India’s Space Explorers


The gringa has done innumerable posts on NASA, several on the European Space Agency (ESA) and even the space programs of Russia, China and Japan. Were my dear readers aware that India has its own space program? They do. It is called the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and they are now on the brink of exploring the galaxy with their own re-usable shuttle.

To India’s credit, they have accomplished the feat of designing and constructing a reusable launch vehicle for a fraction of what SpaceX spent on their reusable rocket. If their shuttle model is a success, the world may have to turn its eyes to India as the next world leader in space program development and exploration. Not only are they getting things done, but doing so extraordinarily efficiently.

On its virgin flight, the 21 foot long shuttle, weighing one and three-quarter tons, reached Mach 5 as it zipped through space 39 miles above Earth. The craft successfully splashed down right on target at coordinates in the Bay of Bengal. This prototype is much smaller than NASA shuttles but if the design is right and all goes well, India plans to enlarge the shuttle’s length by one hundred feet by the year 2030. By designing a re-usable shuttle, India will realize a 90% savings with every single launch. Cost was the very reason NASA’s shuttle program was discontinued.

Aerospace experts around the world view India’s achievement with great interest.  By drawing upon the successes and failures of other space agencies around the world, India has developed a space program that has avoided costly mistakes. They have also been able to model their inspirations upon the successes that have been accomplished. India is managing a successful and growing space program with a budget that, on average, is about three times smaller than their Western counterparts. One reason is that they have eliminated much of what we Westerners call pesky bureaucracy.

Going red tape free, however, is not without its risks. Only time will tell if lack of regulation results in a more hazardous space program. Re-usable shuttles should translate into multiple launches annually. This will mean more money for the space program by infusions of cash from investors and contractors who want their payloads delivered to the International Space Station and other countries paying cab fare for their astronauts to hop a ride.

At the rate India is clipping along with progress at a significant lower price, they may just boot SpaceX out of the space transport market altogether. Who knows, it may be India that gets to Mars first. And according to the stock market, investors seem to have the same suspicion. The companies involved in supplying ISRO with the materials they need have become quite attractive for foreign and Indian investors.

The gringa has always wanted to visit India. It’s rich history and beautiful culture has always intrigued me. Now, I have hopes that in yet one more country on this grand globe, this astronaut hopeful has just one more option of space programs that, one day, may be interested in sending a gringa into outerspace.

Source & Image Credit: http://www.fool.com

 

 

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Houston Space Center Fun


Space Center Houston is only about an hour south of the gringa’s little barrio apartment. With the caveman and myself being empty-nesters, it has actually been awhile since we’ve visited. In the past, the ninos always had a wonderful and awe-inspiring experience (mamasita, too) whenever we would visit.

Today’s activities and programs offered that are designed to appeal to kids has some massive appeal to a grown-up gringa as well. I may have to take the time to make a visit.

This month Independence Plaza has its grand opening.  Visitors enter a replica of shuttle Independence that is mounted atop the original NASA 905 shuttle launch aircraft. It is the only shuttle in the world the public is allowed to enter and explore.

When I make my plans for a return visit, the gringa wants to make certain it’s on a Friday. Every Friday at 11am  and 1pm it is “Meet an Astronaut Friday”. Astronauts make a presentation and are then available for a question and answer session with the public. And, if you are so inclined (the gringa is), “Lunch With an Astronaut” offers an interesting cosmic dining experience. It’s casual, no spacesuit required. Fare is catered by NASA (wondering if freeze-dried ice cream is for dessert?).  Astronauts featured for February:

  • Tom Jones, February 5
  • Mike Foreman, February 12
  • Brian Duffy, February 19
  • David Hilmers, February 26

If you want to dine with some stars from the stars, NASA advises that you order tickets early because it is first come, first served. If you arrive early, or stay a bit longer, after lunch, you can enjoy the “Meet an Astronaut Friday” presentation.  Don’t forget your camera and let NASA know in your reservation if you have any special dietary requirements.

And, if that doesn’t sound fascinating enough, the center opens a new exhibit February 13 that was designed by Scitech of Australia fame. This is the public’s big chance to pilot an airplane or drive a hovercraft. There are other interactive things to do in this exhibit but the gringa mentions her two favorites. Visitors are invited to explore travel and transportation technologies that have been around for years as well as new, emerging technologies.

And, if that’s not good enough for you, you can go on the Level 9 Tour as a VIP. The gringa believes she definitely ranks VIP status. VIPs get behind-the-scenes access on this five-hour tour which takes visitors through the astronaut training center and mission control for the ISS. Tickets for this tour need to be made in advance because only twelve people daily are allowed.

The gringa’s birthday is coming up and I’m pretty sure tickets for lunch with an astronaut and a Level 9 Tour are at the top of my birthday to-do list. The caveman may have quite a pout if he has to compete for my attention over lunch, but, my outer space madness is just all part of my charm.

