While in the Navy, Shepard became a fighter pilot and served aboard several aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean.

Alan Shepard prepares for his historic flight on May 5, 1961. Credit: NASA
Alan Shepard prepares for his historic flight on May 5, 1961. Credit: NASA

In 1959, he was selected as one of 110 military test pilots to join NASA. As 0ne of the seven Mercury astronauts, Shepard was selected to be the first to go up on May 5th, 1961. Known as the Freedom 7 mission, this flight placed him into a suborbital flight around Earth. Unfortunately, Alan was beaten into space by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin by only a few weeks, and hence became the first American to go into space.

Shepard went on to lead other missions, including the Apollo 14 mission – which was the third mission to land on the Moon. While on the lunar surface, he was photographed playing a round of golf and hit two balls across the surface. After leaving NASA, he became a successful businessman. He died of leukemia on July 21st, 1998, five weeks before the death of his wife of 53 years.

Valentina Tereshkova:

Another famous Russian cosmonaut, Tereshkova is also internationally renowned for being the first woman to go into space. Born in the village of Maslennikovo in central Russia on March 6th, 1937, Tereshkova became interested in parachuting from a young age and began training at the local aeroclub.

After Gagarin’s historic flight in 1961, the Soviets hopes to also be the first country to put a woman into space. On 16 February 1962, Valentina Tereshkova was selected to join the female cosmonaut corps, and was selected amongst hundreds to be one of five women who would go into space.

In addition to her expertise in parachuting (which was essential since Vostok pilots were to parachute from the capsule after reentry), her background as a “proletariat”, and the fact that her father was a war hero from the Russo-Finnish War, led to her being selected.

Soviet Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova photographed inside the Vostok-6 spacecraft on June 16, 1963. Credit: Roscosmos
Soviet Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova photographed inside the Vostok-6 spacecraft on June 16, 1963. Credit: Roscosmos

Her mission, Vostok 6, took place on June 16th, 1963. During her flight, Tereshkova orbited Earth forty-eight times, kept a flight log and took photographs that would prove useful to atmospheric studies. Aside from some nausea (which she later claimed was the result of spoiled food!) she maintained herself for the full three days and parachuted down during re-entry, landing a bit hard and bruising her face.

After returning home, Tereshkova went on to become a cosmonaut engineer and spent the rest of her life in key political positions. She married fellow cosmonaut Andrian Nikolayev and had a daughter. After her flight, the women’s corps was dissolved. Vostok 6 was to be the last of the Vostok flights, and it would be nineteen years before another woman would go into space (see Sally Ride, below).

John Glenn Jr.:

Colonel Glenn, USMC (retired) was a Marine Corps fighter pilot and a test pilot before becoming an astronaut. Due to his experience, he was chosen by NASA to be part of the Mercury Seven in 1959. On February 20, 1962, Glenn flew the Friendship 7 mission, and thus became the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth and the fifth person to go into space.

John Glenn enters his Friendship 7 spacecraft on On Feb. 20, 1962. Credit: NASA
John Glenn enters his Friendship 7 spacecraft on On Feb. 20, 1962. Credit: NASA

For his contributions to spaceflight, John Glenn earned the Space Congressional Medal of Honor. After an extensive career as an astronaut, Glenn retired from NASA on January 16th, 1964, to enter politics. He won his first bid to become a US Senator in 1974, representing Ohio for the Democratic Party, and was reelected numerous times before retiring in January of 1999.

With the death of Scott Carpenter on October 10, 2013, he became the last surviving member of the Mercury Seven. He was also the only astronaut to fly in both the Mercury and Space Shuttle programs – at age 77, he flew as a Payload Specialist on Discovery mission (STS-95). For his history of service, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

Neil Armstrong:

Neil Armstrong is arguably the most famous astronauts, and indeed one of the most famous people that has ever lived. As commander of the historic Apollo 11 mission, he will forever be remembered as the first man to ever walk on a body other than Earth. Born on August 5th, 1930, in Wapakoneta, Ohio, he graduated from Purdue University and served the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics High-Speed Flight Station before becoming an astronaut.

