June 17, 2013
For those of you who’ve been asking when Air & Space will be available for the iPad, the wait is over.
Our June/July issue, the first produced in tablet as well as print format, is now in the app store. It’s free to Air & Space print subscribers; readers who prefer digital-only access can subscribe for $1.99 a month, or buy a single issue for $3.99.
With the tablet edition, you’ll be able to do more than read about aviation and space travel. You can watch videos, explore interactive graphics, and see more photos than we can fit in the print version — some of which let you examine an object from all angles and zoom in to see details.
We’re looking forward to using these new tools to tell stories about our favorite subject, and hope you are too. Welcome aboard.
June 14, 2013
It’s no longer a surprise, at least not for Americans, when a woman goes into space. NASA took more than 20 years after Alan Shepard’s Mercury flight to launch Sally Ride, but since then dozens of U.S. women have blasted into orbit, done spacewalks, commanded shuttle missions, and even headed the astronaut corps (Peggy Whitson, until just last year). Not a big deal anymore.
China’s new space program is starting off, deliberately, with gender equality in mind. The last two Shenzhou flights have included women astronauts, and Chinese space officials have hinted that this will be the norm.
And the Russians? Well….
Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to reach orbit (50 years ago on Sunday) was Russian. So was the second — Svetlana Savitskaya — who flew 19 years after Tereshkova. A decade later came Elena Kondokova, who lived on the Mir space station and flew on NASA’s space shuttle. Since then, though, it’s been all men for Russia. Not a single Russian woman has been on the International Space Station in the 13 years that people (more than 200 so far) have been living and visiting there.
Next year that will change. Elena Serova, a 37-year-old former engineer chosen for the cosmonaut corps in 2006, is scheduled to fly on Expedition 41 in September 2014. Here’s a long interview/profile of Serova done last year for Roscosmos TV. It’s in Russian (sorry), but there are interesting scenes of her training, and interviews with her female cosmonaut predecessors.
June 10, 2013
The crew of Shenzhou-10 is now in orbit, after launching from the Jiuquan space center at 5:38 p.m. Chinese time on June 11. The 15-day mission of Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xioguang and Wang Yaping will be the last to the Tiangong-1 space station. We’ll be posting updates throughout the flight, and you can follow the action here on China Central TV.
Update: June 17, 2013
As promised, the Tiangong-1 module has new flooring. The Shenzhou-10 astronauts did a little Home Depot installation job on Friday.
Chinese media also passed on a message that American teacher-in-space Barbara Morgan sent to Wang Yaping, who plans to deliver a science lecture from orbit during her mission. Calling Wang “China’s first teacher in space” seems a bit of a stretch, since she’s not a professional teacher, and practically all astronauts, from all nations, interact with school children during their missions. But this apparently will be more of a formal physics lesson, as opposed to just a fun demonstration. Let’s hope, as Morgan wrote, that “these are all going to be broadcast on the Internet, so that all of those on the ground in the world can watch.”
Update: June 14, 2013
Chinese TV coverage of the Shenzhou-10 mission seems a little stingier than on past missions, or maybe the astronauts are busier. Still, this segment (in Chinese) shows a few scenes right after the crew boarded the Tiangong-1 module yesterday.
The module still appears to have its flexible, trampoline-like floor. During the pre-launch press conference, Chinese space agency spokesperson Wu Ping mentioned that the floor would be changed, so maybe we’ll see a more solid one by mission’s end.
Update: June 13, 2013
Shenzhou-10 docked with the Tiangong-1 mini-space station (what else to call something smaller than the Spacehab module that used to ride in the U.S. space shuttle’s cargo bay?) at 1:18 p.m. Thursday afternoon, Chinese time. For the next 12 days you’ll be able to follow their combined orbital track to see when the docked vehicles are flying overhead.
Here’s a shot of the crew inside Tiangong-1. More photos are here, from the Xinhua news agency.
Update: June 12, 2013
The Shenzhou-10 astronauts are on their way to the Tiangong-1 space station. If the orbit-matching and rendezvous follow the same timetable as last year’s Shenzhou-9 mission, we can expect the docking to take place early Thursday afternoon, Beijing time (U.S. Eastern time is 12 hours behind, so it would be late Wednesday night/early Thursday morning here).
