Amazing Italy, From Art to Astronauts

My cosmic sister, Bea, hails from Italy and therefore has a special interest in the Italian Space Agency (ASI, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana). So, the gringa dedicates this post to Bea.

Since its inception in 1988, ASI has consistently made significant contributions to space technology development. ASI is part of the European Space Agency (ESA) and works closely with NASA as well. Italy has been, and will continue to be, a key player in the international space exploration community. Whether it is technology that gets a manned mission to Mars or technology that helps Earth observers intervene to prevent or respond to environmental disasters, the world can all extend a “brava” to Italy.

Italy has three active space centers. Ten kilometers east of Matera is ASI’s “Space Geodesy Center”, which opened for business in 1983. Earth observation and imaging is the primary mission of the programs at work at SGC. The “Luigi Broglio” Space Center, in operation since the 1960’s, is located on the coast of the Indian Ocean near Malindi, Kenya. It has an Earth segment base and an ocean segment base which launch and control satellites. The center that manages and analyzes all collected scientific data (ASDC) can be found at ASI headquarters in Rome. Not only is data analyzed here but mission monitoring is also conducted at this center.

The primary missions Italy’s has high involvement with are:

  • Created Multi-Purpose Logistic Modules (MPLM) Leonardo, Raffaello and Donatello for transporting scientific research necessities to the International Space Station (ISS)
  • Space Habitability – March 2001, Italy became the 3rd nation to launch an element integrated into the ISS, the logistics module “Leonardo”
  • Life Sciences – Biotechnology research to improve knowledge of: the aging process and effective countermeasures, immunology, technologies to enable the colonization of space by humans, therapeutic studies for improving the quality of life for all humanity
  • Bioregenerative Environmental Control Project (CAB) – to put it in plain English, gringa language, scientists learn how to recycle and repurpose just about everything into something useful such as: plant based life support system, water purification through transpiration, space greenhouses, etc.
  • Motor and Cardiorespiratory Control Disturbances Project (DCMC) is a program with the goal of improving the quality of life for people who suffer from neuromotor and cardiorespiratory disabilities.
  • Osteoporosis and Muscular Atrophy Project (OSMA) is of particular interest because of how conditions of reduced gravity cause these debilitations, that are typically linked with aging, to affect young, healthy, physically fit astronauts. The research goal is to understand how gravity controls the functions of bone and muscle.
  • Bed-Rest is a study that simulates the effects of zero gravity by having volunteers stay in bed for 7-120 days in a head-down position so that studies of the cardiovascular and renal systems can be conducted.
  • Earth observation and telecommunication with satellites: Miosat, PRISMA, ROSA, COSMO-SkyMed, PRIMI, and COPERNICUS
  • High Energy Astrophysics study is an Italian only programme that conducts research on the most violent space phenomena that occurs throughout the Universe. Satellites involved in this programmed: GLAST/Fermi, SIMBOL-X, SWIFT, PAMELA, INTEGRAL, AMS, AGILE
  • Cosmology and Fundamental Physics programme studies the evolution of the Universe. Satellites involved in the programme: BOOMERANG, GAIA, EUCLID, GALILEO GALILEI, HERSCHEL, LARES, Olimpo, Planck, Plato, Lisa Pathfinder

Lisa Pathfinder is the most recent success of Italy’s space agency that has made worldwide headline news. Lisa’s purpose is to detect gravitational waves in space. Italy designed the overall architecture of Lisa and is managing the project with the cooperation of Italy’s National Institute of Physics as well as ESA partners.

Lisa launched successfully last month and will lock into its final orbit around mid-February. This is phase one of the future construction of a space observatory that will continue studies of gravitational waves. Project completion is expected to be around the end of 2034. Italian scientists are beside themselves with pride that finally, after Einstein published his theory of general relativity over a century ago, the search for gravitational waves has, at last, begun, thanks, in huge part, to Italy.

And what else does the world have to look forward to from Italy? Of course, the gringa’s favorite space subject, GETTING TO MARS! Italy boasts leadership of both phases of ESA’s two phase EXOMars mission. In 2016 a probe will launch to orbit Mars and study methane and other gases as well as attempt to detect any presence of life. Later, in 2018, a rover will land on Mars and begin analysis of the soil. One more objective is to study any possible risks for future manned missions.

So, Italian suits, Italian shoes, Sophia Loren, Galileo, Michelangelo, and… astronauts, scientists, researchers, technology mavens. THAT IS AMAZING, ITALY!

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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,, 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!


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Please Hold… What Was That You Said?

Can you imagine being off in an isolated, deserted area exploring. You have some sort of “incident” and realize you’ve been poisoned. Within two minutes you have located your phone and the 1-800 number for the Poison Control Center which you promptly call. They talk to you for two minutes to find out all the details of what exactly has poisoned you. It takes them another sixty seconds to discover the antidote and determine the proper course of action. It takes another sixty seconds for them to communicate this information. The last words the Poison Control operator says is, “The antidote must be delivered within five minutes to prevent death.” One minute too late. You’re dead. And THAT, dear readers, is exactly why NASA is developing a laser named OPALS. To avoid critical time delay effects on communications and astronauts who are in deep space.

