Swimsuits On Mars


NASA’s big news this week: Water On Mars!!! The surface of Mars is streaked with brine! This means water existed at some point in the past on the Red Planet in order for this salty substance to be created and still exists today! Should the gringa be prepared to pack a beach umbrella if added to the list of future Martian colonists? How about a bikini and fishing pole? Ummm, well, nope. Well, then, if not, what’s the big, darn deal? I mean, I have salty streaks down my face after a big cry. What’s it all good for other than skin irritation?

Well, wide-spread “perchlorate” salts are what the NASA scientists are actually so excited about. Well, what the heck are they? The gringa read the report that these salts were present because humidity and temperatures were just right on Mars. Mmm hmm. And? Because these salts are so absorbent, the freezing point of water is further lowered so it can remain liquid in colder than “normal” temperatures. Yes, I see. And your point is? This could theoretically “almost” prove… WHAT?! WHAT?! Proof of liquid on Mars. Aaaaargh! But the gringa wants to know WHY IS THAT IMPORTANT?!

Curiosly enough, one of the main uses of perchlorates on Earth is the production of propellants in rockets! Crazy, huh? It’s as if Mars is inviting us to come and is offering to pay for the gas!

It is also used to create “oxygen candles”. These items are used on spacecrafts, submarines and airplanes as an emergency oxygen supply. When these “candles” are burned, they produce oxygen. Is this not amazing to find an abundant supply of such a thing on a planet we would like to set up camp on and two things preventing this from happening are fuel and oxygen supplies! THIS IS AMAZING!

In order for perchlorates to be created, there had to be bacteria. This means that at one time life could be supported on Mars. This discovery is so significant not just for what it tells us of the history of the Red Planet but of its potential future!

If liquid water was once abundant on the surface of Mars, it is then possible that there is still frozen water underground and… this is important because… this could become a resource to assist the survival of long-duration space missions to Mars. Hurrah!

NASA reported earlier in 2015 that the northern hemisphere had probably been an ocean with a maximum depth of over one mile but that most of this precious resource had been lost to the effects of deep space. That discouraging news has now been overshadowed by this new revelation of the possibility of underground frozen water resources. And, that is not all!

The different colors of the striations in the satellite images indicate that salty water is only frozen some of the time. It is possible that Mars experiences a warm season that would thaw this frozen brine and salt water would then be flowing freely down the mountainsides of Mars. This would occur when temperatures would rise to a “toasty” range just above 10 degrees Fahrenheit. So, the gringa won’t pack the fishing pole and beach umbrella, but, rather, a ski bunny outfit and river raft!

Source & Photo Credit: http://www.nasa.gov

Read With The Gringa “Colors Of Horses”


This short, 5 minute read is perfect to introduce to toddlers some words for colors in English and Spanish. Gather the kids and join the gringa as she reads “The Colors of Horses”.

Pass The Galaxy Greens, Please


Truly, the gringa enjoys a fresh salad of spinach, arugula, romaine lettuce, with some walnuts tossed in, crumbled feta on top, and any assortment of chunky raw vegetables like zucchini, red bell pepper, asparagus, and onion. As a space gringa could I get my salad fix satisfied? Well, that’s exactly what the NASA engineers and scientists based in Huntsville, Alabama’s Marshall Space Flight Center have been working on for decades.

These galactic gardeners have created a space agricultural system for the International Space Station (ISS). The astronauts on ISS have been testing this technology which will ultimately find its way to Mars where it will create the food of the future. The ISS system is called the Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS). It features a water recovery system and an oxygen generation system, the two basic necessities not only for human life, but also for plant life.

In order to sustain a long duration mission such as a Mars mission, astronauts will need to be able to supplement the food supplies they transport with them. One experiment called “Lada Validating Vegetable Production Unit” (boy is that a mouthful!) involves using a small greenhouse type contraption that has automated water and light controls. Lada’s goals are: to determine if space greens are safely edible; will space microorganisms grow on the space greens and if so, how can this risk be minimized; how can space greens be safely sanitized after harvest; discover methods for optimal production.

