Tag Archives: Space
In 1961, a college student named David Myers traveled from Washington, DC, to the US Naval School of Aviation Medicine in Florida to take part in a new experiment. “I had a very limited understanding of what I was getting myself into,” Myers told me recently over email. “So I was extremely curious and mildly excited that first day.”
Myers was one of 11 men specifically recruited by Dr. Ashton Graybiel to help test the feasibility of human spaceflight, at a time when nobody knew whether the human body could withstand a trip beyond our atmosphere. For nearly a decade, the US Navy put 11 eleven men through countless tests. Four of the men spent 12 straight days inside a 20-foot room that rotated constantly. In another experiment, they were sent out to notoriously rough seas off the coast of Nova Scotia. On the boat, the men played cards while the researchers were so overcome with seasickness that they had to cancel the test and go home. Others were sent up in the so-called “Vomit Comet,” an aircraft designed to simulate zero gravity. That’s the test Myers is still most fond of. “This free floating was a fascinating experience,” he says. “No other tests came close as my favorites.” But Myers and the other men would never go to space. In fact, they would never be allowed. They were recruited for these tests for the exact reason they would never pass the NASA astronaut qualification exams: All 11 men were deaf.
Now known as the Gallaudet Eleven, Myers and his colleagues were recruited from Gallaudet College (now Gallaudet University), a school for d/Deaf students. (“Big D” Deaf refers to Deaf culture and community, while “small d” deaf refers to people who don’t identify with that community.) Ten out of the 11 men had become deaf because of spinal meningitis, an infection of the fluid in the spinal cord. The infection ultimately damaged each man’s inner ear, including their vestibular system, which also happens to be the system that is mainly responsible for motion sickness. This made the men perfect test subjects for a space program that was trying to understand what might happen to people in places where the inner ear can’t sense up and down. “Through their endurance and dedication, the work of the Gallaudet Eleven made substantial contributions to the understanding of motion sickness and adaptation to spaceflight,” wrote Hannah Hotovy of the NASA History Division. Harry Larson, another one of the Gallaudet Eleven, put it this way: “We were different in a way they needed.”
It’s no secret that it’s incredibly difficult to become an astronaut. NASA’s selection process is notoriously rigorous—strict enough that it was the most plausible kind of place to set the movie Gattaca, where only the perfectly genetically engineered get to board rockets bound for space. Writer Tom Wolfe documented the space program’s strenuous astronaut training program in his book The Right Stuff.
The assumption has long been that this training is a necessity—traveling to space is a mentally and physically grueling endeavor. We need the strongest, smartest, most adaptable among us to go. But strength comes in many forms, as do smarts. And if you want to find people who are the very best at adapting to worlds not suited for them, you’ll have the best luck looking at people with disabilities, who navigate such a world every single day. Which has led disability advocates to raise the question: What actually is the right stuff?
“Crip bodies were built for space travel. Crip minds already push the outer limits,” Alice Wong, founder of the Disability Visibility Project, tweeted last year. “We already master usage of breathing apparatuses and can handle challenging situations.” Wong went on to coedit an issue of the literary magazine Deaf Poets Society called “Crips in Space” with writer and performer Sam de Leve.
Take, for example, people who use ostomy bags. Right now, pooping in space is actually an important technical challenge. During takeoff, landing, and spacewalks, astronauts wear diapers. While in the space station, they use a toilet that requires a fair amount of precision and training to use. Astronauts have told all kinds of stories about rogue poop, or situations in which the toilet has backed up or generally gone awry. In 2008, NASA spent $ 19 million on a Russian toilet for the International Space Station. None of this would be an issue for an astronaut with an ostomy bag. “I could plug into the wall and just empty the container that’s been collecting,” says Mallory K. Nelson, a disability design specialist who uses an ileostomy bag—a pouch that connects to her intestine and collects waste. “I’ve moved the output location of poop, which creates a lot more flexibility in the kind of systems I can have. I could attach it to a space suit.”
