What’s Not To Love About STEM Barbie?

Although there are many radical feminists who will probably get on the hate bandwagon when it comes to the children’s toy Barbie, the gringa is not one of them, especially in light of a new STEM Barbie that is now available for little girls or boys who want to engage in imaginative play as a scientist.

Detractors may complain and focus on the cup half full but the gringa hopes her dear readers will not chime in and join the gringa in concentrating on the positive. I mean, we are talking about a child using their imagination to engage in a fantasy of their future life. What is so wrong if the kit contains a washing machine along with a microscope? Do female scientists never launder their clothes?

Why is it offensive that Barbie has a spinning clothes rack on which to hang her laboratory smock? Should a technologically savvy scientist still use a caveman closet system?

What’s up with complaining about her high heels? With all the talk by feminists of equal freedom and liberty, why not mind your own business and let a gal practice her liberty and freedom by wearing her footwear of choice whether it be flip-flops or 6-inch mega-heels? Where’s the real feminism in emotionally manipulating a woman to wear what a feminist says she must wear?

And who cares if Barbie still has her curves? Do we really think five-year-old girls are traumatized by Barbie’s perfect breasts and hips? Why would we so underestimate our children by supposing they cannot tell the difference between a man-made doll and the reality of the human body? I don’t recall my own self-image being brutalized because my Barbie had a nicer waistline than me. By the time I became concerned about my waistline I was at an age where Barbie had long since been forgotten.

Okay, dear readers? Just let the kids enjoy a toy that inspires science dreams for their future. Let them pretend to save the planet or discover the cure for cancer while at the same time pretending to cook up a batch of cookies (I mean, who the heck hates homemade cookies?!) or host a dinner party with Ken and Nikki (I mean, after all, don’t scientists also have friends and like to throw a party?).

Let little children build that darn spinning clothes rack and learn how the heck gears work and why they are an ingenius engineering invention. Let them discover the reality of torque and force and speed while having a bit of fun. Let kids put together that little shoe rack with the chain thing-a-ma-jig and the next time their chain falls off their bicycle see the pride and self-esteem bloom when they discover that they can fix it all by themselves!

As kids try to manage keeping all those micro-sized jewelry pieces and accessories stable on the spinning accessory holder, let them discover the mysteries of centrifugal force. Then let them stare in amazement at their feet one day when they realize that’s what’s keeping them from launching into outer space.

However, best of all, as far as the gringa’s concerned, let your little girls build and use that gender stereotyped washing machine in their Barbie play. Then the next time your own machine breaks down save a bundle on a repairman by handing your little girl a box of grown up tools and letting her at it.

Sources & Image Credit:








Only 4 More Years…

No, the gringa’s not talking about high hopes for an historical third term of Obama’s presidency to rescue the entire world from the potential disaster of a Trump presidency. The gringa is talking about China and Mars. In just 4 more years China plans to land a rover on Mars.

Now, this may not seem like big news considering that NASA has had a fleet of robotic spacecraft on or around Mars dating back as far as forty years. The significance of China’s contribution is that, well, the more the merrier when it comes to increasing knowledge about Mars and creating the technology necessary for human exploration.

China’s plan is patterned after NASA’s successful Viking I mission that landed the first rover on Mars forty years ago. China intends to orbit the Red Planet, land a rover, perform rover exploration and, once the mission is accomplished, learn from the experience to take another step forward in their own ambitions of a manned mission to Mars.

Like NASA, China’s space program also collaborates with private industry which is not only stimulating their economy, but rapidly advancing their mission objectives. In 2003 they launched their first manned spacecraft, Shenzhou. They also have their very own laboratory and space station orbiting the moon, Tiangong 1. Chinese astronauts aboard Tiangong 1 have performed a space walk and successfully explored the Moon with rover Yutu.

All of this space activity is really preparations for the greater goal, landing a manned mission on Mars. Next month China will launch a mission to deliver the components to recreate Tiangong 1, their experimental space station, into Tiangong 2, a permanent space station. Spacecraft Shenzhou 11 will deliver a 2 person crew who will reside in the space station for several days performing the necessary renovations.

