Tag: Astronaut

Apollo 14 Astronauts May Have Found the Oldest Earth Rock Lying On the Moon

A moon rock brought back by Apollo 14 astronauts in 1971 may contain a tiny piece of the ancient Earth (the “felsite clast” identified by the arrow).

One of Earth’s oldest rocks may have been dug up on the moon.

A chunk of material brought back from the lunar surface by Apollo astronauts in 1971 harbors a tiny piece of Earth, a new study suggests.

The Earth fragment was likely blasted off our planet by a powerful impact about 4 billion years ago, according to the new research.

It is an extraordinary find that helps paint a better picture of early Earth and the bombardment that modified our planet during the dawn of life,” study co-author David Kring, a Universities Space Research Association (USRA) scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, said in a statement.

The research team — led by Jeremy Bellucci, of the Swedish Museum of Natural History, and Alexander Nemchin, of the Swedish Museum and Curtin University in Australia analyzed lunar samples collected by members of the Apollo 14 mission, which explored the lunar surface for a few days in early February 1971.

The scientists found that one rock contained a 0.08-ounce (2 grams) fragment composed of quartz, feldspar and zircon, all of which are rare on the moon but common here on Earth.

Chemical analyses indicated that the fragment crystallized in an oxidized environment, at temperatures consistent with those found in the near subsurface of the early Earth, study team members said.

An artist’s illustration of the Hadean Earth, when the rock fragment was formed. Impact craters, some flooded by shallow seas, cover large swaths of the Earth’s surface. The excavation of those craters ejected rocky debris, some of which hit the moon.

The available evidence suggests that the fragment crystallized 4.1 billion to 4 billion years ago about 12 miles (20 kilometers) beneath Earth’s surface, then was launched into space by a powerful impact shortly thereafter.

The voyaging Earth rock soon made its way to the moon, which was then about three times closer to our planet than it is today.

The fragment endured further trauma on the lunar surface. It was partially melted, and probably buried, by an impact about 3.9 billion years ago, then excavated by yet another impact 26 million years ago, the researchers said.

This photo by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter shows the Apollo 14 landing site and nearby Cone Crater. The trail followed by the Apollo 14 astronauts can be seen. Image width is 1 mile (1.6 kilometers).

This latest collision created the 1,115-foot-wide (340 meters) Cone Crater, whose environs Apollo 14 astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell explored and sampled 47 years ago.

An Earth origin for the ancient fragment isn’t a slam dunk, study team members stressed.

However, it is the simplest explanation; a lunar birth would require a rethink of the conditions present in the moon’s interior long ago, the researchers said.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

The Story Behind Our Planet’s Most Famous Photo


The crew of the Apollo 8 spacecraft (Bill Anders, 3rd left) following the lunar orbital mission, 27 December 1968.

This photograph is now half a century old. It was taken by the astronaut Bill Anders on Christmas Eve 1968 as the Apollo 8 spacecraft rounded the dark side of the moon for a fourth time.

When Earth came up over the horizon, Anders scrabbled for his Hasselblad camera and started clicking.

In that pre-digital age, five days passed. The astronauts returned to Earth; the film was retrieved and developed.

In its new year edition, Life magazine printed the photo on a double-page spread alongside a poem by US poet laureate James Dickey: “And behold / The blue planet steeped in its dream / Of reality, its calculated vision shaking with the only love.”

This was not quite the first look at our world from space. Lunar probes had sent back crudely scanned images of a crescent Earth shrouded in cloud.

A satellite had even taken a colour photo that, in the autumn of 1968, the radical entrepreneur Stewart Brand put on the cover of his first Whole Earth Catalog.

The next edition, in spring 1969, used Anders’s photograph, by now known as Earthrise.

Brand’s catalogue was a DIY manual for the Californian counterculture, a crowdsourced compendium of life hacks about backpacking, home weaving, tantra art and goat husbandry.

Its one-world, eco ethos was a weird offshoot of the macho tech of the space age – those hunks of aluminium run on rocket fuel and cold war rivalries.

