Did An ET Knock On China’s Space Capsule?


Sometimes, when the gringa is home alone at night, or early in the morning after the caveman leaves for work, my imagination goes into overdrive. I get a little spooked. Should an unexpected noise be heard, that’s it. No sleep for the gringa. But what if you were an astronaut, adrift in the vacuum of space, surrounded by nothingness for thousands of lightyears yet “something” came a-knocking?

I tell ya, the gringa would probably die of fright! There’s certainly no hope for fear to disappear when the sun comes up. No waiting around for the hubby to get back. No paranoid call to 911 for the comfort of a first responder to do a quick looksie around. Nope, an astronaut is all alone for the duration of the mission wondering what the heck just knocked on the door and when or if it’s coming back. Guess what? That actually happened.

Word has it that, back in 2003, when China’s first astronaut in space, Yang Liwei, was performing a 21-hour tour-of-duty aboard Shenzhen 5, something came knocking. He described the noise like the sound of a wooden hammer hitting against a metal bucket. So, he wasn’t spooked by a few creaks or phantom noises created in an over-active imagination like the gringa’s. He described a very distinct, and distinctly loud, noise.

If one eyewitness account of such is not enough for the skeptic, there were other Chinese astronauts who also reported the same banging noise. Consecutive missions, Shenzhou 6 and 7, had astronauts returning to Earth and sharing this news in their de-briefings.

The gringa believes it would be the opportunity of a lifetime to travel into space. Imagine the prestige an astronaut must be looking forward to when they get the news that they are slated for a mission. Certainly they envision a future shaped by this achievement. Success is at hand. With respect to their career, they have, indeed, arrived.

How, then, must it come to them as a terrible disappointment to realize that they will forever be haunted by their space experience. Do some astronauts return to an Earth-bound life, riddled with anxiety, swept up in paranoia that they are stalked by other-worldly watchers? Do they spend the rest of their life feeling a coward’s shame because they didn’t have the guts to answer the door and see who was there?

When interviewed by journalists from Xinhua, Astronaut Liwei explained some of these very emotions. He recounted that when he would hear the knocking, he would become very tense. The gringa thinks, “Yeah. I bet!” He would peek outside the windows only to see nothing. Returning to Earth he spent much time with researchers trying to replicate the noise with a variety of instruments and materials. But they were unsuccessful.

As crews for Shenzhou 6 and 7 were preparing, Liwie warned them that they should expect to hear the noise. He tried to put their minds at ease, assuring them that the noise must be a normal, natural phenomenon. But was Liwie telling the truth or making up a comfortable lie?

The characteristics of the noise were:

-random timing

-no rhythm

-acoustic quality of wood on metal

The Shenzhou spacecrafts are classified as cargo vessels. The craft’s name translates roughly into “magic boat” or “divine vessel of god”. When the craft was first put into use in 1999 by China it was an unmanned vessel. After several successful unmanned missions, Astronaut Yang Liwei achieved the first successful manned mission October 15, 2003, completing 14 orbits around Earth within 21 hours.

The 2 manned missions that followed also reported back the strange noises. Could this be why the 2011 mission was unmanned except for 2 test dummies? In 2012 manned missions resumed with a 3-person crew delivered to China’s Tiangong-1 space station in 2012, 2013 and a final mission in 2016 delivering crewmembers to China’s Tiangong-2 space station. One more mission is slated for 2018 but no details are yet available on whether it will be manned or not.

The spaceship’s technology has roots in Russia’s Soyuz technology. The modified Chinese version features 3 modules. Upon returning to Earth, only one module, the re-entry module, makes the return trip. That means that 2 modules, the orbital and service modules, do not have the same bulky heat shielding as the re-entry module.

The orbital module is constructed of aluminum. This is where the crew spends most of their time. If a piece of space debris came into contact with the outside of the module, it would probably make quite a noise.

But would a piece of debris make a single contact noise or might it bump around the perimeter of the craft a few times until it went on its merry way? Would a tiny bit of space junk, too small to see out a porthole make a noise as loud as Liwie described? Could the spacecraft survive an impact with a small piece of space debris? How likely is it that this is the source of the noise? Yes, the gringa is filled with questions.