Once China’s space station has successfully been converted to a permanent site, they can plan a manned mission to the Moon and begin rehearsing for a Mars mission. While other countries have slowed their space mission activities, China’s ambitious program has 20 missions planned for 2016. So, keep your eyes turned toward China for interesting developments.

It seems the space race is on to see who gets to Mars first. NASA plans a manned Asteroid Redirect Mission for 2025 and a manned orbit of Mars in the 2030s. The gringa would rather it be a team effort rather than a flag planting competition. However, if a race is what it takes to motivate engineers and scientists to up their game and move full speed ahead in the greatest exploration adventure of the gringa’s lifetime, well, who am I to judge?

Sources & Image Credit: http://www.nasa.gov, http://www.sg.finance.yahoo.com/news/china


Say Hello to R2 aka Hardhat Harry

Robonaut. It sounds like the title of a cheap sci-fi flick or perhaps the name of a second-rate children’s superhero action toy. In reality, Robonaut, Robonaut 2 (R2), to be exact, is a vital part of the crew aboard the International Space Station. He is a humanoid robot the gringa likes to call “Hardhat Harry” because of the types of jobs he performs as well as the future plans NASA is cooking up for him and future Hardhat Harry clones.

Presently Hardhat Harry is going through his paces as NASA engineers study how well he performs at this job. NASA hopes that one day Hardhat Harry will be able to join astronauts in their dangerous and risky spacewalks when they perform the necessary maintenance and repairs required on the outside of the space station.

But Hardhat Harry is more than just a handyman, he is also a scientist. In the Destiny laboratory he takes velocity air measurements. However, he is not above giving handrails a good scrubbing. And, just like the gringa, Hardhat Harry likes to flip switches and push buttons.

Guess how he performs his duties? Does the dear reader envision a programmer sitting in front of a computer screen inputting commands? Perhaps an image flashes through your mind of something like a video game with an engineer using a joystick to maneuver Hardhat Harry through his tasks. Nope, it’s even cooler than that. Crew members on board the ISS get to play a very serious scientific game of virtual reality, donning virtual reality headgear and controlling Hardhat Harry as if he were themselves!

Although Hardhat Harry has plenty of charm, don’t fall in love yet. Don’t get any ideas of thinking you will be able to visit one of the many space centers around the world when he returns from his mission and get his autograph. NASA has no plans for Hardhat Harry to ever return home.

Hardhat Harry will continue to be improved and upgraded as researchers learn how to adapt the technology to perform in the vacuum of space and eventually embark on deep space missions. Fleets of R2 Hardhat Harry clones will become the world’s future hi-tech repairmen, traveling far and wide to repair and upgrade communications and weather satellites. There is also great hope that a Hardhat Harry crew will be developed and shipped off to Mars for a surface mission or mine geological resources from the Moon.

Hardhat Harry and his kin will not replace astronauts, so, dear readers, if you are an astronaut hopeful like the gringa there is no need to despair. R2s are simply going to go first and make the way safer for exploration. And, by performing the boring repair jobs, astronauts can devote more time to discovery.

The next phase of progress is to deliver Hardhat Harry some legs. It may seem kind of silly to have Hardhat Harry up there, trying to get the job done without any legs, but remember, he is working in microgravity. He doesn’t necessarily need legs to move about the ISS. And, the legs they will be sending him don’t even have feet. They have grasping contraptions at the end of his “legs” that will secure him to railings while he works.

And, by having removable legs, Hardhat Harry has the option to rove about planetary surfaces centaur style. NASA is developing a four-wheel vehicle that Hardhat Harry’s torso can attach to as he zips about the Moon or Mars or wherever his adventures take him or NASA needs him.

Fans of R2 (aka Hardhat Harry) can keep up with all his exploits in space via Twitter @AstroRobonaut. So, for all the gringa’s dear readers who love robots and have great big dreams and ambitions with robotic technologies, keep your dreams alive and see if NASA can help you make them come true!

