Insomnia & Astronauts


I don’t know about you, my dear readers, but, from time to time, the gringa has some very nasty bouts of insomnia. Whether it’s my hormones, my epilepsy, the caveman’s snoring or the business of my crazily creative mind, it matters not. All that matters is that when it happens I am miserable the next day. Perhaps I’m more like an astronaut than I realize. It seems that sleep deprivation is a standard side effect of microgravity.

Poor, little astronauts, like the poor, little gringa, suffer disruptions of their circadian rhythms (fancy word for biological clock). What are astronauts and astronaut hopefuls to do? Why the heck does this happen? Can it be stopped?

The biological clock of Earthlings is synchronized to a 24 hour cycle. The orbiting astronaut gets a clock reset every 45 minutes. That’s how often they experience a sunrise or sunset. Can you imagine the horror? The gringa would make an incredibly grumpy astronaut. But, then again, maybe not, not if I’m taking some good meds. The astronauts do. They have to use sleep-promoting medication (techno-speak for sleeping pills).

When the gringa breaks down and takes a sleeping pill (usually at the urging of the caveman, or the ninos, who beg me to get a good night’s sleep so I will not be a possessed, crazy person), I often wake up the next day and feel like I have a brain wrapped in gauze. I can’t think straight. My energy level is flat. I eye you suspiciously as you carry on an intelligent conversation. I pad back and forth to the kitchen for coffee refills. I pout because my old, cheerful, trouble-making self has retreated to the very dark recesses of my drug-fogged mind. How in the heck do the astronauts manage a dangerous spacewalk and intricate equipment repair under the influence? The gringa is baffled.

This is a very delicate health and security situation that NASA studies like mad. A recent study gathered data on over twenty astronauts for a period spanning over eight years. Scientists studied astronauts sleep patterns beginning with eleven days before launch and the sleep logs maintained during missions which recorded sleep medication usage and sleep quality. Astronauts who participated wore monitors that also collected data about their wakefulness: how often they woke when sleeping, how long they remained awake, and why they were awakened.

Some of the things the study determined affected sleep quality:

  • Rapid schedule changes (the gringa likes a rut so, yes, I agree)
  • Exposure to natural light during sleep cycle (yes, the gringa and her caveman prefer to sleep in a cave)
  • Exposure to unnatural light (yes, the gringa often resists her body’s signals to go to sleep because she has just GOT to win that last darn hand of Spider Solitaire)

On average, astronauts sleep about six hours per night when aboard the ISS (good grief, IF ONLY! Six hours? The gringa would die for such a nightly average!). One interesting finding was that sleep patterns were also affected by where the launch originates from. When launching from Kazakhstan, astronauts slept better than when launched from Florida. The gringa ponders the possibility of going away parties involving copious amounts of Russian vodka? Hmmm, maybe the gringa should recreate a Russian tundra scene in the boudoir. Wonder how the caveman would like it?

It seems that NASA has probably spent millions to discover things the gringa could have told them (big sigh, why am I NOT an astronaut, yet?). So, it seems that apart from maintaining my no-drama rut, the gringa needs to focus on exposure to lighting for the best case scenario for a good night’s sleep. This is actually very important because the caveman works the night shift. Our sleep cycle is from around 4am until about noon. We are very sexy sleepers, the caveman with his snore strip across his nose, looking like a prize-fighter, and me with my supersonic, hot pink earplugs poking out my ears, looking like some freakishly hip female Frankenstein.

The window will surely be our death in case of fire. The blinds are always down, then there’s a layer of those hideous light blocking curtains covered up with a gorgeous and colorful hand-made quilt from my auntie. Yes, no escape there in case of fire. But, it does make it the perfect, pitch black cave for the gringa and her caveman. And the rule in our house is that there are no computers or televisions allowed in the bedroom.

It seems I have all the bases covered where lighting is concerned. Why the heck do I still get insomnia? It can only be one thing. The problem is all in my head. Yes, literally in my head. In my busy, can’t stop thinking, must be creating, little head. Perhaps a lobotomy? Methinks not. I’ll stick with the hot toddies, all alone, curled up on the couch, pouting while the caveman is enjoying the bliss of REMs. Maybe I’ll step out on the patio and shake my little fist at the stars, toward the astronauts I am so envious of who are probably enjoying their darn six hour average snooze.

Source & Photo Credit:  www.nasa.gov

 

A Happy, Hopeful Astronaut


The gringa is happy to announce that she is one step closer to realizing her astronaut dreams! The media has given so much attention to SpaceX and their contractual relationship with NASA that the wonders of Blue Origin have not received their due. And, for aspiring astronauts like myself, this is a terrible injustice that the gringa hopes to rectify with this humble blog post.