But then looking back at Earth was itself a weird offshoot of the moon missions.

It just happened that Apollo 8’s aim – to locate the best lunar landing sites – needed high-res photography, which was also good for taking pictures of planets a quarter of a million miles away.

When Bill Anders took this photograph from the Apollo spacecraft on Christmas Eve in 1968, our relationship with the world changed forever

The Earth pictured in Earthrise looks unlike traditional cartographic globes that mark out land and sea along lines of latitude and longitude.

Slightly more than half the planet is illuminated. The line dividing night and day severs Africa. Earth looks as if it is floating alone in the eternal night of space, each part awaiting its share of the life-giving light of the sun.

Apart from a small brown patch of equatorial Africa, the planet is blue and white. At first glance it seems to have the sheen of blue-veined marble.

But look closer and that spherical perfection softens a little. Earth divulges its true state as oceanic and atmospheric, warmly welcoming and achingly vulnerable.

The Apollo 8 crew (from left) Frank Borman, James Lovell and Bill Anders

The blue is light scattered by the sea and sky. The white is the gaseous veneer that coats our planet and lets us live.

You can just make out the “beautiful blue halo”, with its gentle shift from tender blue to purple black, that Yuri Gagarin noticed on his first low-orbit flight.

That halo is our fragile biosphere, and is all that stands between us and the suffocating void.

Still, Earthrise must have changed something. What’s seen can’t be unseen. Perhaps it flits across your mind when you open Google Earth and see that familiar virtual globe gently spinning.

The non-human version of Earthrise from Lunar Orbiter in 1966.

Just before you click and drag to fly yourself to some portion of the world no bigger than an allotment, you may briefly take in, with a little stomach lurch, that this slowly revolving sphere holds close to 8 billion people, living out lives as small and short and yet meaningful as the universe is infinite and eternal and yet meaningless.

On that gigantic, glistening marble, mottled with blue-white swirls, lies everyone.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

How To Protect Astronauts From Space Radiation On Mars

In this image taken by the Viking 1 orbiter in June 1976, the translucent layer above Mars’ dusty red surface is its atmosphere. Compared to Earth’s atmosphere, the thin Martian atmosphere is a less powerful shield against quick-moving, energetic particles that pelt in from all directions – which means astronauts on Mars will need protection from this harsh radiation environment.

On Aug. 7, 1972, in the heart of the Apollo era, an enormous solar flare exploded from the sun’s atmosphere. Along with a gigantic burst of light in nearly all wavelengths, this event accelerated a wave of energetic particles.

Mostly protons, with a few electrons and heavier elements mixed in, this wash of quick-moving particles would have been dangerous to anyone outside Earth’s protective magnetic bubble.

Luckily, the Apollo 16 crew had returned to Earth just five months earlier, narrowly escaping this powerful event.

In the early days of human space flight, scientists were only just beginning to understand how events on the sun could affect space, and in turn how that radiation could affect humans and technology.

Today, as a result of extensive space radiation research, we have a much better understanding of our space environment, its effects, and the best ways to protect astronauts—all crucial parts of NASA’s mission to send humans to Mars.

The Martian” film highlights the radiation dangers that could occur on a round trip to Mars. While the mission in the film is fictional, NASA has already started working on the technology to enable an actual trip to Mars in the 2030s.

In the film, the astronauts’ habitat on Mars shields them from radiation, and indeed, radiation shielding will be a crucial technology for the voyage.

From better shielding to advanced biomedical countermeasures, NASA currently studies how to protect astronauts and electronics from radiation – efforts that will have to be incorporated into every aspect of Mars mission planning, from spacecraft and habitat design to spacewalk protocols.

Radiation, at its most basic, is simply waves or sub-atomic particles that transports energy to another entity – whether it is an astronaut or spacecraft component.

The main concern in space is particle radiation. Energetic particles can be dangerous to humans because they pass right through the skin, depositing energy and damaging cells or DNA along the way.