NASA estimates more than half a million bits of space junk are floating around Earth. They can travel as fast as 17,500 mph. Even a pebble-sized bit of debris can wreak havoc and cause quite a bit of damage. Check out this picture provided by the European Space Agency (ESA). A solar array on satellite Sentinel-1A took a hit from a tiny bit of space junk (about a 1 millimeter bit) and it punched an enormous hole in one of the solar panels. The size of the damage was about 100 times the size of the junk that hit it.

6.1.2

In 2014, just 6 years after the last Shenzhou mission with a crewmember reporting the strange knocking noises, an important book was published. In “Forging China’s Military Might” much of the material discusses the nation’s space program. It is proposed that spacecraft design should feature a “bumper” to absorb meteor and space junk impacts. Proving the point that even micro-debris can be deadly, the author points to the Space Shuttle Challenger 7 mission. A tiny fragment of debris, and when the gringa says tiny, she means tiny, the debris was a FLECK OF PAINT… it caused so much damage the entire window had to be replaced.

6.1.3

So, did Liwie hear an ET knocking on his spaceship door? Probably not. It’s more likely that it was a bit of cosmic rubble knocking about.
Sources: NASA

QZ.com

Spaceflight 101

People

Physics-Astronomy.com

Image Credits:  VOA News

QZ.com

Video Credit:  Paparazzi News

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Get Your Ticket To Ride To The Stars


NASA is not the only power player in US space exploration. SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are all making a name for themselves. The difference is that NASA is concerned with public service and pure science. The private sector space agencies are more interested in the almighty dollar. That means they will be staging projects geared toward profitable exploration, like mining interstellar bodies for lucrative minerals and space tourism. And whenever there is a buck to be made competition is sure to arise. Americans only need to look East to find competitor nations joining the profitable space race. Who will the gringa be rooting for? Read on and find out. Here are the Asian contenders who have certainly got game:

JAPAN: PD Aerospace acknowledges that the company is lagging behind their US counterparts. However, Shuji Ogawa, the company’s CEO, doesn’t seem at all disheartened by this. He believes there is enough consumer and investor interest to go around. Pretty much every single Earthling would love to realize the dream of a trip into space. Even if PD Aerospace is dead last in the race to launch cosmic tourists, there will still be plenty of money to be made.

PD is looking to use a re-usable spacecraft that resembles a plane. It will have an alternating propulsion system using jet and rocket technologies. Passenger capacity of 8, crew capacity of 2, will make for a very personalized tour. Flight limitation is 100 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. That is where outer space and Earth’s atmosphere meet.

So when will this bird get off the ground? First flight is expected to launch in just 3 more years. Trials are scheduled for another 3 years. So, in less than a decade the non-average Joe, with an extra quarter million of disposable income, can take to the highest heavens.

It will take some time for revenue to affect the company’s bottom line and lower the cost of a ticket. Eventually, a space flight will become affordable enough for even the regular average Joe. PD hopes to eventually bring ticket cost down to the $3,600 range. That’s a relief to the gringa!

CHINA: Kuang-Chi Science has a bit more swagger to their space travel chatter. They believe Asia is a better market for space tourism than the US. This means that even though they got a slower start than private American space firms, they are confident they will become more profitable much quicker.

The gringa loves their space flight plan to use a giant helium balloon to lift a capsule to the same dizzying heights as PD. With the same passenger capacity the main difference between the two trips will be that PD’s flight will have the fireworks and noise of rocket propulsion while Kuang-Chi will deliver a steady, peaceful glide. A quiet ride is very appealing to the gringa.

The chairman of the company, Liu Ruopeng, points out that passengers have no need of skills training or to be physically fit. The Kuang-Chi balloon trip to the edge of the cosmos is open to everyone. The gringa appreciates this sense of inclusiveness.

Another cool aspect to China’s space tourism model is that it will double as a scientific data gathering mission. On board is a platform that collects meteorological and agricultural information that is transmitted to networks on the ground. Being a tourist means also being a passive citizen-scientist. Your ticket to ride funds research and environmental monitoring that can help make the world a better place.

Kuang-Chi is also determined to be competitive. Although they haven’t announced how much a ticket will be, they have made it clear that it will be significantly less than what their competitors will offer. So start saving up your money. They have already begun test flights with their spacecraft “Traveler” and a turtle was the first passenger! Tourism is scheduled to begin in 3 years.