Or consider movement in space. You’ve certainly seen videos of astronauts zipping around the space station using their arms and legs to push off surfaces and direct their motion. This is a type of movement that people who use wheelchairs and other mobility aids are already familiar with. In fact, the various devices and ways of moving the body in space are likely more familiar to people with disabilities than to able-bodied people. “We move our bodies in so many different ways, and the disabled community has an exuberant amount of options,” says Nelson, who is an amputee and who has used crutches, a wheelchair, a scooter, and a prosthetic to get around. Nelson even coined a term for this recently: transmobility, the idea that there are lots of ways to get around besides putting one foot in front of the other.
Nelson also points out that most astronauts have no prior experience relying on technology for their movement and lives, whereas people with disabilities do so every day. In a space suit, for a space walk, an astronaut has to be trained in how to move their body in unison with a piece of technology. They have to get used to the idea that, if that technology should fail, they could be in grave danger. This, again, is an experience people like Nelson live with every day. “I’m always moving my body in motion with another object. That’s all we do,” Nelson says.
Or take blind astronauts. In a piece for Scientific American, Sheri Wells-Jensen lays out the case for designing spaceships for blind space travelers:
“After all, in a serious accident, the first thing to go might be the lights! This generally means that the first thing a sighted astronaut must do for security is ensure visual access to the environment. He hunts for a flashlight, and if emergency lighting comes on, his eyes take a moment to adjust. Meanwhile, the blind astronaut is already heading toward the source of the problem. In the fire aboard the Russian Mir space station, in 1997, the crew struggled as smoke obscured their view. The blind astronaut, while still affected by the lack of good air, would not be bothered by either dim lighting or occluding smoke. She would accurately direct the fire extinguisher at the source of heat and noise.”
In the Mir fire that Wells-Jensen mentions, one of the problems that arose was the sighted astronauts’ inability to locate the fire extinguisher through the smoke. Had the ship been laid out with a blind participant in mind, there would have been a nonvisual signal already built in to such a critical piece of equipment.
Or consider d/Deaf astronauts once again. The Gallaudet Eleven were tapped for their immunity to motion sickness—John Glenn even reportedly said he was envious of their ability to withstand the tests without getting sick—but there are other reasons why bringing a d/Deaf astronaut along could be useful. “Studies have shown that using sign languages confers cognitive advantages in one’s visual working memory, enhancing how we see, remember, and manipulate objects in our mind,” says Joseph Murray, a professor at Gallaudet University and the scholar behind the term Deaf Gain, the idea that deafness should not be considered a loss of something but, rather, a gain of a whole host of other things. “The challenge Deaf Gain offers for NASA and all workplaces is to rethink their automatic assumptions about deaf people’s capabilities,” Murray says. “If there is a mission need for people with advanced spatial processing skills who do not get motion sick, then there are quite a few deaf people ready and willing to serve.”
And it’s not just on a trip to space that people with disabilities might have an advantage. Take a situation in which astronauts are going somewhere to settle: Able bodies might no longer behave the way we expect. “Humans have an environmental niche on Earth, like all other creatures do, and we exploit it in different ways,” says Ashley Shew, a professor at Virginia Tech. Mars, or even a space station, is nothing like that niche. “The conditions in which our bodies have grown up are so drastically different that our existence in space will be much more like being a disabled person on Earth than like being an abled person on Earth.” Who better to send than those who are used to navigating environments not built for them—those who experience that every day on Earth? “Disabled people will fare better in space because disabled people have learned to negotiate hostile situations in ways that able bodied people are completely unaware of,” Shew says. Wong agrees. “The way we communicate, function, and exist with our diverse bodyminds sets us up as ideal space explorers and ambassadors of Earth, ready to make first contact with sentient beings,” she told me.
Whether this will actually happen is hard to say. NASA didn’t respond to my request for comment on their astronaut selection policy (like all government agencies, NASA personnel are currently not working due to the government shutdown). Nor did Mars One or SpaceX. Online, Mars One has a whole page of qualifications for candidates for their proposed Mars mission, stating, “In general, normal medical and physiological health standards will be used” and disqualifying anybody without “normal range of motion and functionality in all joints,” anybody with less than 20/20 vision, and anybody who is deemed not “healthy.” NASA’s FAQ section says that “for maximum crew safety, each crewmember must be free of medical conditions that would either impair the person’s ability to participate in, or be aggravated by, space flight, as determined by NASA physicians.”