Source & Image Credit:  www.nasa.gov


How Bad Is 82%?

Did the gringa’s dear readers hear the news? The Earth’s report card has arrived and, well, it doesn’t seem to be all that bad. It’s a “B”, after all, 82%. That’s the grade the University of Washington’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory gave our lovely planet. What, exactly, does that mean?

By using what the laboratory calls the “habitability index”, our planet was graded on the likelihood of supporting life. It rated an 82%. The same guidelines used to determine the habitability of life on other exoplanets throughout the vast cosmos was applied to Earth and she got a “B”. Among these guidelines are factors like: atmospheric pressure, terrain, existence of water, etc.

The funny thing is that if we didn’t live here already, and sent out a probe to conduct an analysis of our planet according to this habitability index, we wouldn’t think the planet was inhabited or capable of sustaining life if we wanted to pay it a visit with boots on the ground. We would think it was too hot to support life. What? Yes. Our scientists would think it too close to our host star, the Sun. The gringa says, “That’s crazy!” I then have to wonder how many other planets out there in space have been deemed “uninhabitable” but, in actuality, could very well support life and possible may be doing just that?!

The researchers at SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) seem to be thinking along the same lines as the gringa. Now, SETI typically keeps a fairly low profile. However, with the discovery of exoplanets, there is renewed vigor in the organization’s work.

When work first began in the 1980s, SETI was not a group of ufologists looking for little green men. These were serious scientists who were actually skeptical that intelligent life existed in the universe other than here on Earth. And then the discovery of exoplanets was made. These cosmic bodies orbit stars just like Earth and our neighbors within our own Solar System.

In addition to the discovery of exoplanets, extremophiles were also discovered. These are living organisms that survive within an extreme ecosystem, such as bacterial ecosystems around a 700 degree Fahrenheit hydrothermal vent, surviving without sunlight and under extreme oceanic pressure.  That means that life in the most basic form that evolved into all that populates our planet today can exist in outer space. In fact, it’s highly likely that it does, somewhere, we just have to find it.

You see, about 2,000 exoplanets have been discovered and that is just scratching the surface of an infinite universe. Mankind’s limited exploration abilities have yet to uncover what is likely to be hundreds of thousands, possibly millions and billions, of exoplanets. That dramatically increases the chances that somewhere out there is an exoplanet supporting life.

Consider that many of these exoplanets are much older than Earth. That means they have had plenty of time for bacteria to evolve into intelligent beings. Now, more than ever, is the gringa excited about the future of space exploration. The nearest exoplanet with a score high enough on the habitability index to consider a likely place to start in such a search is over 1,400 light years away. The gringa would rather go there than Mars.


Photo Source:  www.rawscience.tv.com



Space For Europe IS the ESA

With ESA Astronaut Tim Peake performing a spacewalk this week on the International Space Station, the gringa thinks it’s only fitting to turn the limelight toward Europe’s space agency and their long history of achievement. The European Space Agency (ESA) is to Europe what NASA is to the United States, JAXA is to Japan and Rocosmos is to Russia. ESA is comprised of 22 member states who collaborate with their financial resources and intellectual talents to provide a gateway to the stars for all of Europe. Members are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Canada, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Malta, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia all make their own contributions as well through contractual agreements of cooperation.

The goals of the ESA are to discover more about Earth and its surrounding Solar System, as well as the entire Universe. These goals are met while at the same time promoting development of European technologies and sharing these with the world’s other space agencies.

