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

 

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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
France

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

 

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