This damage can mean an increased risk for cancer later in life or, at its worst, acute radiation sickness during the mission if the dose of energetic particles is large enough.

Fortunately for us, Earth’s natural protections block all but the most energetic of these particles from reaching the surface. A huge magnetic bubble, called the magnetosphere, which deflects the vast majority of these particles, protects our planet.

And our atmosphere subsequently absorbs the majority of particles that do make it through this bubble.

Importantly, since the International Space Station (ISS) is in low-Earth orbit within the magnetosphere, it also provides a large measure of protection for our astronauts.

“We have instruments that measure the radiation environment inside the ISS, where the crew are, and even outside the station,” said Kerry Lee, a scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

A long solar filament erupted into space on April 28-29, 2015. This type of eruption, called a coronal mass ejection, or CME, is sometimes followed by a wave of high-energy particles that can be dangerous to astronauts and electronics outside the protection of Earth’s magnetic system and atmosphere. For our journey to Mars, we will have to incorporate protection against this particle radiation into every aspect of mission planning.

This ISS crew monitoring also includes tracking of the short-term and lifetime radiation doses for each astronaut to assess the risk for radiation-related diseases.

Although NASA has conservative radiation limits greater than allowed radiation workers on Earth, the astronauts are able to stay well under NASA’s limit while living and working on the ISS, within Earth’s magnetosphere.

But a journey to Mars requires astronauts to move out much further, beyond the protection of Earth’s magnetic bubble.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

This Is How Space Can Mess With the Astronaut’s Brain

Scientists already know a lot more than they used to about what space can do to the body, thanks in large part to identical twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly.

Earlier this year, NASA published the earliest results of its twin study, comparing the physical changes found in Scott, who spent a year aboard the International Space Station, to those found in Mark, who was on Earth during the same time period.

The results: Scott returned to his home planet two inches taller, with weaker vision and declining bone formation, among other things. But he also experienced some symptoms that were more neurological in nature, like loss of fine motor skills and slower reaction time.

And now, researchers have a better understanding of why that might be the case: A study recently published in the journal Microgravity and highlighted by Christian Jarrett in BPS Research Digest outlines, for the first time, how living in space can change the human brain.

The study authors scanned the brains of 27 astronauts before they embarked on their missions into space some on two-week space shuttle missions, and others for six-month stints aboard the ISS and again once they came back. As Jarrett explains:

On average, after experiencing spaceflight, the astronauts brains had shrunk in various frontal and temporal regions and in the cerebellum (a region at the back of the brain involved in coordination, among other things).

“Meanwhile, there were also some more localised areas in which brain volume appeared to have increased, on average, including in parts of the parietal lobe, which are involved in motor control. This might reflect changes to brain structure involved in the astronauts’ adaptation to a micro-gravity environment.

As Jarrett notes, the study isn’t without its flaws. Plenty of the astronauts had already been to space, for example, which may have already altered their neurological structures.

Still, it’s a cool look at how the brain adjusts to life with less gravity — and a helpful one, assuming we ever make it to Mars.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

5 Unexpectedly Gross Things About Living In Space

I’m going to come right out and say that I’m relieved that I will never be an astronaut, because there are a lot of unexpectedly gross things about living in space.

Don’t get me wrong, space exploration is awesome, and NASA is the coolest.

But while space is exciting and fascinating, actually going to space and living there seems like the most difficult, grossest thing ever.

I have a lot of respect for the astronauts who train tirelessly before strapping themselves into a rocket and hurtling out of our atmosphere. I could never do it.

But it’s not just the inherent danger or freakiness of never-ending space that puts me off the idea. I just know that if I had to live the daily life of an astronaut, I couldn’t cut it.

Now, I’m not talking about having to eat dehydrated food out of plastic containers for months on end. I’m talking about the truly gross, gag worthy things about space that I couldn’t handle.

Drinking Your Own Urine

In order to continuously have fresh water, the U.S. astronauts on the International Space Station have to be thrifty. And by thrifty I mean they go Bear Grylls on us and drink their own urine.