Changing these requirements won’t be easy. Spacecraft are designed with certain assumptions about what kinds of bodies will be sitting in the seats and operating the controls. The opportunity to change those parameters is small and must be seized while ships are being designed, not down the road. Plus, many people with disabilities who might want to go to space can’t get access to the pipeline that delivers so many astronauts: “Astronauts come via the military and that’s a closed door for disabled individuals,” Myers says. “Those kinds of obstacles need to be removed for those individuals who are otherwise qualified.” And NASA itself has had no reason to rethink their stance, because no one has really pushed them to. Yet, that is.
But all that could change. In 2017, Johanna Lucht became the first Deaf engineer to work at NASA. Eddie Ndopu, a South African activist and humanitarian, has said he wants to be the first disabled person in space. He plans to book a flight on a commercial trip into space and deliver an address to the UN while he’s up there. (MTV is slated to film the entire thing.) Julia Velasquez, a Deaf woman from California, has gone through many of the steps traditionally taken by astronauts—she’s interned at NASA, recently received her pilot’s license, and even lived in a simulated Mars colony in Hawaii.
When I asked Myers if he ever wished he could have been an astronaut, he said, “Yes, absolutely. At one point I told Dr. Graybiel, ‘If you ever develop an experiment involving a flight into space, I want to be first in line.’” Myers likely won’t wind up in space in his lifetime. But he might live to see a disabled person make the journey, opening up space to a whole new set of uniquely qualified astronauts.
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A new video from the European Space Agency shows the spectacular launch of the Soyuz rocket.
The video was captured by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst and shows the Russian Progress MS-10 cargo spacecraft taking off from the Soyuz rocket on Nov. 16. The spacecraft was carrying food and supplies for astronauts aboard the International Space Station and fuel to resupply the ISS. The spacecraft was carrying 5,653 lbs of supplies and fuel.
The time-lapsed footage condenses the 15-minute launch into a video of just a minute and a half. It shows the Soyuz-FG rocket booster separation, the core stage separation, the core beginning to burn in the atmosphere and go back to Earth after using up its fuel, and finally the Progress spacecraft separating from the rocket and entering orbit to catch up with the ISS.
The rocket flies at 17,900 miles per hour at 249 miles above Earth before it docked two days later.
In 1670 an astronomer discovered a strange-shaped cloud in the sky. Upon further study over the next centuries, astronomers came around to the idea that CK Vulpeculae is the result of two stars colliding, although what types of stars crashed, they can’t say.
This massive cluster of galaxies, captured by the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton space observatory, emits hot gases that glow purple in x-ray light. The galaxy cluster, called XLSSC006, contains hundreds of galaxies and dark matter, so much so that everything in it adds up to around 500 trillion solar masses. And this snapshot is of a bygone time; the image shows what XLSSC006 looked like when the 14 billion-year-old universe was but 9 billion years old.
Globular cluster NGC 1898 resides near the center of a dwarf galaxy called the Large Magellanic Cloud. It is of great interest to astronomers studying star formation because it is so close—a mere 163,000 light years away. Clusters like these—dense grouping of stars bound by gravity—date back to the early days of the universe, and they contain several hundred thousand, and sometimes millions, of stars.
While all terrestrial eyes were on Hurricane Michael, an astronaut aboard the International Space Station captured the storm from above on October 10, before Michael made landfall in Florida. The eye itself is calm enough that you can see down to the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, while the winds swirling around the center peaked at 155 miles per hour.
Every week, we look forward to gazing at new darkish, square-shaped images filled with striated light, shiny streams of gas, and a colorful assortment of galaxies. This image is more subdued. This skyward shot is from the European Space Agency’s Digitized Sky Survey 2, which is mapping the heavens using the European Southern Observatory. It’s remarkable for the amount of space it shows, that abundance of emptiness between all the astral bodies.
