Cue The Aww: Astronaut Puts 3-Year-Old Son’s Drawing On A Quilt Piece

Kids’ drawings are the best, as astronaut Karen Nyberg proudly shows in her latest mini-quilt piece. The astronaut — who just spent six months in orbit during Expedition 36/37 — is also a prolific quilter and drew inspiration from her son, three-year-old Jack, in this quilt posted on Pinterest. The drawing shows how quickly Jack changed during her mission, she wrote.

“When I left for space station in May, my son was drawing only lines, circles, and squiggles. When I returned in November, he was drawing people. He told me this picture is ‘Jack playing in the grass on a sunny day.’ ”

We’re guessing Nyberg is having an easier time quilting now that she isn’t working in microgravity anymore. The video below explains the challenges she had doing quilting in orbit and making sure that sharp pins didn’t just float away and cause problems on station.

Nyberg is married to astronaut Doug Hurley (who piloted the final shuttle mission, among other things) and as the Houston Chronicle’s Eric Berger points out in November, the parents have lots of experience helping each other out with child care during training and missions.

Can The International Space Station Fit Bigger Astronaut Crews?

Things are a little more crowded than usual in the International Space Station. For a few days, nine astronauts and cosmonauts are floating in the cramped quarters of the orbiting complex. Typical crew sizes range between three and six. How did the astronauts find room to work and sleep?

“One of the things we had to do was make space for them,” said European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano in a rare press conference today (Nov. 8) from orbit, which included participation from Universe Today. He then explained a procedure where the astronauts swapped a Soyuz crew spacecraft from one Russian docking port to another a few days before Expedition 38/39’s crew arrived on board on Thursday. This cleared the way for three more people to arrive.

“We [also] had to adjust for emergency procedures. All of our procedures are trained and worked for a group of six. We had to work on a way to respond if something happened.” As for sleeping, it was decided the six people already on board, “as seniority, would stay in the crew quarters.” The newer astronauts have temporary sleeping arrangements in other modules until the ranks thin out a bit on Sunday.

So this works for a short while, but what about the long-term? Could the station handle having nine people there for weeks at a time, rather than six, and would there be enough science work to go around?

Luca Parmitano controlled the K-10 rover from space on July 26, 2013. Credit: NASA Television (screencap)
Luca Parmitano controlling the K-10 rover from space on July 26, 2013 in a test intended to see how well astronauts in a spacecraft can communicate with rovers on the surface. This information could be used for missions far in the future. Credit: NASA Television (screencap)

“I think, absolutely, moving to nine people is doable and in terms of the science would be fantastic,” NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg said. The station partners had experience with increasing crews before, she added, as for several years a regular space station rotation was only three astronauts during construction. Bumping up to the current maximum of six was a “big jump.”

“One of the things to be concerned about our environmental control system, our CO2 [carbon dioxide scrubbing] system … and also the consumables and the supplies we need,” she added. “Making up the science for us to do would be very doable. I think the hard part would be getting the systems to accommodate nine people.”

Parmitano, Nyberg and Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin plan to return to Earth Sunday, but a busy weekend lies ahead. On Saturday, Roscosmos (Russian Federal Space Agency) flight engineers Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy of the Russian Federal Space Agency will start a spacewalk around 9:30 a.m. EST (2:30 p.m. UTC) if all goes to plan.

Expedition 38/39 poses with the Olympic torch that they brought into orbit with them in November 2013 as part of the relay for the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia. From left, Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Mikhail Tyurin of Roscosmos, and Rick Mastracchio of NASA. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Expedition 38/39 poses with the Olympic torch that they brought into orbit with them in November 2013 as part of the relay for the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia. From left, Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Mikhail Tyurin of Roscosmos, and Rick Mastracchio of NASA. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

As part of the Olympic torch relay ahead of the Sochi games in 2014, they will briefly bring the Olympic torch outside with them, unlit, before doing some outside maintenance.

“After the photo opportunity, Kotov and Ryazanskiy will prepare a pointing platform on the hull of the station’s Zvezda service module for the installation of a high resolution camera system in December, relocate … a foot restraint for use on future spacewalks and deactivate an experiment package,” NASA stated in a Thursday press release.

Several journalists were unable to ask questions during the NASA portion of the press conference, which included participation from countries covered by NASA, the European Space Agency, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and Roscosmos (the Russian Federal Space Agency).

“We had a failure in a crucial component in the phone bridge,” NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries told Universe Today following the media event. They don’t know what component failed, but most of the journalists were unable to hear the moderator or the astronauts.

“A piece of equipment picked the wrong time to fail,” Humphries said

NASA will do a thorough investigation before holding another event like this to make sure it works for everyone.