Paris is the location of ESA headquarters. Germany is where ESA’s Astronaut Centre and Space Operations Centre are located. Astronomy Centres are found in Canada and Spain with the Earth Observation centre in Italy. The UK houses the centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications and launch bases are scattered throughout Belgium, the U.S.A., Russia and French Guiana. It can be rather dizzying with all of these operational centres spread all over the world. So, to keep things simple, because the gringa likes simple, for more information about ESA, simply go to their website, www.esa.int, or drop them a line or pick up the phone:

Communication Department
European Space Agency
8-10 rue Mario Nikis
75738 Paris
Cedex 15

Tel: + 33 1 5369 7155
Fax: + 33 1 5369 7690

ESA desires to explore space for peaceful purposes. While doing this it wants Europeans to benefit economic growth from the support services required to travel to the stars. Since its conception over thirty years ago, ESA has focused on long-term goals that are adaptable to a world that changes rapidly. The gringa wishes to highlight just a smattering of successful ESA missions:

  • ESRO-4, 1972: The ESRO-4 (European Space Research Organisation) satellite carried five experiments concentrating on Earth’s ionosphere, atmosphere, radiation belts and penetration of solar particle radiation into the magnetosphere. It was launched on 22 November 1972, on a NASA Scout rocket from the Western Test Range in California, and reentered Earth’s atmosphere after a successful mission on 15 April 1974.
  • 1977-2002 Mission Meteosat: launched multiple weather satellites
  • 1979 Mission Ariane: first launch of commercial launcher to secure Europe’s independent space access
  • 1983 Mission Spacelab: launched laboratory module for NASA’s Space Shuttle
  • 1985 Mission Giotto: intercept of Halley’s Comet and Comet Grigg-Skjellerup
  • 1990 Mission Hubble Space Telescope: ESA contribution of solar arrays and Faint Object Camera for Hubble Space Telescope
  • 1998 Mission ARD: launch of first European experimental re-entry vehicle
  • 2003 Mission Mars Express: launch of Europe’s first Red Planet orbiter
  • 2005 Mission Venus Express: launch of Europe’s first Venus orbiter
  • 2008-2012 Mission ATV: launch space truck for ISS re-supply
  • 2015 Mission Lisa Pathfinder: launch of technology to detect gravitational waves

Which brings the gringa to the current ESA Mission, “Principia”.  This six month mission is named after Isaac Newton’s book on physics, “Naturalis Principia Mathematica”. Peake’s mission objectives are to maintain the weightless research laboratory, conduct over thirty scientific experiments, and perform a spacewalk with fellow crewman Astronaut Tim Kopra, working together to replace a Solar Shunt Unit.

Preparing for the spacewalk involves breathing pure oxygen for two hours (to purge nitrogen) before embarking. Once spacesuits are donned, the astronauts enter an airlock where air pressure is gradually reduced until they can safely exit the ISS.

Upon successful completion of Mission Principia, ESA will then turn its attention and efforts to the next scheduled mission, Mission Exomars. Later on this year ESA will launch a Mars orbiter, rover and surface platform to the Red Planet. The gringa is so excited! To Mars! To Mars!


Source and Photo Credit:  www.esa.int


NASA Needs You!

Do you love anything that flies? Are you also a person who can organize and plan just about anything that, to others, seems a chaotic mess? Then NASA needs you.

Perhaps you like robots. Perhaps you like robots so much you’ve even stepped up your game and have built a few. Maybe you’ve got some big ideas and spectacular dreams but don’t know what to do with them. Well, NASA needs you.

Do you enjoy go-carts? Ever driven them? Worked on them? Built one? Did you enjoy all that tinkering? NASA needs you!

Are you a computer geek? Do you fantasize about putting all that keyboard pecking to use for the future of all humanity? I’m tellin’ you, NASA needs you!

Do you stargaze, with or without a telescope? NASA needs you!

NASA has all sorts of active challenges. These are opportunities for the general public to show the space agency just what they’ve got! Here’s your chance! You’re big break! If you have a crazy lab or workshop that you escape to where you invent all sorts of weird gadgets, you simply must read on because the gringa has got a treat prepared just for you! (Or a friend of yours, you can always pass the info along!)

Listed below are just a few of the current active challenges NASA has extended to the general public. Click on the links and explore NASA’s website if any of these challenges appeal to you!