Neil A. Armstrong inside the Lunar Module after EVA
Neil A. Armstrong inside the Lunar Module after EVA. Credit: NASA

In accordance with the Holloway Plan, Neil studied at Purdue for two years and then committed to three years of military service as a naval aviator before completing his degree. During this time, he trained in the use of jet aircraft and became a test pilot at Andrews Air Force base, meeting such personalities as Chuck Yeager.

In 1962, when NASA was looking to create a second group of astronauts (after the Mercury 7), Armstrong joined and became part of the Gemini program. He flew two missions, as the command pilot and back-up command pilot for Gemini 8 and Gemini 11 (both in 1966), before being offered a spot with the Apollo program.

On July 16th, 1969, Armstrong went into space aboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft, alongside “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins. On the 20th, after the lunar module set down on the surface,  he became the first person to walk on the Moon.  As he stepped onto the lunar surface, Armstrong uttered the famous words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

After retiring from NASA in 1971, Armstrong completed his master’s degree in aerospace engineering, became a professor at the University of Cincinnati, and a private businessman.

On Augusts 25th, 2012, he died at the age of 82 after suffering complications from coronary artery bypass surgery. On September 14th, his cremated remains were scattered in the Atlantic Ocean during a burial-at-sea ceremony aboard the USS Philippine Sea.

For his accomplishments, Armstrong was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009.

James Lovell Jr.:

Lovell was born on March 25th, 1928 in Cleveland, Ohio. Like Shepard, he graduated from the US Naval Academy and served as a pilot before becoming one of the Mercury Seven. Over the course of his career, he flew several missions into space and served in multiple roles. The first was as the pilot of the Apollo 8 command module, which was the first spacecraft to enter lunar orbit.

He also served as backup commander during the Gemini 12 mission, which included a rendezvous with another manned spacecraft. However, he is most famous for his role as commander the Apollo 13 mission, which suffered a critical failure en route to the Moon but was brought back safely due to the efforts of her crew and the ground control team.

Lovell is a recipient of the Congressional Space Medal of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He is one of only 24 people to have flown to the Moon, the first of only three people to fly to the Moon twice, and the only one to have flown there twice without making a landing. Lovell was also the first person to fly in space four times.

Original crew photo. Left to right: Lovell, Mattingly, Haise. Credit: NASA
Original crew photo, (left to right) Jim Lovell, Thomas K. Mattingly, and Fred W. Haise. Credit: NASA

Dr. Sally Ride:

Sally Ride became renowned in the 1980s for being one of the first women to go into space. Though Russians had already sent up two female astronauts – Valentina Tereshkova (1963) and Svetlana Savitskaya (1982) – Ride was the first American female astronaut to make the journey. Born on May 26th, 1951, in La Jolla, California, Ride received her doctorate from Stanford University before joining NASA in 1978.

On June 18th, 1983, she became the first American female astronaut to go into space as part of the STS-7 mission that flew aboard the space shuttle Challenger. While in orbit, the five-person crew deployed two communications satellites and Ride became the first woman to use the robot arm (aka. Canadarm).

Her second space flight was in 1984, also on board the Challenger. In 1986, Ride was named to the Rogers Commission, which was charged with investigating the space shuttle Challenger disaster. In 2003, she would serve on the committee investigating the space shuttle Columbia disaster, and was the only person to serve on both.

Sally Ride communicates with ground controllers from the flight deck during the six-day mission in Challenger, 1983. Credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
Sally Ride communicates with ground controllers from the flight deck during STL-7 in 1983. Credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Ride retired from NASA in 1987 as a professor of physics and continued to teach until her death in 2012 from pancreatic cancer. For her service, she was given numerous awards, which included the National Space Society’s von Braun Award, two NASA Space Flight Medals, and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Chris Hadfield:

Last, but certainly not least, there’s Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut, pilot and engineer who became famous for his rendition of “Space Oddity” while serving as the commander of the International Space Station. Born on August 29th, 1959 in Sarnia, Ontario, Hadfield became interesting in flying at a young age and in becoming an astronaut when he watched the televised Apollo 11 landing at age nine.