It’s completely purified first though. The water is collected from urine and condensate, which is breath and sweat, as well as shower run off.

Apparently the system works pretty well that they recycle 6,000 liters of water a year. When they run out of their own pee, the U.S. astronauts apparently sometimes steal pee from the Russians who don’t drink their own urine.

Chilling With Your Dead Skin

Astronauts are basically trapped in a big, expensive, highly efficient bubble, which means that things can’t exactly get out including dead skin.

On Earth, we barely think about it, because it all falls off because of gravity. But not in space. According to astronaut Don Pettit, taking off your sock is like watching a horror movie.

This cloud, this explosion of skin particles detritus floats out,” Pettit said. Excuse me while I dry heave.

Wearing Giant Diapers

Returning to Earth is sometimes compared to coming out of a womb, and I bet nothing makes astronauts feel like babies more than having to wear diapers.

Technically, the correct term is Disposable Absorption Containment Trunk, which astronauts wear during launch, or while out on space walks.

But despite the fancy name, it’s basically just a big, bulky diaper.

Living Life Like You’re Hungover

Space sickness? There’s a cure for that #WorseMoonLandingQuotes pic.twitter.com/nVg0L2EWM3

— Eric Van Luven (@EricVanLuven) July 24, 2014

One of the scourges of space travel is space sickness, a phenomena that affects almost every astronaut in the early days of their voyage.

It’s like being motion sick and hungover all at once, but so much worse. Astronauts feel nauseated, have headaches, and have difficulty locating their limbs.

It sounds absolutely horrible, and it can last for up to a few days. I don’t want to have the mental image of what happens in an astronaut has to vomit from the space sickness.

Pooping Into A Literal Vacuum

The answer to the number one questions — how do astronauts poop in space? Carefully. Before going to space, astronauts actually train to learn how to use the toilet, which is basically a small vacuum.

They have to angle themselves over it perfectly, so that the waste goes into the vacuum, into a bag, and is stored. If it isn’t done correctly… well, you could be hanging out with poo, along with all your dead skin.

If the astronaut has to pee, they use a specialized tube (depending on gender), and the urine is whisked away, in order to be turned into tomorrow’s coffee.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Mystery on Enceladus: What Drives Saturn Moon’s Icy Plumes?

The famous geysers seen erupting from the surface of Saturn’s striped moon Enceladus are a striking visual feature, but a scientific mystery. A new model may finally explain what sustains these eruptions.

First spotted by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft in 2005, the geysers erupt along Enceladus’ “tiger stripes,” or fissures, in the icy surface around the moon’s south pole.

There are multiple outstanding questions about the geysers, such as how they can continue to erupt over longer periods of time, and why they don’t freeze over.

The new model shows how tidal stress from Saturn could help solve the puzzle.

On Earth, [geyser] eruptions don’t tend to continue for long,” said lead author Edwin Kite, a geophysical scientist at the University of Chicago, in a statement.

When you see eruptions that continue for a long time, they’ll be localized into a few pipelike eruptions with wide spacing between them.

The liquid that spews skyward from the geysers on Enceladus likely comes from a subsurface ocean.

Tidal forces the same kind responsible for the tides on Earth exerted on Enceladus by Saturn, could cause the water in its subsurface ocean to spew upward, creating the geysers.

But observations show that the eruptions reach their peak five hours later than would be expected if they were caused by a simple tidal force.

Scientists have previously proposed that the delay is due to of the fact that Enceladus’ outer, icy shell is relatively soft, but the new model doesn’t require that to be true.

The new model suggests that deep vertical “slots” may be located between the icy surface of Enceladus and the water below.

If the slots were wide, the eruptions would happen very soon after the tidal force goes into effect, the researchers say.

If the slots were narrow, the tidal forcing would take longer.

The observed delay of 5 hours comes from a size of slot that is somewhere in between, the scientists said.

The tidal forces laid out in the new model could also heat the water and the ice shell via turbulence, according to the statement.