The most recent space greens to be harvested are a Japanese lettuce variety called “Mizuna”. The shuttle Discovery made a salad delivery to Earth in April. Along with the salad delivery was a report on findings based on the cultivation of the lettuce by two different methods, the “old” method versus the “new improved” method. The funny thing is that a sensor malfunction that went undetected resulted in a higher yield of lettuce. A mistake produced more. So much for the painstaking methods of a science experiment!

What happened after the sensor went on the blink was that the “root” module (no pot of dirt!) received much more water than it was supposed to. When cultivation “on the ground” determined that it would be better to minimize water and salt accumulations on the roots, this was the plan up on ISS. They’ve discovered the “actual” growing of the plant compared to the “land based” simulation did not result in identical scenarios.

It seems by overwatering the roots nutrients moved faster throughout the plant which resulted in faster fertilization release. Considering the plants are moving water and nutrients in micro-gravity, it makes sense to the gringa that more water would then be better. Water is kind of like a “vehicle” which facilitates the transport of the nutrition.

The gringa asks, “What does all this mean? I know that this will help Martian colonists get their fiber, but how does this help the rest of mankind that gets left behind?” Well, as climate change progresses, agriculture will become more of a challenge. We simply cannot continue producing crops according to the same old tried and true methods. Climate controlled greenhouses will need to be advanced to the point of sustaining a world population on the produce and vegetables it produces. The data from these experiments is critical to develop the type of technology that will save the Earth’s population from hunger.

These agricultural experiments have been taking place cooperatively between the United States and Russia for twenty years. Together, the scientists of two nations who have had an often hostile, cold, cantankerous relationship have ignored politics to quietly work together to solve the world’s problems. The gringa really likes that, even more than the space lettuce.

Source & Photo Credit: http://www.nasa.gov

Read With The Gringa “The Magician’s Nephew” Chapter 4


Featuring book one of “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis, the gringa is now reading chapter 4. Please join me as the adventures of Digory and Polly continue. I read aloud, discovering just where the magic rings have taken Digory and Polly. If you would like to know yourself, watch me on YouTube!

Read With The Gringa “Good Night, Wonder Pets!”


This six minute bedtime story is the perfect story to help little ones settle down for the night and have sweet dreams until morning. Enjoy sweet bedtime adventures with the gringa reading in English and Spanish.

Maaahhhvelous MAVEN!


Yesterday was an important anniversary at NASA. Celebrations were in order to mark a successful year of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet fulfilling its mission of understanding the upper and lower atmospheres of Mars. Scientists want to know how Martian atmospheric gases that escape into space change the climate of the planet. The ultimate question is whether or not the pattern of atmospheric evolution can trace back to an ancient history where life could once have been supported there.

MAVEN inserted itself into a Mars orbit in September, 2014 and had a dangerous encounter with Comet Siding Spring within its first month in action. Over the past twelve months, MAVEN has carried out and recorded atmospheric observations for ten of those months.

It has detected a pattern of particles at both poles that create a “Mohawk” effect as they escape the atmosphere in plumes. Mars also has a metallic particle layer high in the atmosphere which lights up when affected by solar storms. These particles are leftovers from space rubbish left behind by comets and meteorites. The gringa thinks Mars would be the perfect place for some rock-n-roll concerts.

The violent atmosphere of Mars is punctuated by solar and space radiation, magnetically and electrically charged solar flares and Coronal Mass Ejections that strip the upper atmosphere of Mars of electrically and magnetically charged ions. The data collected on MAVEN can be analyzed to hopefully answer the question if this is the reason for atmospheric loss on the Red Planet and if so, scientists will then attempt to establish a time frame for the continued erosion of the Martian atmosphere.