MALAYSIA: Although one might not equate this southeast Asia nation with innovative technology, with the creation of Independence-X, it is changing people’s minds about the who’s who in space travel. Look for this company to have a robotic spacecraft on the Moon’s surface sometime this year. If successful, it will certainly catch the eye of investors. A successful lunar landing will hopefully spur funding for space tourism technology development. So, although they are not yet in the race, they are definitely warming up in the batter’s box.

So who is the gringa rooting for? Kuang-Chi Science. I must admit my soft spot for positive business modeling that features inclusiveness, consumer affordability, environmental activism and… is pet friendly! I would like to join that turtle in space flight that will not just be a thrilling vacation of a lifetime but will also perform a service to my fellow Earthlings!

Sources:

Kuang Chi Science

PDAS

Independence-X

Image Credit: Cosmos TV

Video Credits:

PD AeroSpace

Bloomberg

Digi Telecommunications

Space Flight & Fortune Cookies


When I was a young girl Six Flags was the big event once a year. The gringa was a country girl from a small town. I attended a tiny, rural school where the same 20 or so classmates I had were together every year from childhood through our teen years. A single building housed the classrooms for every grade, kindergarten through 12th grade. Once kids entered the 6th grade, officially “Junior High”, you felt as if you had hit the big time. That was the year you got included on the annual school trip to Six Flags, the biggest theme park in our state. It was about a 2 hour drive away to the big city.

My first year to go  was the grand opening of the big, new, rollercoaster attraction, the Shockwave. Two loop-de-loops of spine tingling action. The gringa was too young and naïve to realize that all the boys interested in going on the Spelunker ride with the girls only wanted to steal a kiss in the cool, dark passages. That was the second time in the gringa’s life that she socked a boy in the nose. But I learned quickly and didn’t fall for that trick a second time.

Now what has happened for the gringa to be reminiscing back to rollercoasters and clocking school boys? China. It’s all China’s fault. They have gone and done it this time. The gringa is counting her pennies and wondering just how fast she can afford to go to China. The gringa doesn’t plan on rollercoasters, though. No, now that I’m middle aged and epilepsy has had its toll on certain aspects, rollercoasters are out unless the gringa’s got paramedics lined up and waiting at the end of the ride. For the more sedate lifestyle I live now, the gringa still seeks adventure but with a smoother ride. Hence, China.

Remember when the gringa told you about Virgin Galactic and how you could hitch a ride to the highest heavens for a cool, couple hundred grand? Well, the gringa is certain that China can do it better and cheaper. In fact, considering that China is marketing their new ride as a feature at a theme park, surely tickets prices will be family friendly.

The plan is envisioned by KuangChi Science. The ride will be a balloon launch that will take passengers 15 miles into the atmosphere (24 kilometers).  The projected $1.5 billion project will encapsulate passengers in an airtight cabin beneath the balloon. Dubbed Shenzhou V after China’s first manned space mission in 2003,  the cabin is designed to block dangerous cosmic rays yet provide the comfort of a limousine-style ride. Once reaching top altitude, passengers will enjoy a peaceful cruise lasting a few hours before descent begins.  Although the ticket price hasn’t been announced, the gringa has got her fingers crossed that it may be in the $50 dollar range and include complimentary fortune cookies. Am I expecting too much?

Source: www.kuangchiscience.com

Image Credit: l.yimg.com

 

Sun Worship


Earlier this month celestial lovers throughout south and central Africa got to enjoy a spectacular solar eclipse that produced a ring of fire as the Moon transversed across the pathway of the Sun. The peculiar occasions when the Earth, Moon and Sun all line up together doesn’t happen too often. Such a rare event has historically been linked with all sorts of predictions and paranormal expectations.

The funniest recording of a solar eclipse is, perhaps, also the earliest record. Occuring in October of the 2137 B.C., two royal astronomers, Ho and Hi, offended the fourth Emperor of China’s Hsia Dynasty,  Chung-K’ang. The eclipse was an unexpected event. The poor astronomers were unprepared to perform the customary rituals that should have taken place. The pair of official stargazers were drunk and failed to launch the traditional arrows and beat out the right rhythm on the gongs and drums so that the Sun could be delivered from the mythical beast that was attempting to devour it.

