The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'space'
The Fortean Times has an article looking at the story of Russia's lost cosmonauts. The story goes that, before Yuri Gagarin was successfully launched into space, the USSR sent several earlier cosmonauts up there, without success. The men (and one woman) perished, and the USSR, more concerned with collective prestige than individual human lives, obliterated all record of them from the historical record. Or almost all record; two boys in Italy managed to record their transmissions, in which they gasped for breath, complained of heat and cursed the designers of their spacecraft. The boys apparently managed to avoid being assassinated by the KGB solely by having gotten too much publicity.
The latest fare-paying space tourist to take off to the International Space Station is video game designer Richard Garriott, responsible for the Ultima roleplaying games in the 1980s, and better known as "Lord British" (and could there be a more American sobriquet?). Garriott is also the son of a NASA astronaut, Owen Garriott.
Meanwhile, IT pundit/venture capitalist Esther Dyson is training as an astronaut, to be the backup for Microsoft's Charles Simonyi, who goes up next year.
The question of how to reconcile religious practices with modern technological realities where their founders' assumptions do not hold has arisen again, as the world's first devoutly Muslim astronaut prepares to go into space, taking with him a document written by 150 Islamic scientists and scholars assembled by the Malaysian space agency on Islamic practice in space:
Dr. Kamal Abdali, a cartographer who is also Muslim and who has written (.pdf) extensively on determining the qibla, favors the great circle route, but adds, "Prayer is not supposed to be a gymnastic exercise. One is supposed to concentrate on the prayer rather the exact orientation." He points out that in a train or plane, it's customary to start in the qibla direction but then continue the prayer without worrying about possible changes in position.
Yet the option to pray while facing a point in space brings up another problem. Muslims face the ground to pray, in part to avoid any hint of pagan sun or moon worship ("Prostrate yourselves not to the sun nor to the moon, but prostrate yourselves to Allah Who created them, if you (really) worship Him" (The Quran, Fussilat 41:37). If the Ka'aba projection happens to line up with the sun or moon, purists might believe the prayer invalid.
Questions like these will continue as more and more religious astronauts travel into space. When is sunset in low Earth orbit if you're experiencing a dozen sunrises and sunsets in every 24-hour period? When does Sabbath begin on the moon, where the sun sets once a month? When is the first sighting of the crescent moon if you're on Mars? Religious councils of all faiths will have plenty to keep them busy for years.
Apparently iPods work in zero gravity. That is, unless Apple and their hard drive supplier specifically made special space iPods for cosmonauts and space tourists.
Other hardware that apparently has been used on the International Space Station includes IBM laptops (not sure if they're consumer models or ruggedised mil-spec ones of some sort) and Nikon digital cameras.
The central Asian republic of Turkmenistan proudly claims to have joined the space race. Turkmenistan, for all of its ice palaces in deserts and other marvels, has no actual launching facilities, and its debut as a space power did not involve anything quite as conventional as cosmonauts or satellites; instead, the state has launched a copy of the country's eccentric president's book of wisdom into space.
"The sacred text of Rukhnama was chosen because it contains all the wisdom of the Turkmen people, thanks to its creator, Turkmenbashi," the article said, using the name the country's president, Saparmurat Niyazov, has given himself, meaning "Guide of All Turkmens".Niyazov is best known for delineating the Ages of Man, renaming the months and recently banning lip-synching. His book of wisdom was launched into space on a Russian rocket, along with several Japanese satellites.
(via substitute, rocknerd)
Maciej Ceglowski with a brilliantly incisive piece on why the Space Shuttle is a bad idea, terminally compromised from its design onward by political considerations, is now little more than a pointless welfare scheme for the aerospace industry at the expense of actual research which could be conducted, and should be knocked on the head, with the funding diverted to more cost-effective and scientifically interesting, if less showmanly, automated experiments. A few choice quotes:
This brings up a delicate point about justifying manned missions with science. In order to make any straight-faced claims about being cost effective, you have to cart an awful lot of science with you into orbit, which in turns means you need to make the experiments as easy to operate as possible. But if the experiments are all automated, you remove the rationale for sending a manned mission in the first place. Apart from question-begging experiments on the physiology of space flight, there is little you can do to resolve this dilemma. In essence, each 'pure science' Shuttle science mission consists of several dozen automated experiments alongside an enormous, irrelevant, repeated experiment in keeping a group of primates alive and healthy outside the atmosphere.
The ISS was another child of the Cold War: originally intended to show the Russians up and provide a permanent American presence in space, then hastily amended as a way to keep the Russian space scientists busy while their economy was falling to pieces. Like the Shuttle, it has been redesigned and reduced in scope so many times that it bears no resemblance to its original conception. Launched in an oblique, low orbit that guarantees its permanent uselessness, it serves as yin to the shuttle's yang, justifying an endless stream of future Shuttle missions through the simple stratagem of being too expensive to abandon.
But NASA dismisses such helpful suggetions as unworthy of its mission of 'exploration', likening critics of manned space flight to those Europeans in the 1500's who would have cancelled the great voyages of discovery rather than face the loss of one more ship. Of course, the great explorers of the 1500's did not sail endlessly back and forth a hundred miles off the coast of Portugal, nor did they construct a massive artificial island they could repair to if their boat sprang a leak.
The Soviet Shuttle, the Buran (snowstorm) was an aerodynamic clone of the American orbiter, but incorporated many original features that had been considered and rejected for the American program, such as all-liquid rocket boosters, jet engines, ejection seats and an unmanned flight capability. You know you're in trouble when the Russians are adding safety features to your design.
The NASA obsession with elementary and middle school participation in space flight is curious, and demonstrates how low a status actual in-flight science has compared with orbital public relations. You are not likely to hear of CERN physicists colliding tin atoms sent to them by a primary school in Toulouse, or the Hubble space being turned around to point at waving middle schoolers on a playground in Texas, yet even the minimal two-man ISS crew - one short of the stated minimum needed to run the station - regularly takes time to talk to schoolchildren.Of course, in the Bush Era, even more billions will be spent on
Spare a thought for David Atkinson, the University of Idaho scientist who spent 18 years of his life designing an experiment for the Huygens space probe, only to watch it all go pear-shaped in the depths of space because some rocket scientist forgot to turn his experiment on. Oops!
I don't know about you, but were I the genius who made the mistake, I'd be looking for somewhere very safe to hide right now.
Space shuttle Columbia explodes, killing all on board, much as happened in the Challenger disaster in 1986. The shuttle's crew did include the first-ever Israeli astronaut, a fighter pilot who bombed an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, and security was reportedly extremely tight around the mission. Terrorist involvement is considered unlikely. (I wonder if any terrorist groups will rush to claim credit for it anyway.)
NASA's post-9-11 mission: US supremacy in space. (via New World Disorder)
A linguistics professor believes that space colonists' language would mutate rapidly, possibly becoming unintelligible to their Earthbound kin within decades, due to the different environment.
"This single, relatively homogeneous dialect will be noticeable with the first generation of children born on the space vehicle and will surely result in a dialect that differs from all the parents' dialect, and from every other dialect of English spoken on Earth," Thomason said.
A piece in the Moscow Times on some of the pranks played by those wacky funsters on the Mir space station:
Krikalyov sneaked an amateur radio onboard Mir and used it to establish a link with the truck driver, who was heading to Kimberley. The unsuspecting driver thought it was one of his colleagues driving on a nearby road and called Krikalyov a prankster when the cosmonaut said was he was heading for America via India and China.
India's space agency wants to send a mission to the moon by 2005; though whether or not a realistic moon mission in this time frame would yield any tangible results. (via Slashdot)