  • “Sky For All: Air Mobility for 2035 and Beyond”. Develop ideas and technologies for the airspace of the future. Solve problems of air traffic management that will be dealing with crowded skies way beyond what we have today. Consider in your designs autonomous operations and cyber security. As a design for the future, twenty years from now it will not just be commercial airlines in the air. There will also be personal air vehicles, unmanned aircraft (drones), spacecraft and even stationary objects (such as wind turbines).

Future expectations is that air traffic management systems will be managing more than ten million aircraft in the skies. More than anything, this project is about public safety and also plans for poor weather conditions.

This challenge has a payout of $15,000 for the winning design. It is administered by HeroX and sponsored by NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD). Registration officially opens December 21 and submission deadline is February 26, 2016.

  • “Swarmathon” Challenge is a robotics competition scheduled for April 18-22, 2016, at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. There are openings for 35 on-site teams and 23 virtual teams. The goal is to create cooperative robots that can operate autonomously on Mars.
  • “Human Exploration Rover” Challenge is open for student teams. It is organized by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. International team deadline is January 11, 2016. U.S. team registration deadline is February 8, 2016. The competition will take place April 7-9, 2016 at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Alabama. High school age and college age students are eligible to compete. They are to design, build and drive a human-powered rover that will navigate an obstacle course that will simulate the terrain of Mars. Interested U.S. students should contact Diedra Williams, (256) 544-5721, or send her an email at a.williams@nasa.gov. International students that are interested should contact Amy McDowell, (256) 544-8411, or send her an email at amy.mcdowell@nasa.gov. For more information, visit http://www.nasa.gov/eduation
  • “Sample Return Robot” Challenge wants innovators to build robots that can operate independently to locate, identify and collect samples, and return them to a location without the need of GPS or other navigation aids, within a specific time. This challenge is sponsored by Centennial Challenges Program. It awards $1.39 million dollars to the winning design. This is an ongoing annual challenge. Registration closes every January until this challenge is won. Level 1 Competition is scheduled for June, 2016 and Level 2 for September, 2016. For more info visit http://wp.wpi.edu/challenge and also visit nasa.gov/robot
  • “Enterprise Search Engine” Challenge seeks to improve search capabilities of its new search engine. The challenge awards $50,200 to the winning design. This specific search engine targets the day to day data gathering requirements of NASA employees. The challenge wants the design to enhance filtering, geolocation, content and imagery, among other things. This challenge closes February 10, 2016. For more information, visit topcoder.com
  • “Aurorasaurus.org” Challenge is for stargazers who enjoy the challenge of finding the aurora and helping others to see it, too. This challenge is sponsored by the National Science Foundation INSPIRE program. Awards are available and monthly badges can be earned. This is an ongoing challenge that is scheduled to be open indefinitely. There is no limit to participation. For more information, visit aurorasaurus.org.

These are not the only challenges that are going on right now. NASA is always updating their website with new challenges. Visit www.nasa.gov/solve to see what is currently happening. If any of this kind of stuff interests you, get involved. Some of these challenges, like the Aurorasaurus challenge, are great family projects. All you need is time and a willingness to sit out under the stars with your loved ones. And that is a challenge the gringa can most certainly win!


Source and Photo Credit: www.nasa.gov



Quantum Science Stuff

What word SCREAMS fascinating, mystifying science? Quantum. Webster’s dictionary says, with regard to physics, quantum means the “smallest amount of any form of energy (such as light)”.  NASA is into all sorts of quantum science stuff. Let’s take a stroll through some of NASA’s quantum interests.

NASA has a quantum computing lab. The gringa asks, “What does it do? What does it do?” Located at the Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) facility in California, NASA’s Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (QuAIL) is studying the computer of the future and how this technology is relevant to the future of mankind. Collaborating with Google and the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), technology is being developed to not only optimize existing computer technology, but to go beyond and create computers that can do what was before considered impossible.

Again, the gringa asks, “Like what?! Like what?!” (You can picture my little dance, hopping from one foot to another, flinging my hands up and down, as I impatiently ask this question). Well, how about “quantum teleportation”? The gringa says, “WHAT?! Are you KIDDING ME?” (now hopping straight up and down on both feet).  The cute little cartoon above illustrates how the technology works.