Here’s a replay of the news conference:

The Stars of Orion Seen Blazing From Orbit

The mighty hunter soars above the atmosphere in this photo, taken by NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg currently living and working in space aboard the ISS. One of the most recognizable constellations in night skies all across the Earth, Orion also puts on an impressive display for those well above the Earth!


Appearing here to be lying on his right side, the three stars of Orion’s famous belt — Mintaka, Alnilam, and Alnitak, top to bottom — are center frame, while his sword is nearly horizontal just to the right (the blurry center star of which isn’t a star at all, of course, but rather the enormous star-forming Orion nebula.)

Betelgeuse, as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope.
Betelgeuse, as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope.

At Orion’s right shoulder is Betelgeuse, a huge red giant 20 times more massive than our Sun. Its fiery color is obvious in Karen’s photo, mirroring many of the much-closer human-made city lights visible on the ground.

In addition to featuring my favorite constellation, this photo that Karen recently shared on Twitter also serves to prove (to those few who still require evidence of such) that yes, astronauts can see stars from space. Very nicely too, I may add. The only reason they are not visible in all images is purely photographic — cameras exposing for a bright scene, like a daylit Earth (or Moon) won’t be able to capture the relatively much dimmer light of stars in the same shot, making it look like space is empty of them. Even here we can see a bit of noise in the glowing line of Earth’s atmosphere and a little blurring of edges — that’s a result of a high ISO setting to increase camera sensitivity along with a slightly longer shutter speed than your hand can easily keep stable… again, all to better capture the faint streams of photons from distant stars.

Blaze on, mighty Hunter! See this and more views from the ISS on Karen’s Twitter page here.

Fancy A Space-To-Earth Quilting Bee? Here’s Your Chance To Participate

From guitar playing to quilting, it’s clear that the astronauts aboard the International Space Station have excellence in other interests besides their core jobs. NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, shortly finishing up her nearly half-year mission in space as part of Expedition 35/36, is an accomplished crafter. She’s found time to make a dinosaur from spare scraps and several headbands to keep her long hair from flying in her face. And now she wants you to join with her work.

Despite her skill in crafting, however, Nyberg says working in microgravity is quite the challenge. She keeps all her supplies in a ziploc so they don’t go flying in all directions when she’s not using them. A pile felt board keeps everything secured while she is working on a piece.

But measuring and cutting when you can’t lay something down means working takes a long, long time. That’s what makes this single nine-inch-by-nine-inch quilting block below so precious.

NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg holds a quilt patch that she made in space during Expedition 36/37 in 2013. Nyberg is inviting quilters to submit star-themed patches of their own for a quilt to display at the International Quilt Festival in Houston in 2014. Credit: NASA (YouTube/screenshot)
NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg holds a quilt patch that she made in space during Expedition 36/37 in 2013. Nyberg is inviting quilters to submit star-themed patches of their own for a quilt to display at the International Quilt Festival in Houston in 2014. Credit: NASA (YouTube/screenshot)

Nyberg says her work is “far from being a masterpiece”, but is inviting other quilters to share the metaphorical stage with her creation. Quilters anywhere in the world can make star pieces of their own and send it to the International Quilting Festival organizers for display in fall 2014. If all goes well, Nyberg expects to make an appearance to view the creation herself.

Here’s a short summary of the requirements (which you can read officially on this page):
– Have a star theme;
– 9.5 inches (24 centimeters) square;
– One block per person, signed on the front with a permanent marker marking name and location;
– Mail by Aug. 1, 2014 to “Star Block Challenge, Attn: Rhianna Griffin, 7660 Woodway Ste. 550, Houston, TX 77063.”

By the way, the full video of Nyberg explaining her sewing challenges makes you sympathize with how hard microgravity can be. Although the backflip she does at the end likely makes up for at least some of it, right?

What Caused The Spacesuit Leak? Astronauts Are Working To Hunt That Down

Here’s the latest attempt to hunt down the water leak that aborted Luca Parmitano’s spacewalk in July: two astronauts aboard the International Space Station removed and replaced a fan pump and water separator inside the spacesuit earlier this week.

All spacewalks with NASA suits are on hold while the agency investigates the leak, and they have been trying mightily. In late July, then on-station NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy demonstrated how the pool of water spread within the helmet (as you can see in these YouTube videos).

This week, on-orbit NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins and Karen Nyberg delved further. While the astronauts are trained before their missions on some suit repairs, this particular type was not something that was covered before they left Earth. After Mission Control walked them through what to do, the astronauts proceeded cautiously as they did the work, NASA said.

