Weekly Space Hangout: May 23, 2018: Mike Massimino and Nat Geo’s ONE STRANGE ROCK

Hosts:
Fraser Cain (universetoday.com / @fcain)
Dr. Paul M. Sutter (pmsutter.com / @PaulMattSutter)
Dr. Kimberly Cartier (KimberlyCartier.org / @AstroKimCartier )
Dr. Morgan Rehnberg (MorganRehnberg.com / @MorganRehnberg & ChartYourWorld.org)

Special Guests:
This week, we are extremely excited to welcome former NASA Astronaut Mike Massimino back to the Weekly Space Hangout in a segment he pre-recorded with Fraser back in April of this year.

Mike, the first person ever to send a tweet from space, joins a group of eight elite astronauts to tell Earth’s extraordinary story in National Geographic’s new series, ONE STRANGE ROCK, executive produced by Darren Aronofsky’s Protozoa Pictures and Jane Root’s Nutopia. Having viewed Earth from space, Mike conveys his personal experiences of our planet and underscores how there really is no place like home.

Mike served as an astronaut from 1996 to 2014. He is a veteran of two space flights: STS-109 in March 2002 and STS-125 in May 2009 – the final two Hubble Space Telescope servicing missions. He was the last person to work inside of Hubble and set a team record with his crewmates for the most cumulative spacewalking time in a single space shuttle mission. He has logged a total of 571 hours and 47 minutes in space and 30 hours and 4 minutes of spacewalking.

Mike received his Bachelor of Science degree from Columbia University and two Master of Science degrees and a Ph.D. from MIT. He has received a number of awards including two NASA Space Flight Medals, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal and the American Astronautical Society’s 2009 Flight Achievement Award. Additionally, he is the holder of two patents and author of many engineering research papers.

Mike lives in New York City, where he is an engineering professor at Columbia University and the senior advisor for space programs at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. He is author of the New York Times Bestseller Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe and has made numerous television appearances, including National Geographic’s late-night talk show StarTalk and had a six-time recurring role as himself on the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory.

You can watch full episodes of One Strange Rock online at the Nat Geo website (http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/one-strange-rock/) including Episode 7, Terraform, featuring this week’s guest, Mike Massimino.

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NASA’s First Space-Tweeting Astronaut And ‘Big Bang Theory’ Guest Flies To A New Position

The first astronaut who tweeted from space is leaving NASA, the agency announced yesterday. Mike Massimino (best known to his 1.29 million followers as @astro_mike) — and also one of several astronauts to repair the Hubble Space Telescope — will now bring his skills to a full-time position with Columbia University in New York.

“Mike embraced the opportunity to engage with the public in new ways and set the stage for more space explorers to be able to share their mission experience directly with people around the globe,” stated Bob Behnken, NASA’s chief of the astronaut office at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“We wish him well in his new role fostering the dreams and innovations of students just beginning their career paths,” he said.

Massimino found time to embrace Twitter, then a new technology to NASA, during the busy STS-125 mission that was the final repair mission for the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009. Here’s the first tweet from space:

Following his social media activities in space, which received a great deal of publicity at the time, Massimino appeared several times on the CBS comedy “The Big Bang Theory” as a fictionalized version of himself.  He also was prominently featured in the IMAX film Hubble 3D in 2010, which in part featured the spacewalking missions to repair the iconic NASA telescope.

Lately, Massimino’s outreach activities also included hosting the regular “ISS Mailbag” YouTube segment with fellow astronaut Don Pettit (@astro_pettit).

While the astronaut has not yet made a statement on Twitter, NASA paid tribute to him on its own Twitter account, as did others:

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

What Happens To Your Skin in Space

The microgravity environment of the ISS poses many challenges to the human body — some more expected than others — but one that many people might not know about is the “molting” of dry skin, notably from the bottom of the feet. And while astronauts living aboard Space Station often spend their days working in socks, when they go to remove them they have to be especially careful to keep floating clouds of flakes at a minimum, lest they incite allergic reactions in their crewmates.

Yeah, you read that right. “Floating clouds of flakes.” Eeeewwwwww.

