Label: Space Travel

November 1, 2011

  Today’s "Cool Photo of the Week" is a nighttime view of the Midwestern United States, captured from the International Space Station. From space, astronauts can see many different kinds of lights in the night skies.

The artificial light created by humans is easily recognizable by its yellowish tone. The burst of bright white light in the upper right hand corner of the photograph is probably lightning. And the green glow rimming the edge of the planet is the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights.

If you look closely, there is even more that you can see in this view. Look at Chicago. Just to the right of Chicago’s big patch of lights, there is a completely dark section. Why do the lights stop so suddenly? Because you are looking at one of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan.


  Can anyone tell me what the very faint, dark orange shape is at the top of the photograph, above Earth? The first person to answer correctly, by clicking "Comments" at the bottom of this blog entry, will win an autographed copy of my book SPACE TRAVELERS. Be sure to include your email address (and check it to be sure you have spelled it correctly!), so that we can contact you if you are the winner.

Good Luck!


Photo courtesy of Cloud Imaging and Particle Size Experiment data processing team at the University of Colorado Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(11) Comments  •   Labels: space, Contests, Cool Photo, Aurora Borealis, Space Travel   •  Permalink (link to this article)

May 27, 2011

Did you ever get soap in your eye? It stings like crazy, and all you want to do is rub your eye and wash it out with clear water as quickly as you can.

So what happens if you are in the middle of a spacewalk, wearing a helmet that you cannot take off, and you get soap in your eye? Astronaut Andrew Feustel, a mission specialist on the Endeavour crew working at the International Space Station, ran into just that problem yesterday. "My right eye is stinging like crazy now," he radioed. "It’s watering a lot." It turned out that the soap-like anti-fogging solution that they spray onto inside of the astronauts’ helmets had gotten into his eye. Ouch. No way to reach up and rub your eye if you are floating in deep space!

For a few minutes, they thought that they would have to cut the spacewalk short and let him come back inside. Finally, he managed to rub his eye against a foam block in his helmet - normally used for clearing ears - and said that helped. He also noted that tears in space "don’t fall off of your eye ... they kind of stay there."

Kids (and adults) often wonder about how astronauts take care of simple things like having a drink when liquids float away. Same problem with brushing your teeth, or going to the bathroom. NASA had to figure out how astronauts would accomplish all of these things before we were ever able to send men and women into space. Yesterday’s incident was just one more example of things that we handle so easily here on Earth, but can become a real pain (in the eye) in space!

Photo: NASA 

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(1) Comments  •   Labels: science news, space, Space Travel   •  Permalink (link to this article)

May 20, 2011

When the space shuttle Endeavour blasted off this week, it was carrying an unusual cargo: baby Bobtail Squid (Euprymna scolopes). Squid are cephalopods, a group of relatively intelligent animals that also includes octopuses. These baby squid are the first celaphods to travel into space. 

NASA hopes the squid will help us understand how "good" bacteria behave in the microgravity of space. As Jamie Foster of the University of Florida in Gainesville, who is running the experiment, puts it: "Do good bacteria go bad?"

We already know that disease microbes ("bad" bacteria) grow faster and become more dangerous if they are sent into space. Salmonella bacteria were sent up on a space shuttle in 2006, and when they returned to Earth they were almost three times as likely to kill mice as normal.

So far, we have only studied harmful bacteria in space. This time, the astronauts are going to run experiments that will enable us to look at good bacteria.

The reason Foster chose these animals for his experiment is pretty interesting. Bobtail shrimp carry a whole colony of bacteria, called Vibrio fischeri in their bodies, stored in their "light organs." The squid use the bacteria to create light, which they shine out of their bodies and onto the ocean floor below. That way, they don’t have a shadow, which makes it harder for predators to see them. Isn’t that an interesting camouflage tactic?

The experiment is simple. Newly hatched squid that don’t yet have the bacteria in their light organs were placed in test tubes filled with seawater and sent up on the shuttle. Yesterday, an astronaut added the bacteria to their seawater. When they come back to earth, Dr. Foster and his research partners will study the squid and see if the bacteria grew normally, if they grew faster in a good way, or if there were problems.

People often think that the space program is only about exploration. Of course, that is an important part of why we travel to space. But an equally important aspect of space travel is the opportunity to do experiments that we cannot do here on Earth. Science that we learn in space has many spin-offs back on our home planet. We have learned all kinds of new technologies. We have learned things that have helped us to learn about diseases, to better understand the functioning of the human body (including what causes "malfunctions"), and to develop new vaccines. These little squid will take us one step further in our understanding of the nature of life, and the interaction between different species. 


Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: science news, space, Oceans, Space Travel   •  Permalink (link to this article)

August 7, 2010

 Image of Expedition 24 Flight Engineers Doug Wheelock (foreground) and Tracy Caldwell Dyson working on the International Space Station’s S1 Truss during the first of two spacewalks to replace a failed ammonia pump module. Credit: NASA TV

A pair of space station astronauts ventured out on an urgent spacewalk this morning to restore a crucial cooling system - one of the most challenging repairs ever attempted at the orbiting lab. According to NASA, Expedition 24 Flight Engineers Doug Wheelock and Tracy Caldwell Dyson switched their spacesuits to battery power at 7:19 a.m. EDT, signaling the start of the first of two spacewalks that will focus on removing the ammonia pump module that failed last Saturday and putting its replacement in place.

The ammonia pump shut down last weekend and knocked out half of the space station’s cooling system. To cope with the failure, the six-person crew had to turn off all unnecessary equipment and halt science experiments. NASA engineers spent this week developing the emergency repair plan and astronauts in Houston rehearsed every step of the spacewalk while submerged in NASA’s huge training pool. The repair tasks, which include removing the failed pump module from the S1 Truss and retrieving a spare from an external stowage platform, are expected to take about 6.5 to 7 hours. They are scheduled to complete installation and activation of the new pump module during the second spacewalk planned for Wednesday at 6:55 a.m. EDT.

According to NASA, Wheelock is the designated extravehicular crew member, so he is wearing the spacesuit bearing the red stripes and conducting the fourth spacewalk of his career. Caldwell Dyson, designated as EV2, is wearing the unmarked spacesuit and making her first spacewalk. Flight Engineer Shannon Walker is operating Canadarm2, the station’s robotic arm, and assisting the spacewalkers from inside the station. Their mission is considered so difficult that two spacewalks are required. Each pump module weighs 780 pounds (353 kg) and is 5 1/2 feet long (69 inches) by 4 feet wide (50 inches). They are also about 3 feet tall (36 inches), making them very bulky and difficult to move.

There is streaming live video coverage on if you’d like to see this project in action. Thanks also to the folks at also for the diagram below, detailing the repair.


Posted by: Seymour Simon

(1) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Space Travel, International Space Station   •  Permalink (link to this article)

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