Blue Origin is making it possible for astronaut hopefuls to reach dizzying heights above the Earth. Space pioneers will soon launch into Earth’s atmosphere in the New Shepard capsule that is perched above a sixty foot rocket that has proven its re-useable capabilities long before SpaceX claimed such fame. They had successful launches and landings November, 2015, and this month, January, 2016.

The New Shepard can sit a six man crew and accelerate past 3G’s, that’s faster than Mach 3. And, although each crewman does have duties aboard ship, there is plenty of time for space explorers to kick back and gaze out some enormous windows upon the vastness of outer space that surrounds our beautiful planet. Once the New Shepard capsule separates from the rocket booster, passengers then experience weightlessness in the perfect stillness of the vacuum of space.

Where does all of this amazingness happen? Practically in the gringa’s back yard, right here in Texas, west Texas to be more exact. Very soon Flyboys and Flygirls will begin arriving at the launch site and go through a two day training course on what to expect as well as what your astronaut responsibilities will be. There are flight simulations, safety briefings and in-depth flight training on procedures, communications and maneuvering.

Launch day starts at sunrise for pre-flight checks and final clearance. Once the go ahead is given, space explorers climb in, batten down the hatch, strap in, and COUNT DOWN. The launch is a 150 second burn of the ride of your life! In no time the blue sky fades to black, yeah, just like the Metallica song. Astronauts get to explore the weightlessness of zero gravity, contemplate man’s place in the Universe, and make spaceflight history.

Earthbound mission control will signal when it’s time to get your feet back on the ground. So, strap back in and be prepared for an even faster trip back down (over 5Gs!) that will be slowed by eight drag brakes (technical-speak for parachutes). Right before touch down the rocket engine fires up and slows the booster for a 5 mph landing very close to the launch area.

Blue Origin’s motto is “Gradatim Ferociter” which is Latin for “step by step, ferociously”. Step by step they have built upon one success after another and broken new ground in the spaceflight industry. They are making it possible for EVERYONE (that has enough money, that is) to be an astronaut. In fact, Blue Origin wants to make it possible for millions of people to eventually live and work in outer space.

Although SpaceX has gotten more media attention for building a reusable rocket system, Blue Origin experienced this success first. With each flight, the cost of spaceflight becomes more and more affordable. Maybe it will be within the gringa’s budget in another five or ten years. Who knows?! But, one day, I’m going!

Blue Origin is perfecting their New Shepard flight program with ongoing tests of unmanned test flights. They have yet to put a crew up into the heavens. But, each test brings the day closer when astronauts like you and I, dear reader, will climb on board and make history!

And, if you’re not interested in getting shot up into the sky, you can still be a part of history by working for Blue Origin because they need lots of folks with skills! Just a few slots they need to fill:  Aerodynamics Engineer, Aerospace Technician, Avionics Engineer,  Avionics Software Development Engineer, Composite Structural Engineer, Dimensional Inspector, Director of Safety and Mission Assurance,  Dynamic & Loads Engineer, HelpDesk Technician, and the list goes on and on.

And you don’t have to necessarily relocate to West Texas to have one of these fantastic jobs. Blue Origin has facilities in Washington State and Florida, too. So, if you believe in no limits, are passionate about the space industry, and have something to offer to Blue Origin’s collaborative efforts, you need to check them out.

Source & Photo Credit:  www.blueorigin.com

 

 

 

 

Kennedy Spaceport, It’s Official


Has the gringa mentioned before that I’m a Trekkie? I’m sure I have. And that includes all the spin-offs, like “Deep Space Nine”. Although the International Space Station is nothing like that orbital station, we Earthlings are one step closer to becoming more “Trek-like”. No longer are the places that rockets launch from simply called “facilities”. Nope, now we can all officially call that “space center” in Florida the “Kennedy Spaceport”.

You see, we are no longer just launching rockets and shuttles. We are entering the phase of space travel being performed in spacecrafts. It’s a different concept altogether, although the spaceships are still flung through Earth’s atmosphere riding piggy-back on a rocket.

The Cygnus spacecraft is delivered into space attached to an Atlas V rocket. This spacecraft is for cargo delivery. The Orion spacecraft hitches a ride on a Delta IV Heavy rocket. It is a spacecraft in which a crew actually travels aboard. The Kennedy Spaceport will also be where the Dragon and Starliner, the large crew capacity spacecrafts, will launch.

NASA’s spacecrafts will no longer need the runway previous shuttles used. The runway is three miles long and 300 feet wide. However, it is not just going to be forgotten now that the shuttle program has entered NASA’s annals of history. Commercial and government partners will be putting it to good use. Even NASA repurposes, the gringa likes this.

The Kennedy Spaceport is leading the way for the space travel and space science industry to prepare for their ultimate challenge, the manned mission to Mars. By having a multi-use spaceport, industry partners and NASA can streamline their efforts which will result in greater efficiency in their collaborations in developing and testing the technologies that are going to safely deliver a crew to the Red Planet.