In the latest episode of ISS Science Garage NASA astronauts Mike Massimino and Don Pettit discuss some of the finer details of podiatric etiquette whilst sojourning aboard the ISS. (Unfortunately saying it fancy-like doesn’t make it any less gross.) All I have to say is, I wouldn’t want to be the one who has to clean out the vent filters.

Welcome to the Space Station Science Garage

What do you get when you combine Mike Massimino, Don Pettit, Chris Hadfield, Tom Marshburn and some bean bag chairs? Space geek heaven, perhaps? Here’s the premier edition of a new series, and it features a great discussion about what it is like to fly in the cramped Soyuz after living in the expanse of the International Space Station for five months.

This looks like a great new series, as any day you can get Don Pettit talking science is a good day! Look for more in this series that will showcases human spaceflight and science aboard the International Space Station.

The Last Train to KSC: Final Set of Solid Rocket Boosters Arrive

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Another end-of-an-era event heralding the conclusion of the space shuttle program: the final set of space shuttle solid rocket booster segments arrived at the Kennedy Space Center on Thursday, May 27, 2010. The segments were carried on railway cars from the ATK factory in Utah where the boosters are built. The last part of the trip from Jacksonville, Florida included passenger cars carrying NASA personnel and ATK officials, including astronaut Mike Massimino, shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach, and the “voice” of NASA TV, George Diller. The train stopped across the Indian River from KSC where the tracks lead to the Vehicle Assembly Building.

The boosters will be stacked in the VAB for a possible rescue mission, or perhaps, even one last add-on flight for space shuttle Atlantis.

The SRB segments are designated for STS-335, the Launch-On-Need mission that would be flown if the last scheduled shuttle flight — STS-134, now scheduled for launch in late November — would encounter a problem. Or, if Congress allows, another shuttle mission using the ready-to-go shuttle could be added. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson told President Obama in a letter this week that he intended to request funding for the extra mission. NASA hopes to get a go-ahead for the flight, which would become the STS-135 mission, by late June. If approved, the likely launch date would be sometime in the summer of 2011.

NASA’s Associate Administrator for Space Operations Bill Gerstenmaier said at a news conference this week that if the additional flight were approved, a Soyuz would be readied as a rescue vehicle, and the shuttle crew would be smaller, probably 4 crew members. The crew could take safe harbor at the International Space Station, if needed, until the rescue Soyuz arrived. The shuttle could bring extra supplies and hardware to the ISS.

Astronaut Mike Massimino disembarks from the train carrying the SRB segments. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.

Veteran astronaut Mike Massimino told a Florida television station crew that he hopes for an additional shuttle mission. “I think we have to be optimistic,” Massimino said. “There are just too many people around the country and the world who are so supportive of our program.”

ATK laid off 1,300 of their 5,000 person workforce because of shutting down production of the boosters, but the company is hoping to be part of NASA’s future spaceflight plans.

“There’s quite a bit of uncertainty,” said ATK KSC Deputy Director Ted Shaffner. “The direction is very cloudy from our politicians and NASA is struggling with what direction we do take.”

More images from the event:

Shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach talks with reporters about the final SRB segments. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.
George Diller, the 'voice' of NASA TV, disembarks from the train carrying the SRB segments. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.
A Florida East Coast engine brought the SRB railcars to KSC. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.
NASA has their own locomotive to bring the railcars to the VAB. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.

And I know someone is going to comment on the “Do Not Hump” sign on the railcar. What it means is that the contents of the railcar are delicate enough that the car should not be ‘humped,’ which is a method to sort freight cars by rolling them down a hill instead of using a locomotive engine to move the cars. Obviously, NASA and ATK don’t want the SRB segments to go rolling down a hill. Find out more about humping here.

Sources: Florida Today, CFNews 13

Another Great “How To Go To the Bathroom in Space” Video

You want details on this subject? Astronaut Mike Massimino has got ’em. The best line in the video comes from Mass: “This is the deepest, darkest secret about spaceflight. People always ask us about UFOs and aliens, and we’ve got nothing for them. But they don’t know about this,” this being that astronauts have a positioning trainer and aligning camera to teach them how to go to the bathroom in space.

Who knew that the terms “docking” and “aligning” have multiple uses in space?

And if you’d like another description, check out our earlier post about astronaut Chris Hadfield’s “best description ever” on going to the bathroom in space.