NASA’s Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS) uses a laser beam to transmit data from the International Space Station to Earth. We Earthlings enjoy modern technology where we get instant gratification at the touch of a button (or voice command) when we need to communicate with anyone anywhere at any time about anything. The gringa is so spoiled, I get all aggravated when I get put on hold and have to listen to what is ALWAYS the most horrible music ever created by man. Well, avoiding time delayed transmissions is not about lowering aggravations levels of impatient astronauts. It’s about having technical support for the crew 24/7 to help them survive any possible crisis.

If astronauts relied on ancient radio wave technology, crew members could expect a lag time of over half an hour round trip. Yep, plenty of time for an astronaut to stub a cosmic toe and die. This just won’t do. And what if a crisis is happening back home? How awful for an astronaut to have an Earth-bound loved one who really needs a comforting or encouraging word and has to sit twiddling their thumbs for half an hour as the “I love you’s” and “You can DO IT” make the rounds between here and there. The gringa thinks, “Surely, in this day and age, we can do so much better!”

NASA conducted telecommunication research with the Comm Delay Assessment to see just what would happen to astronauts emotionally if they were cut off from contact completely and/or had pesky time-delay issues to deal with in communications. The performance of astronauts was analyzed as they completed six tasks with no time delayed communication and four where they experienced a 50-second time delay in communication. The no-brainer result was that the astronauts delivered a higher performance with a better mood when the communication was uninterrupted. With each delay, their mood got worse and more worse.

Yes, the gringa understands this. A memory of a cellphone flying out the front door in frustration and summarily receiving a well-aimed petite heel on the view screen comes to mind. I refuse to name names or give any further details. We’ve all been there. No need to judge the gringa. (I also once delivered a hammer blow to an alarm clock but that is fodder for another story).

Of course it was only normal for the crew to get frustrated when they needed to communicate quickly and had to sit around and wait. This only aggravates the already existing syndrome of “space brain”. This condition astronauts experience makes it harder to remember and comprehend things. The gringa is reminded again of a particular back and forth between my teenage son and I regarding help with my computer. I, too, have “space brain” and have never even had the privilege to “catch” this disease on a galactic mission. I call my son because I have done something to my laptop’s “home network”, didn’t have a clue what that meant, and couldn’t get on the Internet. The conversation goes something like this:

Me: “Son, I can’t get on the Internet.”

Son: “What does it say?”

Me: “Something about the home network.”

Son: “Okay, click on blah-blah-blah, then click on who-whatsit, and click OK.”

Me: “Got it. Piece of cake. Thanks. Love you.”

I hang up. I then realize I have no idea how to open the “home network” window. I call back (mind you he is at a party). He answers (thank God). I tell him my problem and he tells me what to do. I open the “home network” window then realize I forgot all the previous instructions. I call back. HE DOESN’T ANSWER! I call again. NO ANSWER! AAAAHHHHH! Time delay in a crisis! The gringa needs HELP!!! NOW!!! Yes. I know EXACTLY why the astronauts got a little moody.

And, what about having CLEAR communication? The astronauts also expressed that even more important than having instant communication was being able to understand what the heck was being said. This, too, the gringa totally understands. Every day the caveman and I talk on the phone while I walk the dog. At his job there is always a deafening din in the background not to mention his accent. On top of those issues is the fact that, by nature, he is a very soft spoken person. Mumblypeg is another affectionate I sometimes call the caveman. I cannot count how many times throughout the conversation I say the following words: “I can’t hear you.” “That made absolutely no sense.” “I don’t understand what you’re saying.” “I SAID I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” It is only the immense, unfathomable love I have for the caveman that preserves the life of my cellphone and it doesn’t end up under a certain petite heel of a person whom we all know and love yet shall remain nameless.

Unfortunately for these communications with the mumblypeg caveman the gringa will not get to enjoy the benefit of OPALS.  The astronauts, however, will. They will get to enhance the safety of their deep-space mission with laser enhanced telecommunications technology. The time delay will be the same, but, at least, when the message finally does arrive the astronauts won’t be saying, “What the HECK did they SAY?!” Or, as they open their special delivery package from home they smack their foreheads and shout, “We said we needed more NAILS! Not SNAILS!” And then the bag  is tossed out the spacelock in disgust and left to its fate on the inhospitable surface of Mars only to mutate and become gigantic Martian snails who exact their revenge on the astronauts who rejected them by sliming their exploration vehicle. Laser transmission will allow for clear as a bell communication of much more information that can be transmitted at one time as well as save us all from a future Martian snail slime war.

While Earthlings will be having the Neanderthal experience of watching television at about twenty megabits per second, the astronauts will be laser streaming videos at about 50 megabits per second and, without that pesky buffering. One day, one Martian will say to another Martian“Let’s “beam home” and see how grandma and grandpa are doing back in Texas!” The gringa will answer and say, “Having a beer on the beach, how ‘bout you?”


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