And, Moving Right Along…


Usually, when one thinks about government sponsored programs one thinks of bureaucratic red tape that defies common sense and ridiculous delays and grossly inflated expenses. NASA is changing all of those misconceptions.  This past Friday it announced that things are moving right along at the space agency.  It has declared mission orders for SpaceX, a private company in California, to launch astronauts to the International Space Station. Back in May, The Boeing Company got the same orders.

These are “first time ever” missions. One aspect of “first time ever” is that a commercial agency, rather than NASA, will provide the space vehicle and rocket. Although NASA will supply the astronauts, private companies are furnishing the hardware to get them to the ISS. Although exact dates haven’t been nailed down and we don’t yet know who gets to be the first company to make space history, we do know that this historical event will take place in 2017. You see, once a mission has been contracted, it takes about two or three years to complete the construction and certification process of these spaceships.

Boeing’s spaceship is the CST-100 Starliner. The SpaceX spacecraft is the Crew Dragon. Their capabilities will make a big difference in research capabilities aboard the ISS, which is actually an orbiting laboratory even though it is commonly called a “station”, like it was something akin to a train depot. The gringa thinks, “As if!”

How else does NASA and the nation and the world benefit from this collaboration with commercial industry getting involved in missions typically considered to be a “government only” controlled program? Well, for one thing, much like commercial airline competition helps keep prices lower for the traveler, the cost per seat for each astronaut is lower. I mean, we all know that private companies are interested in profit whereas a government agency, um, not so much. This means that in the production of the spacecraft and its operational expenses, the company attempts to keep operating costs down in order to maximize profit. They are incentivized to operate like that whereas a government agency, um, not so much. So, in other words, by contracting with SpaceX and Boeing to use their spaceships, NASA is saving the taxpayers some money. The gringa says, “YAY!”

You see, since the scuttle of the shuttle NASA has been having to pay fees to Rocosmos to tote our astronauts to the ISS. So, we’ll also be saving cab fare. And one other important thing to consider. NASA always depends on funding from the U.S. government which in turn determines their budget. If we stop and think that this agency has had its funding on the chopping block during hard economic times, it is only natural for NASA to think outside the box (which is what they do best) and come up with solutions for shortfalls.

Each contract between NASA and these two commercial companies allows for at least two and up to six missions. A mission will involve transporting up to four NASA or NASA-sponsored crew members along with cargo, about 220 pounds of it. While the crew serves its 210 day mission, the spaceship remains at the station as an “emergency lifeboat” should there be an ISS disaster. By using the Boeing and SpaceX spacecrafts, NASA is able to send more personnel which translates to more manpower for research and scientific work. That means the world will benefit from their results sooner as well as the input of more creative minds that opens up the possibility of more innovative ideas.

This change of increasing personnel and speeding up the timeline of research and development on board the ISS creates another great possibility. The possibility of constructing other orbiting platforms that will support research and develop in the private sector. Commercial capabilities, the space economy, is exactly where NASA is leading the world. And, the gringa is on board!

Source: http://www.nasa.gov

Photo credit: ja.wikipedia.org

 

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Read With The Gringa “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”


Join me as I continue reading book 2 of “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis. I pick up with chapter 3, “Edmund and the Wardrobe”. Read along and we will discover how Edmund’s adventure begins!

 

 

Read With The Gringa “Glasses For D.W.”


Join the gringa for a 5 minute silly story about eyeglasses in this funny tale featuring the great children’s fictional character “Arthur” created by Marc Brown.

 

“Spacespresso” Please


The gringa is most definitely a “Trekkie”. No big surprise there, eh? I just love all the gadgets they have on those shows. One of my favorites is the “tri-corder” (which, forever and a day I thought was actually “tri-quarter”). This little doo-dad scanned, analyzed and recorded data. It could detect life forms through a rock wall or diagnose a disease or injury. Well, guess what? NASA may very well be getting some! They’re not called “tri-corder” but, the concept is the same.

