Life In A Bubble


There are many different reasons to be interested in the science of climate change. Maybe you are a lover of nature, like the gringa. Maybe you are a doomsday prepper, anticipating worldwide failures of critical natural resources necessary for humanity’s survival. Perhaps you are a problem solver, interested in creating solutions to help us all survive. Or you could be an author of science fiction and fantasy and the realities of climate change provide a plethora of creative resources. Whatever the reason, then you will find the possibility of life in a bio-sphere bubble interesting to ponder.

Tucson, Arizona was recently host to an environmental event sponsored by One Young World, a group of leaders in innovative climate change survival solutions, particularly Biosphere 2 (Earth is #1).  The event featured experts in science, international diplomacy, political science and commercial industry who are all interested in humanity’s need for sustainable sources for food and energy. The speakers whom event attendees were, perhaps, most interested in were probably the former astronaut and individuals who have been living in Biosphere 2.

If a person was to take a tour of Biosphere 2, you might be expecting a sterile, technical, enclosed life support environment like the International Space Station. However, you will probably be pleasantly surprised to find a faux ocean the size of an Olympic swimming pool surrounded by a bamboo forest. As you continue exploration, you will stumble across a desert recreation complete with species of ants and cockroaches.

The Biosphere idea was birthed more than two decades ago. In 1991 the dream was realized when eight individuals, four women and four men, donned their uniforms and entered the three acre terrarium smack dab in the middle of an Arizona desert where they would live confined for twenty-four months.

The habitat was constructed thanks to the generosity of a wealthy Texan who wants a place of safe retreat when the Apocalypse crashes down around our ears. He shelled out about $150 mill to recreate miniaturized versions of South America’s rainforest, the African Savannah, and a single ocean. The Biosphereans worked for two years to determine if this earthly microcosm would interconnect, survive and become a self-sustaining world producing oxygen and food.

Beneath the multiple geodesic domes of steel, glass and plastic transplanted nature began to fail the moments the doors were sealed. Precious oxygen was leaking and making its escape to the outside world. Despite the threat of suffocation, the Biosphereans soldiered on. They planted crops near the ocean. A sophisticated underground bellows system created wind. But small crops of oxygen producing plants and man-made breeze were not enough to make the habitat a survivable, much less pleasant, environment. For the sake of science the Biosphereans persevered through two years of oxygen deprivation yet finally called it quits when survival was only possible by pumping in outside-sourced oxygen.

But was this experiment really a failure? Of course not. It was a very valuable learning experience. Think of all the research that was accomplished on learning how vegetation, geography, water and air movement, and fresh water sources can all be successfully recreated and the knowledge of certain mistakes not to repeat in the process.

The Biosphere 2 is not a total physical loss either. The University of Arizona will continue studies on how to succeed in a biosphere lifestyle. Part of the property will be open to the public and re-christened “Land Evolution Observatory”. The university will launch a project that, over the span of a decade, will attempt to perfect the methods the Biosphereans began. The gringa considers these self-sacrificing and brave Biosphereans to be the pioneers of the Millennia.

The Biosphere story also has a romantic twist. The gringa, madly in love with her caveman, loves a good romance and is happy to learn that two of the individuals fell in love during their confinement together and married as soon as they had regained their freedom to the outside world. The couple, speaking to the Tucson audience, explained how profound their sense of inter-connectedness to their environment became. Daily they tracked carbon and oxygen levels, strongly aware that their survival depended on the right balance.  They felt aware, moment by moment, of each breath they took and each CO2 exhalation they made. The reality of the co-dependence the humans, plants, animals and insects all had with one another was always at the forefront of their mind.

When former astronaut Ron Garan addressed the audience, he discussed his six month stint enclosed in the self-sustained environment of the International Space Station. It was a profound experience that increased his environmental awareness and how tiny, fragile and singular our Earth is. His individual life perspective was completely changed as he worked beside the two Russian cosmonauts he shared duties with. Upon his return to Earth, he dedicated himself to collaboration with projects that will promote the survival of humans and the planet we call home. The only planet, mind you, that we have.