“Our engineering teams have identified several different components of the suit, designing a big fault tree, and this is just one of the components that we think could have contributed to the leak in the suit,” said Alex Kanelakos, an extra-vehicular activity flight controller and astronaut instructor, in a new YouTube video.

“Specifically, the water separator is what we’re concentrating our efforts on today.”

As Kanelakos explained, a motor inside the suit drives the fan pump and water separator. The fan circulates oxygen, and the pump pumps the coolant fluid. The water separator, meanwhile, takes out moisture (water) from the ventilation loop and gas that could be trapped inside the water coolant loop. The dried-out air is then returned to the crew member for breathing, and the cycle continues.

Astronaut Chris Cassidy works with Luca Parmitano's spacesuit, which had a water leak on July 16, 2013. Credit: NASA
Astronaut Chris Cassidy works with Luca Parmitano’s spacesuit, which had a water leak on July 16, 2013. Credit: NASA

In September, Cassidy told Universe Today that the spacesuit is expected to come back to Earth during a future SpaceX Dragon cargo flight. That type of spacecraft is (unusually among space trucks) designed to survive re-entry in the atmosphere, allowing engineers on the ground to examine the spacesuit after it comes back.

Cassidy added that the situation was serious, and he supported NASA’s decision to end the spacewalk (which he was also participating in.) He didn’t think, however, that Parmitano was in immediate danger of drowning. For his part, Parmitano wrote a blog post on the European Space Agency website after his spacewalk, saying that space is an “inhospitable” arena.

Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano during a spacesuit fit check before his mission. Credit: NASA
Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano during a spacesuit fit check before his mission. Credit: NASA

As any astronaut is trained to do, Parmitano did consider other contingencies while the leak was happening, he wrote:

“The only idea I can think of is to open the safety valve by my left ear: if I create controlled depressurisation, I should manage to let out some of the water, at least until it freezes through sublimation, which would stop the flow. But making a ‘hole’ in my spacesuit really would be a last resort,” he wrote.

That fix, however, was not implemented as Parmitano and Cassidy made their way back to the station in time for their crewmates to repressurize the hatch and bring their Italian crewmate safely inside.

Besides investigating the spacesuit, NASA has an ongoing parallel investigation to look at “lessons learned” from the mishap and ways of implementing procedures to stop such an incident from happening again.

Dinosaurs in Spaaaace!

Astronaut Karen Nyberg wins Pinterest. Not only has she made her 3-year old son a dinosaur toy, she created it while IN SPACE, and scored a super-coup by making it from the reclaimed velcro-like fabric that lines the Russian food containers on the International Space Station. Nyberg said the dinosaur is stuffed with scraps from a used t-shirt.

Upcycling in space … wow. She’s clearly now outdone every crafter both on and off the planet. As one commenter on Pinterest said, “How awesome to have someone promoting/demonstrating crafting, science and education and a mother’s love from the ISS!”

You can see more of Nyberg’s handiwork while she’s been in space, as well as pictures she’s taken of planet Earth, the science experiments she’s doing and more on her Pinterest page. She will be on the ISS until November 11.

Pretty Picture from Space: Thunderstorms Over Southern California

Astronaut Karen Nyberg shared this image on her Twitter feed, showing the view from the International Space Station on July 21, 2013 with thunderstorms brewing over Los Angeles and San Diego, California. City lights are peering through the clouds, while lightning brightens the dark storm clouds. A solar array from a Russian spacecraft docked to the ISS appears at the bottom of the image.

Incredible view.

How to Wash Your (Long) Hair in Space

Those of us with long tresses have wondered, how do you wash that floating mass of hair in space? Astronaut and Expedition 36 crewmember Karen Nyberg provides a how-to video direct from the International Space Station. Obviously, Nyberg’s crewmate Luca Parmitano doesn’t have to go through this process.

But wash your hair today, have drinking water or coffee tomorrow!

Stunning View of Earth and Orbital Sunset from the Space Station

This is just a gorgeous shot of our home planet from the International Space Station, shared by astronaut Karen Nyberg via Twitter. While many pictures of Earth from space show a bright view of our planet, this view of the world plunging into darkness provides a unique, not-often-seen view. If a picture can be this beautiful, imagine what must look like in person.

Nyberg is sharing her experiences via Twitter and also — I believe she is the first astronaut sharing on Pinterest. She describes herself as “Aspiring quilter, crafter, artist” (perfect for the Pinterest crowd) in addition to being an astronaut by day, and said she hopes to do some crafting in space if she has any spare time. Nyberg has a special board for “Hair in Space” (which includes both bald pates and gravity defying hair,) hoping to inspire the younger generation of women to get interested in space exploration. “When girls see pictures of ponytails, don’t you think it stirs something inside them that says, that could be ME up there!” Nyberg writes.