After graduating from high school, Hadfield joined the Canadian Armed Forces and spent two years at Royal Roads Military College followed by two years at the Royal Military College, where he received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1982. He then became a fighter pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force, flying missions for NORAD. He also flew as a test pilot out of Andrews Air Force Base as part of an officer exchange.

In 1992, Hadfield became part of the Canadian Space Agency and was assigned to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, as a technical and safety specialist for Shuttle Operations Development. He participated in two space missions – STS-74 and STS-100 in 1995 and 2001, respectively – as a Mission Specialist. These missions involved rendezvousing with Mir and the ISS.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to serve as commander of the ISS. Credit: CTV
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield performing his rendition of “Space Oddity”. Hadfield is the first Canadian to serve as commander of the ISS. Credit: CTV

On December 19th 2012, Hadfield launched in the Soyuz TMA-07M flight for a long duration stay on board the ISS as part of Expedition 35. He became the first Canadian to command the ISS when the crew of Expedition 34 departed in March 2013, and received significant media exposure due to his extensive use of social media to promote space exploration.

Forbes described Hadfield as “perhaps the most social media savvy astronaut ever to leave Earth”. His promotional activities included a collaboration with Ed Robertson of The Barenaked Ladies and the Wexford Gleeks, singing “Is Somebody Singing? (I.S.S.) via Skype. The broadcast of this event was a major media sensation, as was his rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity“, which he sung shortly before departing the station in May 2013.

For his service, Hadfield has received numerous honors, including the Order of Canada in 2014, the Vanier Award in 2001, NASA Exceptional Service Medal in 2002, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012. He is also the only Canadian to have received both a military and civilian Meritorious Service Cross, the military medal in 2001 and the civilian one in 2013.

Universe Today has interesting articles on Neil Armstrong, “Buzz” Edwin Aldrin, and the enduring legacy of Apollo 11.

If you are looking for more information, you should check out famous aviators and astronauts and astronaut biographies.

Astronomy Cast has an episode on the US space shuttle.

NASA: Alan Shepard Jr
NASA: Neil Armstrong
NASA: John Glenn
NASA: James Lovell Jr.
NASA: Sally Ride

Do Astronauts Drink their Pee?

Do Astronauts Drink their Pee?

In order to fly in space, astronauts need to make a few sacrifices, like drink their own urine. Yuck? Don’t worry, it’s totally safe.

Astronauts are a resourceful bunch. They’re the best of the best of the best of the best. They’re ready to do whatever it takes to get the job done. WHATEVER IT TAKES, INCLUDING DRINKING PEE. They live on the International Space Station for the better part of a year, where air, food and water are precious resources. Sometimes you take a hit for the team back.

Every drop of water on the International Space Station was carried there from Earth, by rocket, possibly in someone’s bladder. The cost of launching a single kilo into orbit can be over $10 grand. Do a little back of the tp math and the value of a single kilogram of water in space is worth almost as much as a kilogram of yellow gold here on Earth.

That’s actual money gold, and not pee joke gold. The punchline is astronauts need to conserve water. For the longest time, there wasn’t any way to take conservation to the “next level”. All the “waste water” including pee produced on the station was just held, possibly uncomfortably and resulting in dancing, and it needed to be disposed of.

In 2009, NASA got serious about conserving water and launched the Water Recovery System to the International Space Station. What is it with you guys and names? I would have shot for “Precycling Internal Solution System” just for the acronym. In fact, that’s what we’re using now.

Ever since, astronauts have been drinking their own urine like Captain Redbeard Rum on Blackadder. Generally after it’s been purified by the recovery system, or if you prefer “peecycled”. Outside of that I’m sure accidents happen, and whatever they get up to in their own time is their business.

Speaking of which, Here’s a video of beloved Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield demonstrating the P.I.S.S system. It takes all water vapor, sweat, and grey water produced and excreted by astronauts and turns it back into drinkable water.