Convinced that chaos would soon consume the empire, the astronomers were summarily executed as an appeasement sacrifice for their drunken dereliction of duty.  A public record of their death was translated in 1839 by scholars to reveal an amusing verse indicating that, although brutal in enforcing their expectations, the ancient Chinese did have a sense of humor:

“Here lie the bodies of Ho and Hi,

Whose fate though sad was visible –

Being hanged because they could not spy

Th’ eclipse which was invisible.”

In November of the year 569 an eclipse was recorded before the birth of the Prophet Mohammad in 570. There are many religious historians who link this eclipse as the moment of Mohammad’s conception. Interestingly enough Mohammed’s son Ibrahim died at the age of two-years-old during the occurrence of a solar eclipse. Mohammed wrote of this event as a sign sent from his God, Allah, of personal condolences. Muslims today still consider eclipses significant religious events. When the recent eclipse occurred mosques throughout Africa had special calls to prayer for safety and deliverance from harm.

Perhaps the most significant solar eclipse in modern history is the one of May, 1919. Commonly called “Einstein’s Eclipse”, it is considered to be the solar eclipse that changed the universe. For more than 200 years scientists had accepted Isaac Newton’s principle that the space of the Universe was as inflexible as mathematical principles.  Einstein set out to challenge this longheld belief. Einstein believed gravity was curved and flexible, affected by the mass of planetary bodies. He proposed that warping of space allowed planets to remain in their orbital paths, gravity distorted by the mass of a celestial body, the greater the mass, the stronger the force, which would result in more bending of light. This was to become known as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

When the 1919 eclipse occurred, British astrophysicist Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington led the charge for an experiment to take advantage of the expected eclipse. Eddington traveled to Principe which is in the Gulf of Guinea off of Africa’s western coastline. A horrible thunderstorm threatened to ruin Eddington’s chances but, fortunately, by afternoon the skies had cleared. Eddington’s celestial photographs and measurements were compared with photos and measurements recorded by Andrew  Crommelin at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. The findings were announced by Britain’s Royal Society’s Astronomer Royal Sir Frank Watson Dyson. It was announced in London on November 6, 1919 that Newton’s theory had been disproven by Einstein’s new Theory of Relativity.

To make sure that you are ready for the next opportunity to view a solar eclipse, log on to www.timeanddate.com and keep a watch on the countdown clock for eclipses listed under their Sun & Moon tab. It seems we are only about 5 months away from the next big event.  There is a handy search window everyone can use to see if their city or country is going to be in the most fortunate position of being able to see the eclipse.

To view a solar eclipse it is important to wear protective eyewear. A homemade viewbox can also be created called a pinhole camera. All you need is a box with a small hole on one side for light to pass through and project an inverted image of the eclipse on the opposite side.  Below is a video with an example of how to make and use a homemade pinhole camera. One tip: The bigger the box the better the view.

 

 

Sources:

eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov

www.timeanddate.com

Image Credit: cherokeebillie.files.wordpress.com

 

Let It Rain, Let It Rain, Let It Rain


Although Olympic focus has been trained on Rio, the gringa would like to take the dear reader back in time and to the other side of the globe to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. When China was preparing to host this historical event, pollution was high on the list of problems to solve. Although everyone is probably familiar with the tactic of temporary bans on driving & factory operations as drastic measures to help reduce smog. What many may not be aware of is China’s ambitious plans to control the weather, a $30 million dollar plan that they are still working on today. A plan to shoot into the heavens special “bullets” filled with salt and other minerals. What in the world are those crazy Chinese scientists up to? Apparently, nothing new! They’re just trying to make it rain.

Officially called “weather modification”, China helped clear their smog-filled skies during the Olympic games by making it rain, rain, rain. They are not alone in being rainmakers. Fifty-two other countries have developed their own rainmaking strategies. Ten of these countries joining the rainmaking team only five years ago. Rainmaking countries include: Canada, United States, Mexico, Cuba, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Australia, India, Senegal, South Africa, Russia and the list goes on. You can see the map created by the World Meteorological Organization to see who all is in on the rainmaking game.