CCTV has broadcast a few scenes (in Chinese) of the weightless crew inside their Shenzhou spacecraft:
Update: June 11, 2013
The walkout to the launch pad has been a ritual for astronauts and cosmonauts for more than 50 years, and each of the three spacefaring nations — the U.S., Russia, and China — does it a little differently. “Walkout” is a bit of a misnomer, actually. The crews ride in a bus to the pad, and their sendoff before boarding the bus is just the last in a series of goodbyes from well-wishers, family, and even the viewing public. American astronauts are probably the most casual. After suiting up, space shuttle crews would quickly board their Astrovan, waving to a crowd of friends, co-workers and news photographers, sometimes without even breaking their stride. Russians like to pile on the ritual, with seemingly endless signing ceremonies, tree-plantings, and other customs added over the years, in both Star City (where cosmonauts say a tearful goodbye to their families) and the launch center at Baikonur.
Here’s how the Chinese do it. The Shenzhou-10 crew sendoff earlier today was a mix of protocol and pageantry, with a slightly more military vibe than you’d see at an American or Russian launch.
June 10, 2013
A crew of three Chinese astronauts is making final preparations for a 15-day mission to the nation’s Tiangong-1 space station. Their launch, on a Long March 2F Y10 rocket, is scheduled for 5:38 p.m. Chinese time (5:38 a.m. U.S. Eastern time) on Tuesday.
The Shenzhou-10 mission will be very similar to the Shenzhou-9 flight a year ago, with a couple of minor adjustments (for example, this time the astronauts won’t work round-the-clock in shifts). Once again the crew consists of two men and one woman. Commander Nie Haisheng was the flight engineer on Shenzhou-6 in 2005, and Zhang Xioguang and Wang Yaping are both rookies.
Here’s the crew’s press conference, from earlier today:
Here’s a profile of Wang, the country’s second female astronaut:
And here’s American planetary scientist John Lewis offering perspective on China’s human space exploration program in an interview for Chinese TV.
June 7, 2013
The Mercury Seven astronauts had a rendezvous with destiny, and it turns out their wives did too.
“To be an astronaut wife,” writes Lily Koppel in her new book The Astronaut Wives Club, “meant tea with Jackie Kennedy, high society galas, and instant celebrity.” When their husbands were selected by NASA, these seven women went from being military wives on Navy and Air Force bases to intense, unrelenting scrutiny in the public eye.
Koppel, who interviewed many of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo wives, fills the book with interesting tidbits: While a student at the University of Hawaii, Trudy Cooper flew a Piper Cub, making her the only pilot in the group. Who would have guessed that demure Betty Grissom (pegged as an “unsophisticated Hoosier”) owned a pair of fur hot pants? The nine Gemini wives were given “$1,000 gift certificates to Neiman Marcus from an anonymous priest,” who had anticipated that the women would not always be able to afford the right clothes for their many galas. Koppel also describes friction between the Mercury and Gemini wives, at least initially. For the last Mercury mission, on May 15, 1963, the Gemini wives were invited to watch the launch party at Trudy Cooper’s house—but they watched Gordo Cooper’s blastoff on the living room television, while the Mercury wives huddled in the master bedroom.
Eventually, the women developed a kind of sisterhood—they were sharing the same experiences, after all. When an astronaut kid played house, for instance, you might overhear him say, “Good-bye now, I’m going to work. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks.” The wives contended with “sightseers from the space tour buses who climbed over fences to steal a glimpse of a real spaceman,” and the morning ritual of removing sunbathing copperheads from the warm hoods of parked station wagons.
There were many perks, though, including post-spaceflight world tours. When Gemini 5 wives Jane Conrad and Trudy Cooper exited the airplane at Haile Selassie’s Jubilee Palace in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, “a noble and slightly bored lion greeted them at the top of the metal steps and had to be led down with great ceremony before they could disembark. Two chained leopardesses greeted them on the palace steps, which smelled of big-cat urine.”
Now, that’s a memory.
June 5, 2013
I’m starting to feel a little left out, not having my own UAV to experiment with. Even while their legality is still under consideration by the FAA, mini-drones have been turning up everywhere on the technological landscape, with new applications every day.
One of the latest, from a team at the University of Minnesota, is more about empowering people with neuromuscular problems than about flying. But you can easily see this being of interest to UAV pilots. The researchers have demonstrated for the first time the ability to fly a robot in 3D physical space by brain waves alone, using an electroencephalogram (EEG) rig attached to an operator’s scalp. Here’s a video that explains their work:
The Minnesota researchers had already shown that a virtual helicopter could be controlled by thoughts alone, but now they’ve demonstrated it with a real flying vehicle. Here’s their report in the Journal of Neural Engineering.
On a more mundane level, there’s also the “DomiCopter” ad from Domino’s Pizza, which joins (at least theoretically, since none are open for business yet) other flying food delivery services. No telling whether this will actually happen. It’s hard to picture dozens of these things buzzing around my neighborhood on a Friday night, occasionally colliding, raining black olives and crumbled sausage on the passersby. It makes for good YouTubing, though.
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