If visuals aren’t your thing, the gringa will try to convey the concept. Imagine you have eyes that can see things as tiny as itty, bitty particles, which is what makes up everything in our world. Now, consider that there are two particles that, although separated by an incredible distance, they behave as if they are connected (kind of like a married couple). This is called entanglement (yeah, like I said, kinda like a married couple).

What scientists have done with this concept is teleported information about a particle of light over fifteen miles of optical fiber to a crystal “memory bank”. Voila! Quantum teleportation.

However, the gringa is no longer jumping up and down. I’m scratching my head and thinking, “So what!” I mean, it doesn’t really sound like a big deal. It doesn’t even sound like real teleportation to me. I mean, it traveled through a conduit, the optical fiber. I’ve seen enough episodes of Star Trek to know real teleportation means you simply vaporize, POOF, and rematerialize somewhere else. What a let down.

The gringa really doesn’t want to get shot through an optical fiber skinnier than a human hair to make a quick trip to the mall. It would make me feel like a drive-thru bank deposit. I was really looking forward to the POOF and re-materialization thing. I mean, you could strike a pose and really create a fantastic entrance wherever you went.

The “real-life” application of this technology is that it has potential to be used in cryptography. However, not only will it create secure information transmission between computers here on Earth, but also between Earth and spacecrafts. This would be done by imprinting two systems upon each other so that even when they are separated they behave as one system and, thus, unhackable (is that a word?).

So, with a quantum computer system Astronaut Annie can send a love note from Mars to Hubby Harry back on Earth and it would be as securely private as if they were writing love notes back and forth on the same pad of paper across the breakfast table from one another. Okay, the gringa does have to admit that is entirely cool. Hackers terrify me. I’m always afraid they’ll hack into my bank account and get my last five dollars (that’s usually all that’s ever in there, except for payday and maybe one day after, but, yeah, the rest of the time about five bucks).

Now, how this works is like this:  Alice has a yellow photon. She wants Bob to have one just like it. Their friend, Charlie, sends them each a blue photon (these photons are “entangled”, hence the same color).  Now, the rule of entanglement is since the objects are connected, anything done to one affects the other in the same way, as if they were one object. Alice smashes her blue and yellow photons together until the yellow residue dominates the blue. Now, Bob likes the color yellow better than blue so Alice wants to help him change the color of his photon. So, she teleports the information of the color yellow to Bob’s crystal memory bank and the color information imprints on Bob’s photon which now turns yellow.

So, in a nutshell, quantum teleportation is not anything like Star Trek’s device. Does that mean Star Trek technology is impossible? Um, this is NASA, NOTHING is impossible! The concept of the Star Trek transporter is that it changes matter into a signal that can be transmitted to another location and reappears. What this requires is an empty vessel of a corresponding shape waiting on the other end to receive the quantum state of transported information. So, transport a human body? Probably not. However, lay down on a transport bed and beam your consciousness into, say, a robotic version of yourself, could be.

If technology is developed to transport matter through space, what about transporting through time? Is time travel possible? Nope, not unless we get us some wormholes. And, even then it is still only a theory.

Communication and transporting matter is not the only technology that has something “quantum” about it. In medicine there is a device called the Quantum Resonance Spectrometer (QRS). It gathers cellular information from a human body which can be used to predict when a disease may strike based on an analysis of cellular change. The hope is that as this technology is perfected it will be used in preventative medicine. Japanese, Taiwanese and Chinese hospitals are already using the technology in studies of cancer, cardiovascular and heart diseases.

How about quantum energy? Can we say good-bye to oil, coal, and wind power? Maybe. NASA is developing the “quantum dot” solar cell that is flexible, lightweight and absorbs light as if it were a mini-black hole on a sunshine diet. Because of the abundance and availability of solar energy in outer space, imagine the prospects! NASA wants to use these babies on rovers and habitats as well as auxiliary power sources.