The gringa is rather ashamed to admit that as for the United States, the origins of its weather modification program is not as noble as China’s. For the U.S., it all started with Operation Popeye which was a top secret program that weaponized weather during the Vietnam War. Although I’m sure the scientists who worked for General Electric had noble intentions, they probably had no idea that the U.S. government was going to take their technology and rain down silver iodide on the poor Vietnamese people.

But I digress. Back to China. In addition to creating rain to saturate polluted air and get rid of smog, they also wanted to prevent rain from spoiling events taking place in the stadium that was dubbed the “Bird’s Nest”. To achieve this amazing god-like feat, the Chinese implemented a 3 stage weather modification strategy:

  1. Officials tracked weather patterns with satellites, planes, radar and supercomputer.
  2. 2 aircraft, 20 rocket launcher & artillery sites sprayed silver iodide and dry ice into remote cloud systems that might approach the stadium so they would dump their rain before arrival.
  3. Nearby cloud systems filled with rain were seeded with chemicals that shrink the water droplets thus ensuring that the clouds would have time to pass over the Bird’s Nest without dropping their rain.

Now was all of this really necessary? The Beijing Olympics were held in August which is a high precipitation season for China so, yes, the gringa supposes that it was necessary. Consequently, China’s success in being a master rainmaker or rainstaller has resulted in China being the world leader in the weather modification sciences. They have more than 1,500 professionals devoted to all things necessary in controlling the weather: scientists, pilots, flight crews. Also proudly serving in the program are tens of thousands of peasant farmers who are more than happy to help their government blast away a cloud when crops have been inundated or have clouds seeded during times of drought. Peasants are on call to operate more than 7,000 aircraft guns and almost 5,000 rocket launchers when called to report to rainmaking duty.

The gringa is not too sure what to make of all this. For the most part I am the type to believe that the less we interfere with nature, the better. However, considering how bad mankind has screwed things up where climate change is concerned, it may just be that Mother Nature could use a few rainmakers. So, I say to the Chinese:

Let it rain. Let it rain. Let it rain.

 

Sources:

www.technologyreview.com

www.wmo.int

uspto.gov

fas.org

wikipedia.org/OperationPopeye

Image Credit:  cloudfront.net

 

 

A One Way Ticket To Tomorrow – Time Travel


Ever really screwed things up and wanted a do-over? Yeah, the gringa does that all the time. That’s what makes time travel so appealing. But is it possible? Theoretically, sure it’s possible, but only if you want to see the future. To start the day all over again in order to get it right the second time around means travelling faster than light and that, theoretically, is impossible. But, actually, that’s good news. That means a spiteful ex can’t travel back in time and take out your grandfather, thus wiping out your future existence. It also means that adventurers who travel to the future have to stay there (maybe). For a trip to tomorrow, it’s actually relatively easy, according to scientific formulas (although no one’s actually done it yet, I think).

You see, if a person hopped on board their spaceship and zipped away into the cosmos at even a fraction of lightspeed, for a journey of say a year or two, they would return to an Earth that had aged perhaps by decades. So, technically, the galactic pioneers traveled to the future. But Einstein offered another option to travel to the future in the blink of an eye, wormholes.

A wormhole is a time tunnel that connects different parts of the universe. By using the wormhole as a direct route across the universe, rather than taking the long route of flying through the curved mass of space, a person would emerge, within moments, in a completely different time zone, perhaps an entire era altogether, hundreds of years in the future. The furthest a person could then go back in time would be to simply use the wormhole to return to the point they started from. However, a Caltech physicist by the name of Kip Thorne believes that quantum theory suggests that once a person traveled through a wormhole it would collapse behind them. A wormhole to the future might be a one way ticket to tomorrow.

So, if you want to have a time traveling adventure, you just have to find a wormhole. Or go to China. Yep. That’s what the gringa said. Go to China. Interesting reports have been in the news for a few years now about a time travel tunnel in China. Located in Guizhou Province, time travelers can break all the rules and travel back in time. You don’t even need a spaceship. You can use the ancient technology of cars.

It only takes, technically, about five minutes to travel the 400 meter length of the tunnel. However, when drivers emerge on the other side of the tunnel their electronic devices indicate that they have traveled back in time about one hour. However, time is a jealous mistress. It seems to not appreciate being lost and chases down evaders like a jilted lover turned crazed stalker. Once people travel some distance from the tunnel their lost hour catches up with them.