NASA is very proud of the teamwork that has produced such a successful Martian mission as the MAVEN project. Engineers designed and built a sturdy spaceship that remains in excellent working order despite the extreme conditions it functions within. Although mission completion date is only months away, it is expected that the mission will be extended. The rich amount of data for a hungry science community is too valuable to give up as long as MAVEN is still operational. NASA will be giving the green light for this little workhorse to stay on the job at least one more year.

Source & Photo Credit: http://www.nasa.gov

 

Read With The Gringa “The Magician’s Nephew” Chapter 3


Join the gringa as I read aloud chapter three in “The Magician’s Nephew”, book one of “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis. Polly and Digory met and explored the attic. They had a run-in with Digory’s crazy Uncle Andrew and now Polly has disappeared! Join me now to find out if Digory searches for Polly and find out about the mysterious Wood Between The Worlds.

Space Cadets, All Hail The Dragon!


The gringa wants to introduce you to the Dragon. This automated spacecraft, designed by SpacEx, is the first commercial spacecraft EVER to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and return cargo to Earth. Governments can move over because private industry has got this job covered. Refinements are underway so that very soon the Dragon will be able to achieve the ultimate goal it was designed for, to carry a human crew.

The configurations of the Dragon are versatile. It can be used, as it already successfully has shown, to be a perfect cargo vessel. It will very soon have the capability to house a human crew. However, it’s not your average space taxi. It can also be used as a DragonLab to conduct technology demonstrations and scientific experiments in outer space. The different configurations are so similar, that converting from one to another is relatively quick and seamless.

The Dragon’s pressurized section houses the cargo and crew. The outside base of this section carries the thrusters, guidance and navigation control bay as well as the ever critical heat shield. The Dragon even has a trunk. No, it’s not where the astronauts store a spare thruster and crowbar. This is the part of the spaceship that is the foundational support during ascent, houses the craft’s solar arrays, and can also carry cargo that does not need to be pressurized. Just before the Dragon enters the atmosphere of Earth, this section is jettisoned. The gringa thinks, “How many of us ladies wishes it was so easy to get rid of unwanted junk in our trunk?”

Presently, the primary mission of the Dragon is to routinely resupply the International Space Station. This is not your average delivery-man job. I don’t believe UPS or FedEx train their delivery personnel for the effects of anti-gravity. To accommodate these effects, the cargo hold is filled with honeycomb shaped racks constructed of a carbon-aluminum material.

After the first successful test flight in 2012, and many more resupply missions after that, the Dragon has been undergoing upgrades. Hopefully, very soon, perhaps within the coming months, NASA crews will perform the first manned test flight in a vessel that SpacEx says will be the world’s safest crew transport spacecraft. It will seat seven. The gringa doesn’t take up much room. For being so tiny I’m also awfully strong. I would make a perfect space delivery person. I’d be so happy to be a part of something this fantastic, I wouldn’t even expect the astronauts to tip me.

 

Source & Photo Credit: http://www.spacex.com/dragon

Read With The Gringa “I Am Skippyjon Jones”


This little book by Judy Schachner is a quick 5 minute read in English and Spanish. The perfect length of time to engage toddlers with short attentions spans. So, grab the little ones for a few minutes and enjoy the story.

A Bit Of Sun & Hope For Humanity


Coming up in December is the one year anniversary of the test flight of the Orion spacecraft that launched from Kennedy Space Center December 5, 2014. The test flight was unmanned. Because of its success, the next time Orion punches through the Earth’s atmosphere, it will deliver astronauts to an asteroid in our Moon’s orbit to rehearse their Red Planet mission. That is the ultimate goal, after all, to have a full astronaut crew heading out to deep space with a final destination of Mars.

The amazing new technologies that will send astronauts farther than they have ever gone before is thanks, in part, to the students of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). NASA and Lockheed Martin offered students the opportunity to collaborate in this daring mission with a program called “Exploration Design Challenge”. What problem were these students asked to solve? The students were challenged to solve the most dangerous issue that faces humans in space – exposure to radiation. The gringa is very proud to say that these students rose to the challenge and their very own radiation experiment was on board for Orion’s test flight. If there was ever a reason for parents to encourage their children in STEM curriculum, parents, the time is NOW!