This fascinating invention is the brain child of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory that’s located in Pasadena, California. It’s small, portable and called a “chemical laptop”. Personally, I think that name has absolutely no imagination and wish they could have come up with something more akin to “tri-corder”, but no one asked me.  If they had I would have called it something like “hand lab” or “Doal” (Detector of alien life) or maybe “Cie” (Coolest invention ever) or, as you will read later and understand, “Spacespresso” (my personal favorite). But, like I said, no one asked me.

This chemical “laptop” is actually not a laptop at all. It’s really a miniature laboratory, about the size of a regular laptop and thicker. The above picture shows the chemical laptop sitting beside a regular laptop, both on top of a rover. The chemical laptop analyzes material samples for signs of life. If it ever makes the grade for an off-world mission it will be an historic moment as being the most sensitive technological device to ever leave planet Earth.

NASA has big dreams of sending it to Mars or Europa. If they get their big chance, instead of using the “laptop” to scan a bit of this or that, it will, gulp, swallow the sample. (The gringa envisions memories of the “Hungry, Hungry, Hippo” game I played as a child.) Once consumed, the laptop can be programmed through various “apps” (we all know what those are!) to test for all sorts of things like amino acids or fatty acids, which are the basic building blocks of life as we know it.

Now, at this turn in the story the gringa gets totally sidetracked with the amino acid thing. As I peruse my research material I scratch my little head and think, “Really? I had no idea!” Taking the risk that my dear reader may already know interesting tidbits about amino acids, I will share what fascinated me so.

Apparently, amino acids are either right-handed or left-handed. In other words, there are two types that are mirror images of each other. The left-handed booger is the standard for life as we know it on Earth. As NASA studies samples, they are looking for samples that are predominantly one or the other. A 50/50 mix is not considered to be a biological form.

The challenge for NASA has been developing a way to look for both types in a single sample. And, VOILA!  The chemical laptop! Now, this little lab needs liquid samples which are not easily found on other planets that are usually colossal frozen rocks in orbit. Now, for you folks that love your espresso machines, you will totally get the technology involved to mix a sample with a bit of water then heat the mix until some of the sample’s organic molecules mix with the water.

When “Spacespresso” then receives the liquid sample it injects a fluorescent dye into it. The sample flows over a microchip that detects which is a leftie or which is a rightie. These pass by a laser and are separated according to leftie or rightie status. Once separated, the lefties and righties are mixed with a chemical that interacts specifically with one or the other. Finally, they emerge into a channel and the scientists can then determine how many lefties and how many righties there are.

Field tests began in 2014, which is the first step to reaching the ultimate goal of getting “Spacespresso” to Mars. The next field test is going to be in the Atacama Desert in Chile. NASA, true to its mission of helping all mankind with its work, is considering how this technology can also be of benefit in the world of medicine and not just their own Mars mission dreams. The gringa waits with bated breath.

Source and Photo credit: http://www.nasa.gov

 

Read With The Gringa “My New Town”


This sweet little story by Kirsten Hall is read in English and Spanish. It’s a 5 minute story about all the new people you meet when you move to a new town. If you are preparing your little ones for a move to a new neighborhood or new town, this is a great story to help put their mind at ease and get them looking forward to a new adventure!

 

There’s A Reason It’s Called The INTERNATIONAL Space Station


In December, NASA astronaut Tim Kopra will be on his way to the International Space Station. He will launch from Russia on a Soyuz spacecraft Tuesday morning, December 15, 2015, at 6:03 am EST from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Joining him will be Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko (Russian Federal Space Agency) and Tim Peak (European Space Agency).  Kopra has been training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center that is located at Star City, Russia. Next Tuesday, November 24, from 7-8 am EST, live satellite interviews will be held with Kopra at the training center. Information on satellite tuning to watch the live interview can be found at http://go.nasa.gov/1pOWUhR