That could explain why “the fissure system doesn’t clog up with its own frost,” Kite said.

And why “the energy removed from the water table by evaporative cooling doesn’t just ice things over.

That conclusion could be tested by an analysis of observations from Cassini’s recent flybys of Enceladus. Data from Cassini could show if the south polar ice has been heated or if it’s cold.

If temperatures between the cracks are found to be warm, this would imply that there is some additional source of heat.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Germs May Be Valuable Passengers on Mission To Mars

Astronauts on space missions to Mars may need more germs on the ship with them to stay in good health, a new study suggests.

As scientists prepare for a mission to Mars in the coming decades, the health and safety of astronauts is a top priority.

In this new research, scientists honed in on the microorganisms that would be living in close quarters with crews aboard spacecraft.

Researchers from Germany, the United Kingdom and Austria, led by the German Aerospace Center, enlisted a crew of six male “Marsonauts.” They lived inside a mock spacecraft in Moscow from June 2010 to November 2011.

During the mock Mars mission, the researchers monitored how the composition of bacteria changed over time.

What they found was that the diversity of germs dropped dramatically during the equivalent of a space flight to Mars.

Until now, little was known about the influence of long-term confinement on the microorganisms that live inside habitats that may one day be used to travel to other planets, and whether the structure of the microbiota changes with time,” said study author Petra Schwendner, from the University of Edinburgh.

Ours is the first comprehensive long-time study that investigates the microbial load, diversity and dynamics in a closed habitat – a mock-up spacecraft – for 520 days, the full duration of a simulated flight to Mars,” she said.

During the mock mission, the crew never left the closed habitat. They were also subjected to a regimented lifestyle that future Mars astronauts will face.

This involved a strict diet and schedule, which included cleaning the habitat and conducting scientific experiments.

The crew also collected 360 microbial samples from the air and various surfaces at 18 intervals.

The study showed communal areas, sleep areas, the gym, and the bathroom had the greatest volume and diversity of bacteria while the medical space had the least.

The researchers noted, however, that microbial diversity aboard the “spacecraft” declined dramatically during the mission.

The findings were published Oct. 3 in the journal Microbiome.

In addition to potential health risks for the crew, some of these microorganisms could have a negative impact on spacecraft, as they grow on and might damage spacecraft material,” Schwendner said in a journal news release.

To ensure the systems’ stability, countermeasures may be required to avoid development of highly resistant, adapted microorganisms, and a complete loss of microbial [germ} diversity,” she said.

The crew was the main source of human-associated bacteria within the habitat, but the prolonged confinement seemed to have the most significant effect on the bacterial community, the researchers found.

The study authors suggested their findings provide insight on habitat maintenance and could help scientists develop strategies to ensure a healthy environment for astronauts during future deep space missions.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Your Chance To Talk To Astronauts On The International Space Station

The International Space Station is flying hundreds of miles above our heads, but keeping in contact with the astronauts on the space station isn’t as difficult as it sounds.

In fact, ham radio operators can listen, and even speak, to the astronauts every once in a while.

Indeed, anyone with a radio licence and the right equipment can transmit to the crew and talk to them. A licence is not required to listen in, however.

In order to make contact with the space station, the ISS has to be flying overhead, because radio operators need line of sight with the station.

Once they connect, it’s possible the operators could hear comments from the astronauts aboard the station or even talk to them.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Take A Virtual Tour Of The International Space Station


Ever wondered what it’s like to be an astronaut aboard the International Space Station? Now, thanks to the French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Google, you can find out.

Pesquet returned to Earth in June after six months as a European Space Agency astronaut on the ISS.

During his trip, he made an exhaustive photographic survery of the interior of the station and sent the images down to Google engineers on Earth.

They in turn stitched the photos together into 360-degree panoramas that can be navigated using the Google Street View interface.

So what’s it like? Words like “cramped”, “cluttered” and “claustrophobic” spring to mind for this armchair astronaut, though the explanatory notes are fascinating and the views out the window are truly superb.

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Pass it on: Popular Science