Source: spacecenter.org

Photo credit: www.collectspace.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

 

So You Wanna Be An Astronaut


The gringa is excited over a recent news release from NASA. Can my dear reader guess what that would be? No, they didn’t offer me an astronaut training slot. They did, however, announce that they will soon be accepting applications for astronaut candidates. Anticipating future plans of more humans involved in space travel means training future astronauts. Never before in America’s history has spacecraft development been on the scale that it is now.

If the thought of living in the tropical paradise of Florida’s beaches during on-world missions and hurtling through the atmosphere as you launch into your off-world missions appeals to you, it is time to update your resume! Applications will be accepted from December 14, 2015 until mid February of  2016 with selected candidates being announced in the summer of 2017. Applications and resumes can be submitted for consideration at www.usajobs.gov.

The next generation of U.S. astronauts will serve on four different types of spacecraft: the International Space Station, two types of commercial spacecraft, CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon, developed by private U.S. companies, and the Orion deep-space exploration vehicle. The days of the shuttle are pretty much over and we are entering into a completely new mode of space travel.

These new modes of space travel also enable larger crews. This will result in NASA being able to double the amount of research time in space. This will naturally result in more technological developments being accomplished within shorter periods of time. We may be slowly marching at the moment, but very soon it will feel as if we are sprinting through the annals of progress.

Who is it that NASA is looking for as future astronauts? They need pilots, engineers, scientists, and doctors.  They want these candidates to come from the diverse citizen class of Americans, not the military. Yes! Regular folks will eventually be puttering about the Red Planet!

Future astronauts will participate in six month and year long missions. They will join the 300+ astronaut roster that currently fulfill challenging missions that not only further progress in deep space exploration but also benefit mankind that is still Earthbound. Right now there are almost fifty astronauts that are active. To achieve future goals many more are needed.

What kind of qualifications do you need? To start with, you need a bachelor’s degree in engineering, bio-science, mathematics, or physical science. You also need three years of experience in your field that shows steady progress toward a professional level. And, you need at least 1,000 hours of pilot command experience flying jets. If you can check all of that off your list, then get yourself in the best shape of your life because qualified candidates will also have to pass a grueling spaceflight physical.

Interested? Then check out this link… www.nasa.gov/astronauts.

And, if you apply and get a chance to fly with the big boys, you absolutely MUST drop the gringa a line. I want to know ALL about it!

Swimsuits On Mars


NASA’s big news this week: Water On Mars!!! The surface of Mars is streaked with brine! This means water existed at some point in the past on the Red Planet in order for this salty substance to be created and still exists today! Should the gringa be prepared to pack a beach umbrella if added to the list of future Martian colonists? How about a bikini and fishing pole? Ummm, well, nope. Well, then, if not, what’s the big, darn deal? I mean, I have salty streaks down my face after a big cry. What’s it all good for other than skin irritation?

Well, wide-spread “perchlorate” salts are what the NASA scientists are actually so excited about. Well, what the heck are they? The gringa read the report that these salts were present because humidity and temperatures were just right on Mars. Mmm hmm. And? Because these salts are so absorbent, the freezing point of water is further lowered so it can remain liquid in colder than “normal” temperatures. Yes, I see. And your point is? This could theoretically “almost” prove… WHAT?! WHAT?! Proof of liquid on Mars. Aaaaargh! But the gringa wants to know WHY IS THAT IMPORTANT?!

Curiosly enough, one of the main uses of perchlorates on Earth is the production of propellants in rockets! Crazy, huh? It’s as if Mars is inviting us to come and is offering to pay for the gas!

It is also used to create “oxygen candles”. These items are used on spacecrafts, submarines and airplanes as an emergency oxygen supply. When these “candles” are burned, they produce oxygen. Is this not amazing to find an abundant supply of such a thing on a planet we would like to set up camp on and two things preventing this from happening are fuel and oxygen supplies! THIS IS AMAZING!

In order for perchlorates to be created, there had to be bacteria. This means that at one time life could be supported on Mars. This discovery is so significant not just for what it tells us of the history of the Red Planet but of its potential future!

If liquid water was once abundant on the surface of Mars, it is then possible that there is still frozen water underground and… this is important because… this could become a resource to assist the survival of long-duration space missions to Mars. Hurrah!

NASA reported earlier in 2015 that the northern hemisphere had probably been an ocean with a maximum depth of over one mile but that most of this precious resource had been lost to the effects of deep space. That discouraging news has now been overshadowed by this new revelation of the possibility of underground frozen water resources. And, that is not all!

The different colors of the striations in the satellite images indicate that salty water is only frozen some of the time. It is possible that Mars experiences a warm season that would thaw this frozen brine and salt water would then be flowing freely down the mountainsides of Mars. This would occur when temperatures would rise to a “toasty” range just above 10 degrees Fahrenheit. So, the gringa won’t pack the fishing pole and beach umbrella, but, rather, a ski bunny outfit and river raft!

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