On Earth, you can clear dirty water by boiling it. Collect your steam on a cold surface, pure, pee free and ready for drinking again. Pro tip, this process actually requires gravity, which isn’t readily available when you’re in free fall.

The Recovery System looks like a big spinning keg, which creates artificial gravity. It’s heated and steam is produced. Dirt and contaminants such as the most purified pee molecules are pushed to the edges of the drum while the steam is carried away.

NASA's Water Recovery System. Credit: NASA
NASA’s Water Recovery System. Credit: NASA

The artificial gravity isn’t perfect, and only 93% of the water can be recovered this way. This means that dirty waste water builds up inside the space station and needs to be flushed with the rest of the trash. Astronauts can’t peecycle everything on the space station, trash does build up. They’ve got a solution for this too.

The most recent cargo delivery spacecraft is always left attached to the space station. Instead of doing laundry, which would use up their precious water and is super boring. Seriously, if you went to the trouble of sending me to space and asked to me wash my clothes I’d get a little snippy.

Astronauts do what the rest of us only dream about. They just wear their clothes until they’re totally worn out. Then throw their laundry into the excess module. Once it’s completely filled with pee, laundry, food remnants, and other, uh… stuff, the spacecraft detaches from the station and re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere where it’s incinerated. No fuss, no muss. Also, clearly for this episode, we’re only going as far as pee jokes as poop jokes are off the table.

Yes, astronauts are drinking their pee. They close their eyes and remind themselves it’s just pure water. Completely safe and delicious to drink. No pee molecules left here. As astronaut Koichi Wakata said, “Here on board the ISS, we turn yesterday’s coffee into tomorrow’s coffee”.

Would you be willing to drink the water produced by the Water Recovery System? Tell us in the comments below.

Space-y Charity: Some Ideas To Respond To Astronaut Hadfield’s Challenge

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield in the Cupola of the International Space Station. Credit: NASA/CSA

While the world was enchanted with Chris Hadfield’s social media posts last year, a new video has the retired astronaut talking about loftier things. Say, for example, how humanity landed a camera on the Saturn moon Titan back in 2005. Or to be more practical, the fact that smallpox was eradicated in its naturally occurring form.

In his talks and books, Hadfield describes himself as one who never focuses on complaining. He was almost yanked from his command of the International Space Station due to a medical issue, but he pressed on and convinced the doctors to let him fly. And in this new video, he focuses on what humans do generally to make the world better — imperfect as it is.

“There are problems with everything, and nothing’s perfect, but that shouldn’t be cause to moan. That should be cause to achieve. Our world is a better place than we often claim it to be,” Hadfield said. “We live the way we do,” he added, “because people chose to tackle their problems, head on.”

The video appears to have a heavy emphasis on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a gigantic philanthropic network that works to improve lives in the developing world and also for the disadvantaged in the United States. But there are many ways to give back to your community, even through gestures as simple as volunteering.

Here are some examples in the space world (note that these aren’t necessarily endorsements for the organizations, but just ideas for making contributions in space and astronomy):

  • Cosmoquest, which runs online astronomy courses and also allows citizens to map extraterrestrial bodies right alongside astronomers.
  • Astronomers Without Borders brings astronomy education across the world, particularly to developing countries.
  • Uwingu says that half of its donations goes to grants to support learning in astronomy.

Other examples of space-y charity could include volunteering or donating to a local school or university, joining one of the numerous volunteer organizations in astronomy, or getting involved in a space advocacy group.

NASA SoundCloud Sounds Aim To Bring Music To The Final Frontier

Atlantis sits on the launch pad in July 2011 ahead of the final launch of the space shuttle program, STS-135. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Fancy having a shuttle launch play as your ringtone? NASA is trying to make that possible through offering several dozen space sounds on SoundCloud, a popular music- and sound-sharing service.

In the last month, the agency has uploaded 63 sound files ranging from objects in the solar system, to rocket launches, to famous quotes from NASA’s history. And you can download and use the files for free from here, as long as you follow the usage guidelines over here.