The quantum dot not only reduces weight because of it’s tiny, microscopic size that efficiently produces energy, but it also lowers the cost of space travel. The cells can be produced in a process much like ink jet printing. Large batteries that take up a lot of cargo space can become a thing of the past. Can you imagine if cars no longer needed a gas tank? No more oilfields! Hoorah! Hoorah! What is NOT to love about this technology!

So, what is the next thing on the horizon with “quantum science stuff”? How about a world-wide quantum network? If we thought the invention of the Internet was an amazing thing, the gringa says, “We ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”


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



“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


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

Astronauts In The Pool

Astronauts and swimming. The two don’t seem to go together, huh? Big surprise, they do! Just about any day of the week astronauts enter NASA’s Johnson Space Center, don a spacesuit and go for a swim in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL). The “laboratory” is actually a six million gallon swimming pool warmed to a constant 86 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are susceptible to vertigo, then for heaven’s sake, if you take a tour, don’t climb up on one of the cranes and look down into what is the largest indoor pool in the world.

Astronauts train for space walks in this 200 feet x 100 feet wide x 40 feet deep state of the art aquatics facility. However, they are not diving in to get their swim on. They first descend to an elevated deck that sits at a depth of twenty feet. Stage two is another twenty foot descent to the floor of the pool. This submerged laboratory contains life-size models of some of the most important components of the International Space Station (ISS). In an underwater environment that simulates microgravity, astronauts do some very serious training.

If you have ever watched NASA videos of tethered astronauts floating around in space repairing one of the eleven trusses that support the ISS’s radiator or solar arrays, this pool is where they did the training for such work. By rehearsing spacewalks in this way, astronauts become familiar with the effects microgravity will have not only upon the movements of their bodies, but also how it will affect the objects and tools they may use.

After a crew is briefed on their mission, they enter the pool and do not return until the mission is complete. This could mean remaining submerged for up to six hours. When they have received the order, and the team is assembled on deck, they are lowered into the pool by cranes. They quickly get to work practicing such routine maintenance tasks as re-routing the cables that connect the modules of the space station or repairing the solar arrays.

Now this all sounds very impressive, but, the gringa has to ask, “Is this super expensive aquatic laboratory and space station worth all of those taxpayer’s dimes? I mean, what’s the point of it all?” The gringa has an insatiable curiosity. I just have to know. Fortunately, because NASA is funded by taxpayers, their work is an open book.

Many of the ongoing biological experiments at ISS study the long term effects being in space has upon human and animal physiology. This helps prepare astronauts for their trips as well as anticipate and manage any health complications when they return home. Such research also will help to determine if it is ever possible for humans to colonize space and live out a normal life span there.

Such things as the human reproductive system are studied. I mean, what’s the point of colonizing outer space if the colonists can’t reproduce? The seed of civilization in some far off galaxy would just die out within one generation. Effects of long term exposure to microgravity upon the human immune system must also be understood. Eventually a colonist is bound to get sick or break a bone or receive a nasty cut. Which, then, leads to cosmic scientists exploring the possibilities of developing the basic building blocks that would allow self-sufficient medicine development in outer space.

Pharmaceuticals often have their origins in organic material, such as plants. ISS experiments also study the development of enclosed ecosystems. If humans are to ever live in space, they will need to find a way to successfully farm in artificial environments. These studies are not just about the future space farming of tomato crops. Astronaut scientists also explore the possibility of raising protein livestock such as fish and quail.

So, astronauts are not just up there having the most expensive camp out of their lives. They are developing the science and methods that will be needed if mankind is ever to inhabit another place as “home” other than Earth.

Does the gringa think it’s all worth it? I suppose so. I suppose I have to consider the possibility that some knucklehead leader of a country may go totally off the rails one day and trigger a catastrophe that may have a widespread impact on our world. That may be the time to just pack up and leave this world behind and head for the stars. I just hope that if that day does ever come, I’m able to bring my little dog along.

Source:  http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments_category.html

Photo credit: www.nasa.gov