He recounted one of his most poignant experiences. It was the moment he returned to Earth. He peeked out the window of the capsule, saw a landscape of rocks, flowers and grass. His immediate mental and emotional response was, “I’m home” despite the fact that this American was actually in Kazakhstan. Once you’ve been off world, any square inch at any spot on the globe is home, regardless of politics, religion, nationality or ethnicity. The gringa finds this philosophy beautiful and inspirational. And I hope that we all figure it out together, how to save our home.

Source & Image Credit:  www.newsweek.com

 

 

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Who Were Those Ancient Siberians?


An interesting Siberian archaeological site is the tittle-tattle of historians recently, squabbling on what ancient people get credit for the structure sitting on an island in the middle of  a lake. It’s over one thousand years old so Russians, as we know them today, are not the culture responsible for this structure. Who the heck needed a fortress in Siberia 1,300 years ago?

Experts have dated it to about 750AD. Situated in the middle of Lake Tere-Khol in Tuva, this high altitude lake location has some historians believing it could possibly indicate religious, astronomical, or imperial significance. The theories bandied about are that it is possibly a regent’s summer palace, a monastery or, perhaps, an observatory for the heavens.

Finding out what was going on in Siberia in the 700s is not as easy as one might think. A trip to Wikipedia (the source of all online knowledge, right?) reveals that Russia’s historical timeline inconveniently begins in 860AD with a record of the Rus’-Byzantine War. Wikipedia has let the gringa down.

Digging back a bit further, things get vague. One simply has to pick up a bit here and bob over there and put together a picture that, although still a bit hazy, can at least deliver a pretty good idea of who the heck was running the show in Siberia in the 750s.

The first stop on the collection route of ancient Siberian bits and bobs is linguistics. Author Rein Taagepera penned a book entitled “The Finno-Ugric Republics and the Russian State”. There is a single quote that sheds some light on the 750s mystery people of Siberia:

“Samic was previously considered a language with disparate dialects but is now increasingly seen as  a collection of half a dozen related languages that diverged some 1,300 years ago. They are spoken in northern Scandinavia and the Kola Peninsula in the Russian Federation.”

Here, at least, Wikipedia did not let the gringa down. Wikipedia explains that the Samic language is believed to have its roots in ancient Finland dating from 1000BC-700AD. The Finnish-Samic link to this Siberian archaeology site is further strengthened by an observation made by Ludmila Koryakova and Andrej Vladimirovich Epimakhov in their book, “The Urals and Western Siberia in the Bronze and Iron Ages”:

“In the sixth-third centuries BC, their northern trade was oriented to southeastern Europe, but after the second century BC, caravans went to western Siberia, where the Sargat culture constituted the most powerful ethnic and political union.”

So, the gringa believes an actual cultural identity can now be assigned to ancient Finnish ancestors speaking the Samic language who settled in Siberia – the Sargats. Researchers identify evidence of this culture in the forested steppes of southwest Siberia near Russia’s fifth century border with northern Kazakhstan. Archaeological artifacts and burial remains show that the Sargats lived a horse herding lifestyle centered around raising sheep and cattle. A nomadic tradespeople, their wares were typically milk products, meat and textiles. Social structure, determined from burial rituals, reflect that women were regarded equally as men with regard to managing herds and local governance. Warrior status, however, was an elite status reserved for only the most wealthy and powerful males.

DNA evidence of remains also revealed a curious Iranian ancestry link as well. So, the Sargats were probably originally Finnish and eventually intermarried with other tribespeople living in Siberia, coming into contact through trade and war. Ancestry for Siberians can be traced not only to Finland and Iran but also to Turkey, Mongolia and China as well as traces of Viking influences.

Interestingly enough, the style of the controversial Siberian structure shows Chinese architectural influences. The official name of the site is “Por-Bajin” and is considered a mystery by the experts who have been studying it for decades. The name is derived from the Tuvan language and means “clay house”.  Sitting near the border of Russia and Mongolia, it is then probably no surprise to see a Chinese influence in the design.