The spaceport will also be able to process resupply missions quicker and more efficiently. The purpose of the missions on the International Space Station are research, research, research as well as testing new technologies. This is all part of NASA’s goals to improve life on Earth and accomplish gains and progress in space exploration.

A consolidated spaceport is NASA’s new approach to managing the flow of traffic to and from space. Within the coming years, traffic to and from the space station will increase considerably. Such traffic will not just be to swap crews on the ISS or resupply the ISS. The next big project is to lasso an asteroid and tow it into orbit around our moon. This will then usher in a series of missions where crews will travel to this asteroid and begin their Mars mission training.

Kennedy Spaceport is going to be the hub of all of this space travel activity. It will become the home of thousands of engineers, technicians and scientists who support the astronauts while they are off-world.

President Obama challenged NASA to create a spacecraft and support technology that would enable astronauts to perform long-term, deep-space missions with the ultimate goal of landing on Mars. NASA accepted the throw down of the gauntlet and the Kennedy Spaceport is one more step to fulfilling this challenge. Further testing of the Orion spacecraft will eventually result in it being ready to deliver astronauts to deep space and an exploration venture of Mars.

NASA has every confidence that it will fulfill President Obama’s objectives. Why does this space agency have such confidence? Because it believes in the skills of its personnel.

And one more reason to get behind this agency’s efforts is its dedication to respect the source of its funding. Not only is NASA repurposing the shuttle runway but it is also repurposing many buildings and structures throughout the sprawling Kennedy complex. Some buildings that NASA has no use for will be used by industry partners. The unique capabilities of these commercial companies will be right next door to the agency they are developing technology for.  This can only improve research and development and save the taxpayers lots of moolah.

Very soon launches of crews to outer space will be a regular thing. On-worlders will see them as “no big deal”. Eventually it will take something really spectacular and unbelievable to make us go, “WOW”, something like, boots on the ground on Mars!

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

 

All Aboard The “Moon Express”


A couple of years ago “Moon Express” completed a round of flight tests at Kennedy Space Center. Evidently, this didn’t seem like big news because the popular media sources were rather silent on the matter. Is the “Moon Express” newsworthy or not? The gringa just had to find out. I mean, with the name “Moon Express” conjuring up images in my mind’s eye of a space alien whodunit novel, surely there’s a story in there somewhere.

The “Moon Express” is a private company partnering with NASA’s Lunar CATALYST mission to provide a chunk of technology referred to as “MX-1”. The primary role of Moon Express is in the field of transporting commercial cargo from the Earth to the Moon. The MX-1 is an innovative lunar landing vehicle to help Moon Express fulfill its self-proclaimed mission of “blazing a trail to the Moon to unlock its mysteries and resources for the benefit of life on Earth and our future in space.” Considered by Moon Express to be the eighth continent, the company, with NASA’s support, looks to the Moon as an economic opportunity in order to exploit its natural resources that are rare here on Earth. What are these natural resources and their potential to help mankind?

Take, for instance, the platinum group metals classified as PT-78. Platinum is so scarce on Earth, that humans are only capable of producing a few hundred tons every year. This metal is the least reactive and most resistant to corrosion and can withstand extremely high temperatures. Platinum is most commonly used as a catalyst to produce chemical reactions such as igniting hydrogen and is used in the catalytic converters of automobiles. Estimates of manufacturing experts claim that almost one fifth of industrial applications require platinum. The plan is to mine this valuable commodity found on the Moon, return and sell it back on Earth, and the fellas at Moon Express can make the bank and fund their goals of further space exploration. Is that not the wildest “American Dream” story ever? The gringa is fascinated. I’m thinking of going out and buying a pick-axe and shovel and wheelbarrow and coveralls and…

And, the first stage in achieving these goals is the MX-1commercial lunar lander. This robotic spacecraft will deliver scientific and commercial cargo much cheaper than NASA. How can they do this? Moon Express has developed a “green” space vehicle that is powered by sunlight and, for fuel, uses hydrogen peroxide! Next time the gringa cuts herself, when cleaning the wound and the hydrogen peroxide gets all fizzy, I will imagine myself blasting into space like a shooting star!

Moon Express is just one of a small handful of private companies that have contracted with NASA. These contracts do not allow any funds to be exchanged. They are, rather, an agreement about support services and technologies that will be shared. Moon Express in particular will play a key role in assisting space exploration objectives such as returning geologic samples from the moon, providing the first platform of deployment for further space exploration, and prospecting resources on the Moon such as metals, water and oxygen that can be used to advance space exploration programs.

For more information about Lunar CATALYST, visit http://www.nasa.gov/lunarcatalyst.

For more information about Moon Express, visit www.moonexpress.com

Sources:

http://www.totalmateria.com/page.aspx?ID=CheckArticle&site=ktn&NM=237

www.nasa.gov

www.moonexpress.com

Photo credit: www.floridatoday.com