What the heck is happening here? It’s a mystery. One that is absolutely adored by science fiction fans, conspiracy theorists and alien abduction proponents. However, China is not a fan of wacky explanations. They have offered a few boring theories as to why this is happening:

  • A transmitter in the tunnel is resetting everyone’s electronic clocks which reset once again when they receive new GPS signals from a different transmitter after emerging from the tunnel.
  • A localized magnetic anomaly messing about with electronic devices

The gringa doesn’t really care why. It seems harmless and loads of fun. The gringa would like to go back and forth several times, perhaps hundreds of times, maybe thousands just to see what might happen. Maybe I’ll lose a wrinkle or two.

 

Sources: www.physics.org

www.express.co.uk

Image:  i.ytimg.com

Fun With The Black Knight (No, Not Batman)


“Good grief,” the gringa says. “Not another UFO and secret space mission story to debunk?” Well, dear readers, I’m afraid so. But isn’t it fun to do?! Better yet, during this debunking post the dear reader will learn something very interesting related to the International Space Station which may inspire a space related activity of your own.

The Allegation

UFO and extra-terrestrial fans claim that there is an ET satellite, dubbed the Black Knight, locked in our planet’s orbit and visible from the International Space Station as well as Earth. They believe its purpose is to study mankind and has been present for over 1,300 years. To support this theory, UFO-ologists assert that because the Black Knight follows a polar orbit it is collecting terrestrial data because that is the orbit path used for cartography. UFO-ologists offer for proof a Russian space agency video where it is alleged that the Black Knight can be seen in the background as a Russian supply ship approaches the space station.

The Truth We Know

There is no doubt that unnatural objects are floating about the Earth in an orbital cycle which then makes all of these objects, technically speaking, “satellites”. However, it’s all just man-made space litter, debris from the space station or shuttles or other spacecraft. Some of this debris is electronic in nature, emitting signals captured and disseminated from other radio signals by technicians working for space agencies around the world.

The Black Knight was officially discovered about 60 years and announced in the St. Louis Dispatch and the San Francisco Examiner in March, 1954. Six years later, March, 1960, Time magazine published an article clearing up speculation that the Dark Knight was a Russian spy satellite. It was, after all, the era of the Cold War. The article claimed that the U.S. Department of Defense had announced that it was the U.S. satellite Discoverer and had veered off course, destined to its new trajectory around Earth. It is monitored even today by the United States, Europe, Russia and China.

The Fun We Can Have

The Black Knight is visible to amateur astronomers. As soon as the public became aware of its presence, people began tracking it on their own throughout the 1950s and 1960s. It appears to the naked eye as a red light moving quickly across the sky from East to West. Even today Earthlings can peer up at the night sky at the right time, looking at the correct horizon and track the path of the Black Knight as well as the path of the ISS. Orbiting about 240 miles above us, the ISS will appear like a fast moving airplane. It will be an unblinking white pinpoint of light. It shines so bright even city dwellers can see it. By visiting NASA-Spot The Station you can sign up for text message or e-mail alerts for your own area with a date, time and horizon parameters to spot the station as it passes over.

If a dear reader has access to a telescope, you can take a peek at the Dark Knight as well as the International Space Station. To help locate the station there is an online guide:  NASA Human Space Flight Realtime Data tool. Once you have spotted the station with your eye, you just point the telescope that direction in a forward trajectory. Eventually the ISS will pass through your viewer. It can all happen within seconds. Don’t fret if you fail the first time or two. Keep practicing and sooner or later you will get to see the ISS! Maybe even the Dark Knight! As you gain experience, or, if you have a fancier telescope with automated trajectory tracking, you can follow the ISS’ trajectory, keeping it in sight for much longer viewing.

The gringa’s pretty certain that if space aliens, Earthling governments and space agencies of the world were trying to pull one over on us, hiding a secret ET spy satellite, they are doing a pretty poor job of it since any ol’ soul can see it with or without a telescope!

Sources:

www.nasa.gov

www.telescopeking.com

www.ewao.com

time.com

Image credit: www.topinfopost.com