Researchers liken the layout to resembling a typical Buddhist temple. This similarity along with its isolated location and the fact that the cultures of this time were nomadic and not organized in such ways as to see an imperial palace as something useful, causes the gringa to consider the monastery theory to be more credible than a fortress type imperial summer palace or astronomical observatory. Like Catholic missionaries who traveled to remote places all over the world and constructed missions and convents, Buddhist monks followed a similar tradition.

Another curiosity is that the structure lacks any evidence of a heating system, even one that would be basic and crude. Surely that, too, would rule out an imperial summer palace. Siberia, even in the hottest period of a summer season, would still be uncomfortably cool without any heat source within a dwelling. To try to survive a winter without heat would be a death sentence. So, even as a monastery, monks could only be in residence during the summer.

The gringa loves a good mystery and will certainly be eagerly awaiting more news and future developments regarding “Por-Bajin”. With the effects of climate change causing permafrost melt resulting in water levels rising in Lake Tere-Khol, the caveman and I better put it on our climate change related priority travel list to see it before the waters swallow it up!

Source & Image Credit:           http://siberiantimes.com/science/casestudy/features/f0009-who-built-this-siberian-summer-palace-and-why/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sami_languages

http://dienekes.blogspot.com/2010/11/ancient-mtdna-from-sargat-culture.html

 

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

 

Coming Home


If you’re looking for something good on television this coming Friday, tune in to NASA television. Beginning at 1am EST complete coverage will begin of three crew members making their way back home from the International Space Station (ISS).

Returning from Expedition 45 are Flight Engineers Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Oleg Kononenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency and Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. December 11, 2015 will mark the conclusion of their 141 day mission aboard the ISS.

The Russian Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft is scheduled to undock from the station at 4:49 am with the crew scheduled to land in Kazakhstan 8:12am EST or 7:12pm Kazakhstan time.  NASA has published an itinerary from hatch closure to landing, with repeats of live coverage for those who sleep in (like myself):

  • 1am           Farewell
  • 1:25am     Hatch closure
  • 4:30am     Undocking procedures begin
  • 4:49am     Spacecraft undocks
  • 7am           Landing coverage begins
  • 7:19am      Deorbit burn
  • 8:12am      Landing
  • 10am         Repeat of video files of hatch closure, undocking and landing
  • 9pm          Repeat of video files of landing and post-landing activities interviews

When this three man crew undocks, Expedition 46 will officially begin aboard the ISS with NASA’s Scott Kelly assuming command. His crew will consist of Mikail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov, both of Rocosmos. They will hold down the fort for three days until NASA’s Tim Kopra, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Tim Peake of the European Space Agency arrive.  They are scheduled to launch the following Tuesday, December 15 from Kazakhstan.

A typical mission tour is six months. However, Commander Kelly and Kornienko will be completing one year missions. Their long-duration space flight is to advance medical and scientific knowledge of the medical, psychological and biomedical challenges astronauts experience in such circumstances.

NASA has a “space clock” on their website that is tracking every minute of this mission. According to #YearInSpace Mission Clock at the time the gringa was pecking away at the keyboard composing this blog post the one year mission astronauts had logged 254:07:03:30(and counting) which translates to: 254 days, 7 hours, 3 minutes and thirty seconds.

Commander Kelly is also a regular Tweeter. If you are active on Twitter you can follow his experiences aboard ISS at @StationCDRKelly. I checked it out and saw beautiful space sunsets, sunrises and horizon pictures as well as one that went viral because some folks claim it contains a UFO. Wait, what? Yes, that’s what the gringa said. A UFO.  Who knows, it could have just been some space junk burning up in the atmosphere. You will have to check it out yourself and decide. And, of course, he is always posting incredible images of home.

Which makes the gringa realize that no matter how exciting it is to go hurtling through outer space and discover incredible and amazing things, every single astronaut and cosmonaut looks forward to coming home.

 

Source and Photo Credit: www.nasa.gov