July 31, 2012
Conversation overheard this morning between astronaut Suni Williams, onboard the International Space Station, and NASA’s payload science center in Huntsville, Alabama:
Huntsville: We did see [on video] Nefertiti eating a fly.
Williams: Did she jump to get it? How did she get it?
Huntsville: She did jump, she’s adapting well.
Williams: Pretty awesome!
This is exciting news, presumably, to 19-year-old Amr Mohamad of Alexandria, Egypt, whose investigation of the weightless eating habits of two jumping spiders* named Nefertiti and Cleopatra was one of three winners of the global YouTube Space Lab competition for high-school students. Mohamed’s experiment arrived on the station just a few days ago on a Japanese cargo ship, and here the spiders are already munching away on fruitflies.
Mohamed thought Nefertiti and Cleopatra, who jump on their prey rather than trap them, would find zero-g hunting to be more of a challenge. Here’s his experiment proposal:
*Note: An earlier version of this post misidentified both spiders as zebra spiders. Nefertiti is a redback jumping spider.
July 24, 2012
If the spirit of the Olympics lies in nations coming together, than what better place to celebrate that spirit than the International Space Station? As current crew member Suni Williams told CollectSpace, ”I think the International Space Station and Olympics are very similar in that they bring together countries from all over the world. They work together, they compete and they bring out the best in each other.”
For as long as the station has been inhabited, astronauts have been sending messages to the athletes almost every summer and winter games. For the upcoming London games, the six astronauts in low-Earth orbit recorded a prime-time, go-get-’em hurrah with Brian Williams of NBC’s Nightly News that will air on an upcoming show, and another that will run during Friday’s opening ceremonies.
And that’s not the only way NASA has made its mark on the Olympics. In Beijing in 2008, Michael Phelps became the winningest Olympian ever, wearing a swimsuit that had design help from an aerospace engineer at the Langley Research Center in Virginia. The 1998 U.S. Speedskating team brought home two medals thanks in part to a polishing process created by a former NASA engineer, one of the many space program innovations put to use elsewhere, called “spin-off technologies.”
When Atlanta hosted the 1996 games, NASA and the FAA used the chaotic air traffic as an opportunity to test new developments in communications, navigation, and surveillance systems. Fifty helicopters providing support for the Olympics were part of Operation Heli-Star, whereby they were equipped with newly designed digital data-link systems and GPS, providing a real-world test before the equipment was put into general aviation use.
In the less practical, but more visually awesome category, NASA created these killer zooms of Olympic sites from space. Using a combination of images from Terra, Landsat 7, and the commercial satellite Ikonos, we got a “camera dropped from space” view of the 2002 winter games in Salt Lake City, Utah. Our favorite is probably this drop to the summit of the Snow Basin Ski Area…which almost makes the skiers high-speed race down the mountain seem easy by comparison. (Alright, not really.)
And of course, astronauts freed of the bonds of gravity usually can’t resist staging some athletic competitions of their own. We’d be surprised if Williams, a marathon runner, doesn’t have something similar in mind for the London games.
July 17, 2012
After the docking of Soyuz TMA-05M late last night, the International Space Station crew is back up to six people. With the arrival of Yuri Malenchenko and Suni Williams, and with three-time station veteran Gennady Padalka in command, this is the most experienced ISS crew ever.
Malenchenko, a 50-year-old former fighter pilot, has already spent more than 500 days in space. This is his third tour on the station and his fifth spaceflight altogether (his others were the STS-106 shuttle flight and a four-month stay on Mir in 1994). He may be most famous for his long-distance marriage to Ekaterina Dmitriev during his Expedition 7 mission in 2003. While Malenchenko, wearing a bow tie and flight suit, orbited overhead, Dmitriev was in Houston. A Texas judge officiated by video link, and the bride posed afterward with a cutout of her new cosmonaut husband.
Suni (pronounced “Sunny”) Williams is returning for her second tour on the station, having spent 194 days in orbit in 2006-2007 (still the longest spaceflight by a woman). Williams didn’t get married in space, but she’s probably one of the few people, and certainly the only astronaut, to appear on both The Dog Whisperer and The Colbert Show.
Padalka, who turned 54 in space last month, is the only three-time ISS commander to date. When he and Malenchenko go outside together on a spacewalk in mid-August, they’ll have more than 1,000 days of space experience between them.
It’s going to be a busy mission, with lots of coming and going by cargo vehicles. A Japanese HTV is due to launch on Friday carrying a load of experimental equipment, including a new aquatic habitat for fish, which will be used for biological studies. Over the next months, Russian Progress and U.S. Dragon and Cygnus commercial vehicles are also scheduled to dock.
For now, though, the crew just seems happy to be in space again, as seen below, where they chat with family and friends in Russian mission control. That’s Malenchenko in front, Williams behind him and to his left. Padalka, with the zero-g hair (there’s some bantering about that in the video), is in the back row with (l. to r.) Joe Acaba, Aki Hoshide, and Sergei Revin. At about the 22-minute mark, Malenchenko turns a weightless somersault for his young daughter.
July 13, 2012
The next three residents of the International Space Station are due to blast off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 10:40 pm U.S. Eastern time on Saturday. Onboard the Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft will be NASA astronaut Sunita “Suni” Williams, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide. In NASA’s complicated nomenclature, the arrival of the three newcomers will complete the six-person Expedition 32 crew.
Williams, who has already pulled one tour of duty on the station, will take over as commander in September. She and her devoted dog, Gorby, have been blogging their Kazakhstan adventure here.
In the video below, she talks (with crewmate Joe Acaba, who’s already up on the station) about riding the Soyuz to orbit and back.
Update: The Soyuz TMA-05M launched on time Saturday night, and is now headed for a rendezvous with the station. Docking is scheduled for early Tuesday morning (12:52 a.m. U.S. EDT).
Here’s a replay of the prelaunch preparatons and launch:
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