You are not seeing things, there aren’t a dozen space stations, just one. And in this composite photo, the International Space Station, the size of an NFL football field, appears almost like a gnat crawling across the face of the Sun. Many astrophotographers are skilled at capturing the ISS as it transits objects like the Sun and moon, and it’s something that takes great planning—they have to follow an object that is orbiting Earth at 18,000 miles an hour. That’s 5 miles per second!
This lovely abstract image of Saturn’s rings is just one of the many unique photos captured by the Cassini spacecraft. The strong lines seem to intersect but they don’t actually—it’s the angle of the spacecraft and the tilt of the planet that create the illusion. Notice the thick black line that stretches horizontally? That is called the Encke Gap; it is kept open by one of Saturn’s tiniest and most famous moons, Pan. Take a very close look at the Encke Gap in the center of the image and there you will find Pan!
The Sun looks blue in this image on account of an ultraviolet filter that shows features more clearly. What stands out here is the active region in the center of the photo. These bright arcs show highly charged particles escaping from the Sun along magnetic field lines.
The Moon seems to float above Earth in this stunning image taken from the International Space Station on April 30. On our planet’s surface, what you see is Newfoundland, Canada, but what you should really be looking at is the bright blue of the atmosphere. It’s easy to forget how thin our atmosphere is—a delicate haze of clouds and water that separates us from the blackness of space.
The Hubble Space Telescope strikes again with this space-time bending almost-image of a galaxy cluster, called SDSS J0150+2725. You might think it’s the bright blue thing at the bottom, yet that is not the object at issue. Toward the top of the frame, light is being bent, distorting the shapes of galaxies that lie further off into the distance, and the culprit is the SDSS J0150+2725 galaxy cluster. While we can’t see the cluster itself, we can see how it affects the space around it. Galaxy clusters like these are some of the most massive objects in the universe, and they contain so much mass that they influence the gravity around them, warping space-time.
You are looking at a cluster of black holes. But we can’t see black holes, you say! You are right, but what we can see is nearby light being sucked into black holes. This is Sagittarius A, the supermassive black hole at the center our Milky Way galaxy. Scientists at the Chandra X-ray observatory captured this black hole cluster in a clever way: Neutron stars emit gas, and if they are locked into orbit with a black hole, that black hole will steal gas from the star, creating a trail of light that’s essentially a fingerprint marking its existence.
Welcome to space, Copernicus Sentinel-3B! This is the first image taken by the European Space Agency’s new satellite, launched to study Earth’s climate. Using its brand-new cameras, Sentinel-B captured sunset over Antarctica. The only daylight left is in the middle as the darkness of night creeps up from the bottom of the frame.
Last week the Sun opened up again. Seen here filtered through an extreme UV light filter, which shows very high-energy radiation, the darker region is an opening in the star’s magnetic field. These coronal holes spew highly charged particles called the solar wind. This sweeps out into space, eventually colliding with our own magnetic field, putting on a dazzling display of aurora for those near the north and south poles.
This isn’t just any Hubble photo of the Lagoon Nebula; this is a special birthday photo celebrating the Hubble Space Telescope’s 28 years in orbit. The Lagoon Nebula, seen here in dazzling color, is 4,000 light years away and is gargantuan as star nurseries go: 20 light years high and 55 light years wide.
This is a gorgeous photo and one you might not recognize of a famous astral body, called the Lagoon Nebula. The Hubble Space Telescope took this photo in infrared light, which reveals different elements of the nebula not seen in the visible spectrum. The bright star in the center is called Herschel 36 and is only 1 million years old—a fledgling in stellar terms.
Mars is covered in craters and while typically thought to be a “dead” planet, it’s actually quite active. Earth’s red neighbor has wind, although not strong enough to kill The Martian’s Mark Watney. This impact crater (a relatively new one by Mars standards) is called Bonestell crater, located in the plain known as Acidalia Planitia. The streaks in the image are caused by winds blowing down into the crater.
This photo of the Sun was taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory some weeks ago. The dark regions are called coronal holes—openings in the Sun’s magnetic field—and when open, they spit highly charged particles into space. When these particles run into Earth’s magnetic field, they create spectacular displays of aurora near our northern and southern poles.
