The Moon Balloon


There is a former NASA astronaut who is partnering with a private company to bring the concept of hot air ballooning to a whole new level. And the gringa is fascinated. If any of my dear readers are familiar with the annual hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico, think of that but on steroids.

Former astronaut Ron Garan and spaceflight company, World View, want to provide the ultimate thrill ride out to the edges of space with passengers gliding peacefully into the heavens aboard a giant space balloon. Garan, of course, is the ace pilot of the airship.

When Garan left NASA almost three years ago, it was for just such a purpose as this. He wanted to share space travel with regular folks on a full-time basis. And what a way to make his dream come true! He will be the first pilot ever to achieve such a mission. But why is he doing this? Is it for glory? Well, actually, Garan has more philosophical reasons behind his career move.

Garan believes that such an experience changes a person’s perspective. He believes he can help contribute to changing the world for the better by providing an experience that changes individuals for the better. The gringa quotes Garan’s own words:

“I left NASA… for really one reason. That was to share the perspective that we have of our planet from space and to do that full-time… I truly believe that perspective has profound implications for how we tackle the problems we face, how we deal with each other, politics, for every aspect of human life.”

Now his sentiment may sound rather lofty, but there is actually medical evidence that supports his reasoning. It’s called the “overview effect” and is defined as being a “cognitive shift in awareness” that occurs when an individual observes Earth from orbit. This causes a person’s perspective to change from seeing people categorized by national boundaries to seeing that mankind is one united race, the human race, and Earth is home to us all.

Passengers of the “moon balloon” (the gringa understands it doesn’t really go to the Moon, but, the name is catchy so please humor me, dear readers) won’t have the weightlessness experience of those who have a suborbital ride. It will be a gentler experience, a quiet ride above the Earth’s atmosphere. From take off to touch down, the ride will last about five to six hours, two of those hours being a cruise at maximum altitude for the viewing pleasure of the crew and passengers.

A test flight without paying passengers has already been successfully staged. Although the opening date has not yet been set for tourists to begin booking a seat, that may be good news. It will probably take folks a bit of time to set aside the $75, 000 a ticket will cost.

In addition to space tourism, World View also wants to engage in the science and technology of Earth observation, weather models and using data to help prevent devastating wildfires. This can be done by incorporating a satellite system into the balloon vehicle model being used for passenger payloads.

$75,000 is a bit steep for the gringa to think she’ll be floating in the atmosphere anytime soon. However, I always try to look on the bright side so I’m holding out for a coupon.

 

Source & Image Credit: www.worldviewexperience.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

 

 

 

 

There’s A Reason It’s Called The INTERNATIONAL Space Station


In December, NASA astronaut Tim Kopra will be on his way to the International Space Station. He will launch from Russia on a Soyuz spacecraft Tuesday morning, December 15, 2015, at 6:03 am EST from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Joining him will be Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko (Russian Federal Space Agency) and Tim Peak (European Space Agency).  Kopra has been training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center that is located at Star City, Russia. Next Tuesday, November 24, from 7-8 am EST, live satellite interviews will be held with Kopra at the training center. Information on satellite tuning to watch the live interview can be found at http://go.nasa.gov/1pOWUhR

Kopra, who is a West Point graduate and holds multiple master’s degrees, is no rookie. On his first mission in 2009  he served as flight engineer. During that sixty day mission he performed a five and a half hour spacewalk. Throughout his military and aerospace career he has earned multiple awards such as the Silver and Bronze Order of Saint Michael, Army Aviation award, the Legion of Merit award, a Bronze Star, a NASA Space Flight medal and a NASA Distinguished Service medal, just to name a handful of his many medals. He has served as an aviator in the Army as well as an aeroscout platoon leader, troop executive officer and squadron adjutant. These are just a few of his military leadership accomplishments. He became an astronaut in 2000 and performed his first mission in 2009. Kopra has completed training in Russia, Japan, Germany and Canada at their respective space agency’s training facilities. He has completed multiple previous missions and on this one he will serve under Scott Kelly who is active commander. However, the next mission, Expedition 47, Kopra will serve as commander.

Malenchenko was born in Ukraine in 1961. He is a graduate of Kharkov Military Aviation School and Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy. During his service in the Soviet Armed Forces some of the distinctions he earned were the Hero of the Russian Federation medal, National Hero of Kazakhstan medal, Military award of excellence, three Meritorious Service medals, a Commendation medal, Achievement medal, and the “70 years of the Soviet Armed Forces” medal. He has worked as a pilot and flight leader and became a cosmonaut in 1987. After rigorous years of training he completed his first spaceflight mission in 1994. He performed two spacewalks and performed the first manual docking of the Mir station with the Progress M-24 vehicle. As during his military career, he has continued to serve Russia’s space agency, making his country proud as an accomplished cosmonaut on the numerous missions he has led. His accomplishments are simply too numerous to recount all.

Peake was born in England in 1972. He is married and the father of two sons. A graduate of the Royal Military Academy, he served as an officer in the British Army Air Corps. He has been a test pilot and was awarded the Westland Trophy in his performance as a rotary wing pilot student. In 2006 he also was awarded the Commander-in-Chief’s Certificate for Meritorious Service for exemplary and dedicated service to the British Army. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in flight dynamics in 2006 and puts his knowledge to good use as an astronaut now.  In the past he has also participated in environmental projects in Alaska, served as a Platoon Commander, an instructor in Combat Survival and Rescue, a helicopter flight instructor, and is a Flight Safety Officer, just to list a few of his accomplishments. He became an astronaut in 2009. His participation in Expedition 46 will mark not only his first off-world mission but also the first British astronaut at the ISS. This will, indeed, be an historic moment for the United Kingdom as well as the International Space Station.

When Kopra and the rest of the crew arrive at the ISS in December, they will be joining NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Roscosmos cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov who will be, at that time, nine months into their twelve month mission.  And, if the dear reader is as curious as the gringa, you’ll want to know what the heck Rocosmos is. Well that’s what the Russian Federal Space Agency is commonly called. The gringa thinks it’s a cool name. I think I’ll name one of my birds Rocosmos. But, I digress…

The arrival of Kopra, Malenchenko  and Peake will create an entire complement of a six man crew for Expedition 46. Their mission is to continue the hundreds of experiments that are underway at the ISS. The ISS is mankind’s only orbiting laboratory. It conducts research and experiments in biotechnology, biology, Earth science and physical science.  Their mission will be completed in June after Kopra, Malenchenko and Peake begin their return trip to Earth in May. The progress of Expedition 46 can be followed on Instagram at http://instagram.com/iss.

The gringa cannot help but be impressed with the leadership abilities of these astronauts and cosmonauts. I am equally impressed and proud of international cooperation that has been going on for years and is strong, growing, and becoming ever more inclusive. When we nations start bickering, we really need to step back and consider that there is an international group of men and women working their tails off and enduring the sacrifice of months and years without their loved ones as they float around this earth. As they conduct their missions trying to develop technologies to save mankind from disease and the self-destructive path we are on destroying our home world, we really should respect their example and get along better.

Source: http://www.nasa.gov

Photo credit:  www.space.com