The emerging generation of scientists will inherit a planet that is rapidly changing. NASA needs this young talent more than ever. Researchers will manage the data collected from satellites and airborne missions. Engineers will keep these missions alive with their technological expertise. These are the critical thinkers the world needs to face the future challenges of rising sea levels and extreme weather events due to climate change. The next generation of astronaut explorers will be the ones to aid our planet in finding freshwater resources out in the cosmos to help replenish are own that are rapidly becoming depleted.

In 2014 NASA studies were published and revealed a rapidly melting western sheet of ice in Antarctica. This appears to be irreversible. Later in the same year, NASA, along with researchers at the University of California, Irvine, concluded that the potential threat of groundwater loss to America’s stable water supply may have previously been underestimated and things were worse than scientists thought. In August of 2014, NASA published research based on the discovery of a large amount of a compound creating ozone depletion. This was an unexpected surprise considering that for decades such a compound has been banned worldwide. Our world is in trouble and our best resource to solve these problems is in the minds of our youth.

The gringa is getting depressed with all this bad news so, let’s get back to the good news! The Orion! I simply must know all I can about this spaceship because the gringa is putting in that ship all her hopes that it is going to be the mother ship of a future fleet of ships that’s going to save humanity’s bacon.

The purpose of the test flight was to see if Orion was up to the task of the most dangerous parts of the mission. Those would be lift-off, entry, separations, the jettison of the Launch Abort System, descent and splashdown. However, most important of all was to test the heat shield that needed to be strong enough to protect astronauts, as well as all the technology on board, from 4,000 degree Fahrenheit temperatures and the related radiation. Is the dear reader dying to know Orion’s report card? The gringa is!

At 7:05am at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Orion was prepped to lift off with the help of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket. Three RS-68 engines created almost two million pounds of thrust which then pushed a 1.63 million pound spacecraft into orbit. After about four minutes the side boosters disengaged and fell away to Earth. The center booster remained with Orion for another ninety seconds. When its fuel was spent, it disengaged and also fell back to Earth. The next thing to release its hold on Orion was the structural supports and the Launch Abort System. Orion was headed out of Earth’s atmosphere.

Seventeen minutes and thirty-nine seconds after lift-off, Orion began its orbit. Two hours into its flight, Orion traveled through the Van Allen radiation belts which are 3,609 miles away. Data recorders provided critical calculations on the doses of radiation within the cabin. This determined if the craft was of sound design and safe to man with a human crew. Three hours and twenty-three minutes into its flight, Orion headed for Earth’s atmosphere where the heat shield withstood the brutal re-entry friction.

What is re-entry like? Orion hit Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 20,000 mph. The gringa can only say, “Incredible!” The spacecraft gets so amazingly hot at that speed, it is eventually enveloped in plasma. Plasma is considered the fourth state of matter after solids, liquids and gases. When plasma is created on Orion upon re-entry, what happens is that the heat and friction become so energized that electrons break free from their nucleus and travel along with them. That’s what the Sun does all the time. It’s just a big, ol’ ball of plasma. Orion creates a little bit of Sun on re-entry. The gringa’s mind is filled with the Beatles refrain, “Here comes the sun, little darlin’. Here comes the sun. And I say it’s alright.” After all, ultimately that IS the plan, RIGHT? Orion is going to help launch the scientific efforts that hopefully will make everything wrong with the environment alright? Or, at least give humanity some viable options and hope?

After picking up Orion as it bobbed amongst the waves of the Pacific of the coast of Baja, California, NASA used the data to make improvements for the upcoming manned mission. Astronauts will continue their own preparations for a mission that is sure to make history in so many ways. If everyone at NASA is excited about the future, then they truly believe in the mission. The gringa will take her cue from them and toss out the doom and gloom and grab hold of hope and positivity. I will hold fast to an exciting future that most certainly is full of change, but change is not necessarily always a bad thing.