Hello deep space! This galaxy cluster has a name that is rather difficult to remember—PLCK G308.3-20.2, but it’s way cool. Galaxy clusters like this contain thousands of galaxies, some just like our own. They’re held together by gravity, making them one of the largest known structures in space affected by this invisible force.
Ready to shoot the moon? The new administration in Washington is setting its sights on some lunar adventures. Among the various reasons why people want to head back to the moon: There’s a decent amount of water frozen around our cratered satellite, and also the views from there aren’t too shabby.
People look for inspiration and happiness in a vast array of places. Some see school kids walking out of class across America to take a stand for gun control and find hope. Others note that 7-Eleven now has customizable tater tots and are filled with joy. What do they get when they look at the internet? All that and a lot of bickering and tweets about calzones. Here, dear friends, is what everyone was talking about online last week when they weren’t talking about the new Avengers: Infinity War trailer.
What Happened: President Trump announced Rex Tillerson was being replaced as secretary of state on Twitter.
What Really Happened: Folks like to make jokes about Donald Trump running America via Twitter, but last week he announced an executive decision on the platform that was definitely not funny—at least not to the head of the State Department.
Yes, the change in Secretary of State—one of the most important, if not the most important, cabinet positions—was announced via social media, as if Trump was every parody of himself imaginable. For those who wanted more than just a tweet of notice about the new state of affairs, that was forthcoming … also via Twitter, of course.
Those around Tillerson, who had just arrived back in the country, were surprised by the news, suggesting that Tillerson himself wasn’t entirely prepared for what had just happened.
There might, it turns out, have been a reason for that, if one response from the State Department is to be believed.
OK, perhaps it was a little disingenuous to say that no one saw this coming, as some pointed out.
Unsurprisingly, the White House has a different take on the way everything went down.
Except, it turned out, chief of staff John Kelly’s message might not have been entirely clear.
There really is something to be said about Twitter’s role in all of this, isn’t there? Still, things couldn’t have been that bad, because Tillerson did make an appearance later that day to talk about his firing and smooth everything over.
This is worth noting, as well. The State Department aide who put out the earlier statement saying that Tillerson didn’t know why he’d been fired? Yeah, there was a price to pay for saying that.
The Takeaway: Quick, we need a catchy way of talking about former Exxon CEO Tillerson now that he’s been ousted!
Move Along, Nothing to See Here
What Happened: House Republicans announced they were closing their investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election, saying there was no evidence of such actions.
What Really Happened: Last week, with little warning, the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election just … stopped.
“Case closed”? Sure, if you say so. And, it turns out, they really did say so.
There are others who might disagree with that take, of course…
That would be a yes, then. And, sure, it seems suspicious to say the least that the Republicans just shut down the investigation unfinished with so much still out there unanswered, but surely the Democrats on the committee were given adequate warning that the investigation was being closed, right?
OK, but at least all the Republicans are agreed that this move was the smart one?
Well, fine, yes, that’s a little awkward. Still, at least one of the leading Republicans on the committee didn’t disagree.
Oh, come on. As the week continued, it eventually started to become clear even to the Republicans that this had been a mistake, with this headline putting it best: “Republicans Fear They Botched Russia Report Rollout.” Gee, you think?
The Takeaway: In what could only be described as a spectacular piece of timing, the Republicans announced that there was nothing Russians had done in regards to the 2016 election in the same week that the Trump administration finally signed sanctions into law against 16 Russians for their efforts to interfere with the 2016 election. There’s nothing like being consistent.
Meanwhile, Over at the Department of Justice…
What Happened: Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation took aim at the Trump Organization.
What Really Happened: Meanwhile, you might be thinking, “I wonder how special council Robert Mueller’s Russia collusion investigation is going? I’m sure that, if the House Republicans were right and there’s certainly nothing going on, he’ll be wrapping everything up too, right?” Funny story: He’s not wrapping everything up.