“Here’s a collection of NASA sounds from historic spaceflights and current missions. You can hear the roar of a space shuttle launch or Neil Armstrong’s ‘One small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind’ every time you get a phone call if you make our sounds your ringtone. Or, you can hear the memorable words ‘Houston, we’ve had a problem,’ every time you make an error on your computer,” the agency wrote on SoundCloud.

Space isn’t a foreign entity to SoundCloud, which also hosted dozens of sounds uploaded by prolific social-media sharing Chris Hadfield when the Canadian astronaut went into space between 2012 and 2013. He put up a few songs as well as what certain activities sound like on the International Space Station, such as dinnertime or a spaceship docking.

Retired Astronaut Chris Hadfield Releases Stunning Space Photos

On a clear day, astronauts aboard the ISS can see over 1,000 miles from Havana to Washington D.C. Image Credit: Chris Hadfield / NASA

Orbiting 200 miles above the Earth, Retired Astronaut Chris Hadfield could easily photograph the ridges of the Himalayan Mountains, the textures of the Sahara Desert and the shadows cast by the tallest buildings in Manhattan.

The Richat Structure in Mauritania, also known as the Eye of the Sahara, is a landmark for astronauts. It’s hard to know where you are, especially if you’re over a vast 3,600,000-square-mile desert, but this bull’s-eye orients you, instantly. Oddly, it appears not to be the scar of a meteorite but a deeply eroded dome, with a rainbow-inspired color scheme. Image Credit: Chris Hadfield / NASA
Mauritania, also known as the Eye of the Sahara, is a landmark in the vast 3,600,000-square-mile desert. Credit: Chris Hadfield / NASA

“The view of the world when you have it just right there through the visor of your helmet is overpoweringly gorgeous,” said Hadfield, speaking Oct. 14 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. “It is phenomenal. The world is pouring by with all its colors and textures so fast.”

Although Hadfield has already shared many of his photos via social media, he unveiled another 150 images in his latest book, “You Are Here: Around The World in 92 Minutes.” The photographs open a rare window onto the Earth, illuminating our planet’s beauty and the consequences of human settlement.

The book is designed to replicate a single 92-minute orbit aboard the International Space Station. “It’s as if you and I are sitting at the window of the space station, and I said, ‘let’s go around the world once. I want to show you the really cool stuff,’ ” said Hadfield.

The astronaut, famed for his zero-gravity rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” took approximately 45,000 photos during his 146-day stint on the space station in 2013. That’s roughly 300 photos per day every day. Since NASA does not set aside specific time slots for astronauts to take photos, Hadfield did so while he should have been asleep or serenading millions with his guitar.

The Himalayan mountain range in South Asia.
The Himalayan mountain range in South Asia. Credit: Chris Hadfield / NASA

Why? Beauty triggers an unexplained emotional reaction, explained Hadfield. It also provides the best means of communication. Although the space station is an incredible scientific laboratory, art is equally important, he added, because it’s a way to reach people who might not otherwise be interested in the scientific nitty-gritty.

Hadfield is often attributed for humanizing space travel in a way that others before him had not. His use of social media, videos designed to quench our curiosity about living in space, and music, demonstrate a sheer passion that has inspired millions.

Manhattan awake at 9:23 a.m. local time, and Manhattan at rest at 3:45 a.m. local time. Image Credit: Chris Hadfield / NASA
Manhattan awake at 9:23 a.m. local time, and Manhattan at rest at 3:45 a.m. local time. Credit: Chris Hadfield / NASA

His photos not only share the natural beauty of our home planet, but also many signs of humanity, from bright city lights to the devastations of climate change as lakes dry up and disappear. “There’s so much information in just one glimpse out the window of human decision making and geology,” said Hadfield.

Hadfield’s remote yet vivid photos stand as a reminder of both the magnificence and fragility of life on our planet. “To have the world on one side, like this huge kaleidoscope, and then the bottomlessness of the Universe right there beside you,” said Hadfield, trailing off in awe. “You’re not on the world looking at it. You’re in the Universe with the world.”