On September 12, Blue Origin New Shepard mission, NS-23, failed just over one minute into an uncrewed flight, forcing the escape system to eject its New Shepard upper stage capsule, which landed safely near the launch site. Several science experiments were being carried onboard with the original flight plan calling for the capsule to reach an altitude of a little more than 60 miles, which is internationally acknowledged as the edge of space. While the flight was uncrewed and the capsule made a successful soft landing after ejecting, the scenario could have been far more ill-favored if the flight had been crewed with tourists.Continue reading “A New Shepard Exploded. Fortunately, There Wasn’t Anyone on Board”
Flying to (Hypothetical) Planet 9: Why visit it, how could we get there, and would it surprise us like Pluto?
In a recent study submitted to Earth and Planetary Astrophysics, an international team of researchers discuss the various mission design options for reaching a hypothetical Planet 9, also known as “Planet X”, which state-of-the-art models currently estimate to possess a semi-major axis of approximately 400 astronomical units (AU). The researchers postulate that sending a spacecraft to Planet 9 could pose scientific benefits much like when NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft visited Pluto in 2015. But does Planet 9 actually exist?Continue reading “Flying to (Hypothetical) Planet 9: Why visit it, how could we get there, and would it surprise us like Pluto?”
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More Rocket Launches Could Damage the Ozone Layer
There are few things in this world that brings feelings of awe and wonder more than a rocket launch. Watching a literal tower of steel slowly lift off from the ground with unspeakable power reminds us of what humanity can achieve despite our flaws, disagreements, and differences, and for the briefest of moments these magnificent spectacles are capable of bringing us all together regardless of race, creed, and religion.Continue reading “More Rocket Launches Could Damage the Ozone Layer”
It’s Official, William Shatner Will be Flying to Space With Blue Origin
Star Trek meets star reality as William Shatner, the iconic 90-year-old actor, will fly on the next Blue Origins suborbital launch on October 12th.Continue reading “It’s Official, William Shatner Will be Flying to Space With Blue Origin”
Don’t Be Surprised if EmDrive Experiments Never Work
Every few years the “EmDrive”, a proposed method of generating rocket thrust without any exhaust, hits the news. Each time, everyone asks: could this be it? Could this be the technological leap to revolutionize spaceflight?
Don’t hold your breath.Continue reading “Don’t Be Surprised if EmDrive Experiments Never Work”
Report Suggests That Astronauts Shouldn’t get More Than 600 Millisieverts of Radiation Exposure During Their Career. We get 2-3 a Year Down Here on Earth
Space may be pretty, but it’s dangerous. Astronauts face a much higher dose of ionizing radiation than us Earth-bound folks, and a new report says that NASA’s current guidelines and risk assessment methods are in serious need of an update.Continue reading “Report Suggests That Astronauts Shouldn’t get More Than 600 Millisieverts of Radiation Exposure During Their Career. We get 2-3 a Year Down Here on Earth”
In a Comprehensive new Test, the EmDrive Fails to Generate any Thrust
The EmDrive is a hypothetical rocket that proponents claim can generate thrust with no exhaust. This would violate all known physics. In 2016, a team at NASA’s Eagleworks lab claimed to measure thrust from an EmDrive device, the news of which caused quite a stir. The latest attempt to replicate the shocking results has resulted in a simple answer: the Eagleworks measurement was from heating of the engine mount, not any new physics.Continue reading “In a Comprehensive new Test, the EmDrive Fails to Generate any Thrust”
Virgin Galactic Sends Three People to the Edge of Space. Flights with Paying Customers Around the Corner Now
Virgin Galactic has reached another milestone in their fight test program. The VSS Unity spacecraft carried a third crew member on board, in its fifth rocket-powered test flight. It was the second time that the spacecraft reached space.Continue reading “Virgin Galactic Sends Three People to the Edge of Space. Flights with Paying Customers Around the Corner Now”
Astronomy Cast Ep. 483: Stopping in Space
It’s one thing to get from Earth to space, but sometimes you want to do the opposite. You want to get into orbit or touch down gently on the surface of a planet and explore it. How do spacecraft stop? And what does that even mean when everything is orbiting?
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Special Skinsuits Could Help Astronauts Avoid Back Pain When Their Spines Expand In Space
The microgravity in space causes a number of problems for astronauts, including bone density loss and muscle atrophy. But there’s another problem: weightlessness allows astronauts’ spines to expand, making them taller. The height gain is permanent while they’re in space, and causes back pain.
A new SkinSuit being tested in a study at King’s College in London may bring some relief. The study has not been published yet.
The constant 24 hour microgravity that astronauts live with in space is different from the natural 24 hour cycle that humans go through on Earth. Down here, the spine goes through a natural cycle associated with sleep.
Sleeping in a supine position allows the discs in the spine to expand with fluid. When we wake up in the morning, we’re at our tallest. As we go about our day, gravity compresses the spinal discs and we lose about 1.5 cm (0.6 inches) in height. Then we sleep again, and the spine expands again. But in space, astronauts spines have been known to grow up to 7 cm. (2.75 in.)
Study leader David A. Green explains it: “On Earth your spine is compressed by gravity as you’re on your feet, then you go to bed at night and your spine unloads – it’s a normal cyclic process.”
In microgravity, the spine of an astronaut is never compressed by gravity, and stays unloaded. The resulting expansion causes pain. As Green says, “In space there’s no gravitational loading. Thus the discs in your spine may continue to swell, the natural curves of the spine may be reduced and the supporting ligaments and muscles — no longer required to resist gravity – may become loose and weak.”
The SkinSuit being developed by the Space Medicine Office of ESA’s European Astronaut Centre and the King’s College in London is based on work done by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It’s a spandex-based garment that simulates gravity by squeezing the body from the shoulders to the feet.
The Skinsuits were tested on-board the International Space Station by ESA astronauts Andreas Mogensen and Thomas Pesquet. But they could only be worn for a short period of time. “The first concepts were really uncomfortable, providing some 80% equivalent gravity loading, and so could only be worn for a couple of hours,” said researcher Philip Carvil.
Back on Earth, the researchers worked on the suit to improve it. They used a waterbed half-filled with water rich in magnesium salts. This re-created the microgravity that astronauts face in space. The researchers were inspired by the Dead Sea, where the high salt content allows swimmers to float on the surface.
“During our longer trials we’ve seen similar increases in stature to those experienced in orbit, which suggests it is a valid representation of microgravity in terms of the effects on the spine,” explains researcher Philip Carvil.
Studies using students as test subjects have helped with the development of the SkinSuit. After lying on the microgravity-simulating waterbed both with and without the SkinSuit, subjects were scanned with MRI’s to test the SkinSuit’s effectiveness. The suit has gone through several design revisions to make it more comfortable, wearable, and effective. It’s now up to the Mark VI design.
“The Mark VI Skinsuit is extremely comfortable, to the point where it can be worn unobtrusively for long periods of normal activity or while sleeping,” say Carvil. “The Mk VI provides around 20% loading – slightly more than lunar gravity, which is enough to bring back forces similar to those that the spine is used to having.”
“The results have yet to be published, but it does look like the Mk VI Skinsuit is effective in mitigating spine lengthening,” says Philip. “In addition we’re learning more about the fundamental physiological processes involved, and the importance of reloading the spine for everyone.”