Kopra, who is a West Point graduate and holds multiple master’s degrees, is no rookie. On his first mission in 2009  he served as flight engineer. During that sixty day mission he performed a five and a half hour spacewalk. Throughout his military and aerospace career he has earned multiple awards such as the Silver and Bronze Order of Saint Michael, Army Aviation award, the Legion of Merit award, a Bronze Star, a NASA Space Flight medal and a NASA Distinguished Service medal, just to name a handful of his many medals. He has served as an aviator in the Army as well as an aeroscout platoon leader, troop executive officer and squadron adjutant. These are just a few of his military leadership accomplishments. He became an astronaut in 2000 and performed his first mission in 2009. Kopra has completed training in Russia, Japan, Germany and Canada at their respective space agency’s training facilities. He has completed multiple previous missions and on this one he will serve under Scott Kelly who is active commander. However, the next mission, Expedition 47, Kopra will serve as commander.

Malenchenko was born in Ukraine in 1961. He is a graduate of Kharkov Military Aviation School and Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy. During his service in the Soviet Armed Forces some of the distinctions he earned were the Hero of the Russian Federation medal, National Hero of Kazakhstan medal, Military award of excellence, three Meritorious Service medals, a Commendation medal, Achievement medal, and the “70 years of the Soviet Armed Forces” medal. He has worked as a pilot and flight leader and became a cosmonaut in 1987. After rigorous years of training he completed his first spaceflight mission in 1994. He performed two spacewalks and performed the first manual docking of the Mir station with the Progress M-24 vehicle. As during his military career, he has continued to serve Russia’s space agency, making his country proud as an accomplished cosmonaut on the numerous missions he has led. His accomplishments are simply too numerous to recount all.

Peake was born in England in 1972. He is married and the father of two sons. A graduate of the Royal Military Academy, he served as an officer in the British Army Air Corps. He has been a test pilot and was awarded the Westland Trophy in his performance as a rotary wing pilot student. In 2006 he also was awarded the Commander-in-Chief’s Certificate for Meritorious Service for exemplary and dedicated service to the British Army. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in flight dynamics in 2006 and puts his knowledge to good use as an astronaut now.  In the past he has also participated in environmental projects in Alaska, served as a Platoon Commander, an instructor in Combat Survival and Rescue, a helicopter flight instructor, and is a Flight Safety Officer, just to list a few of his accomplishments. He became an astronaut in 2009. His participation in Expedition 46 will mark not only his first off-world mission but also the first British astronaut at the ISS. This will, indeed, be an historic moment for the United Kingdom as well as the International Space Station.

When Kopra and the rest of the crew arrive at the ISS in December, they will be joining NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Roscosmos cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov who will be, at that time, nine months into their twelve month mission.  And, if the dear reader is as curious as the gringa, you’ll want to know what the heck Rocosmos is. Well that’s what the Russian Federal Space Agency is commonly called. The gringa thinks it’s a cool name. I think I’ll name one of my birds Rocosmos. But, I digress…

The arrival of Kopra, Malenchenko  and Peake will create an entire complement of a six man crew for Expedition 46. Their mission is to continue the hundreds of experiments that are underway at the ISS. The ISS is mankind’s only orbiting laboratory. It conducts research and experiments in biotechnology, biology, Earth science and physical science.  Their mission will be completed in June after Kopra, Malenchenko and Peake begin their return trip to Earth in May. The progress of Expedition 46 can be followed on Instagram at http://instagram.com/iss.

The gringa cannot help but be impressed with the leadership abilities of these astronauts and cosmonauts. I am equally impressed and proud of international cooperation that has been going on for years and is strong, growing, and becoming ever more inclusive. When we nations start bickering, we really need to step back and consider that there is an international group of men and women working their tails off and enduring the sacrifice of months and years without their loved ones as they float around this earth. As they conduct their missions trying to develop technologies to save mankind from disease and the self-destructive path we are on destroying our home world, we really should respect their example and get along better.

Source: http://www.nasa.gov

Photo credit:  www.space.com

 

Read With The Gringa “The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe”


Join me as I continue to read “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis. Continuing Book 2 with chapter 2, in this 15 minute read along we all find out what Lucy discovers within the wardrobe.