Yes, in what is pretty much the opposite of wrapping things up, Mueller is subpoenaing the Trump Organization’s records, which is … kind of a big deal, to say the least. Certainly, that’s what people on social media seemed to think.
But what could it all mean? Some people had theories.
And how is this going down with those targeted?
Somewhere, Devin Nunes is wandering around the halls of Congress, muttering to himself, “But I said nothing happened…!”
The Takeaway: It’s worth pointing out that the Mueller news dropped on March 15, which amused certain people online.
What Happened: Forget “Commander in Chief,” perhaps President Trump’s title could be “Gaslighter in Chief.” Or, maybe, “Man Who Should Perhaps Never Talk in Front of a Tape Recorder Ever.”
What Really Happened: This might sound like the kind of old-fashioned, unnecessary posturing of people stuck in the past, but once upon a time it was widely expected that the President of the United States wouldn’t be the kind of person who would boast about lying to the head of state of a friendly nation.
Those days, dear readers, are long gone.
Yes, the Washington Post obtained audio from a fundraising speech in which Trump boasted that he’d made up information that he used in an argument with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over whether or not the US runs a trade deficit with Trudeau’s country. (It doesn’t.) “I had no idea,” Trump can be heard to say on the tape. “I just said, ‘You’re wrong.’ You know why? Because we’re so stupid.” As you might expect, people were thrilled about this display of, uh, political maneuvering? Sure, let’s go with that.
There is, also, a surreal second story to this audio of Trump that has nothing to do with lying to Justin Trudeau. Instead, it had to do with the “bowling ball test.”
The Takeaway: There’s really only response to this entire exchange, isn’t there?
Space Force? Space Force!
What Happened: When it comes to America’s manifest destiny, there’s only one direction left to go: To infinity… and beyond?
What Really Happened: With all the bad news going around the the White House, you can’t blame the president for wanting to change the narrative somehow. And you only get to do that, he knows, by thinking big and reaching for the stars. Last week, Trump gave a speech that showed just how literally he took that advice.
Sure, going to Mars is definitely thinking big, but is it thinking big enough? Not to worry, however; Trump was right there with the next big thing.
Space Force! Just the very idea got the media excited, and asking questions like, “For real?” and “What does that even mean?”, not to mention “Do we have to?” Sure, not every outlet took the idea seriously, but that’s the lamestream media for you. Everyone else was into the idea, or calling the president a laughingstock. It’s hard to be a leader. But at least Twitter understood the potential of Space Force.
The Takeaway: Make no mistake, people may joke now, but Space Force is the future.
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The International Space Station is getting some more supplies.
Aerospace company Orbital ATK said Friday that it plans to launch a rocket on Saturday that will help carry cargo to the International Space Station.
Orbital’s Antares rocket is expected to launch at 7:37 am ET from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va. It will be Orbital’s eighth cargo-delivery mission to the International Space Station as part of the company’s contract with NASA.
The rocket will send aloft the cargo-carrying Cygnus spacecraft, which is expected to reach the space station on Nov. 13. The spacecraft will bring 7,400 pounds of supplies and scientific equipment, including a high-school student science experiment for studying how peanut plants grow in space.
— Orbital ATK (@OrbitalATK) November 10, 2017
The Cygnus spacecraft will remain at the International Space Station for one month, during which the cargo will help researchers conduct studies on how space’s microgravity affects the E.coli bacteria’s resistance to antibiotics. Another research experiment will test new technologies to allow for faster communications between people in space and on earth, according to NASA.
After debarking from the space station in December, the Cygnus spacecraft will burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, thus disposing of several tons of trash, NASA said.
People can watch a live broadcast of the rocket launch from NASA’s online video streaming website.
Orbital isn’t the only aerospace company helping NASA send cargo to the International Space Station. The Elon Musk-led SpaceX also has a NASA contract, and in August, it launched a Falcon 9 rocket to help bring 6,400 pounds of equipment, including a Hewlett Packard Enterprise hpe supercomputer, to the space station.
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Space photos of the week, September 18 — 24, 2016. The post Space Photos of the Week: Dying Star Insists on Being Dramatic About It appeared first on WIRED.