Friday, 29 November 2013

Space Christmas Gift Guide - For Her

Christmas is officially here! And yes, it's my favourite time of the year.

 Coffee shops are selling delicious, sugar-loaded cinnamon/peppermint/gingerbread infused concoctions, I've already seen at least five eager tree decorators in my newsfeed and I have a chocolate advent calendar all ready and waiting to go on December 1st (they're not just for kids). Not to mention, the shops are already bustling with the only negative of the season, swarms of tall people doing their Christmas shopping! They're just the worst.

 I've put together a small collection of gift ideas for that space lady in your life to make Christmas shopping just that bit easier. Whether for your sister, mum, wife or girlfriend, I think these gifts are understatedly galactic and perfect if you know a woman that loves anything to do with the cosmos.

(Clockwise from left to right) Lulu & Co 'Black Galaxy Dress', Etsy phone case, Thierry Mugler 'Alien' perfume, Keep Calm mug, NARS 'Space Odyssey' nail polish, Fox & Feather 'Orelia Gold Star Necklace', Wonders of the Solar System book.


Thursday, 28 November 2013

Space Wardrobe Design: Chinese Spacesuit Analysis & Inspiration

Chinese taikonauts Zhai Zhigang (center), Liu Boming (right) and Jing Haipeng return from their Shenzhou-7 mission in which China's first EVA was conducted (Credits:
Chinese taikonauts Zhai Zhigang (center), Liu Boming (right) and Jing Haipeng return from their Shenzhou-7 mission in which China’s first EVA was conducted
Spacesuit design varies with each spacefaring nation that ventures into space. In order to optimize design, it is important to discuss these differences so that areas of improvement are addressed and proven features are maintained. The Chinese space program has developed the Feitian spacesuit which possesses characteristics that are comparable to both the US Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) and the Russian Orlan spacesuits.
Designed to keep a human alive in the harsh environment of outer space with temperature fluctuations and vacuum conditions, the spacesuit serves as an individual spacecraft of its own and has the ability to perform vital functions such as gaseous exchange and waste storage as well having a built-in communications system. This complexity of requirements has led to the development of several different spacesuits each with distinct yet similar designs.
As part of the US Spacesuit Knowledge Capture (KC) Series, the Feitian Chinese Spacesuit was analyzed in a presentation given by Lewis Croog at NASA Johnson Space Center following the 2008 milestone of China becoming the third nation to perform an EVA from a spacecraft.
Croog analyzed Feitian, meaning ‘flying in the sky’, based on a video from that first EVA. The EVA was conducted by Chinese taikonauts Zhai Zhigang and Liu Boming outside the Shenzhou-7 spacecraft whilst Jing Haipeng monitored the walk from inside. Two spacesuits were involved: the Feitian suit and a backup Russian Orlan spacesuit.
According to a contract signed in April 2004, a Russian company provided three Orlan suits, two low-pressure Launch Entry suits, four underwater training suits, and four docking systems to the Chinese.
A Feitian suit photographed in 2008  at the Hong Kong Space Museum (Credits: Johnson Lau).
A Feitian suit photographed in 2008 at the Hong Kong Space Museum (Credits: Johnson Lau).
No information on the suits was available prior to this video and Croog identifies great resemblance between the Feitian and the Russian Orlan – a much closer relation than the Feitan bears to the EMU. Feitian/Russian Orlan spacesuits are one size fits all, whereas the EMU can be sized for different people. Another distinction is that the Russian Orlan is certified for 15 uses before it is discarded whereas the EMU spacesuit can be worn for up to 25 years with maintenance. Upon visiting China in 2008 and witnessing the Feitian suits  on display at the Beijing Military Museum, American astronaut Leroy Chiao, commented on the stark similarity between the Russian and Chinese spacesuits in a post on hisonline blog.
“I was impressed with the suit. It has obvious Russian Orlan heritage, with some differences. The Display and Control module looked similar, as did the pressure regulators and the oxygen injector switch. The hatch latching mechanism also looked similar. So did the umbilical interfaces. In fact, it is reasonable to assume that the spacecraft interfaces are identical to the Russian system, since the second suit worn by Liu Boming was in fact an Orlan.”
The Orlan suit on which the Feitan is based (Credits: NASA).
The Orlan suit on which the Feitian is based (Credits: NASA).
Differences between the two suits include the location of the suit pressure gauge, which is on top of the Display Control Module on the Feitian yet on the arm of the Orlan suit. Additionally, a rotating knob is on the Feitian in place of a sliding handle on Orlan for temperature control. Helmet size is another area of disparity as the Feitian visor is larger and wider than the Orlan helmet and the Orlan-M has a moon roof on the helmet, the Feitian does not. Such differences are relatively trivial, however, and the suits are close enough that assumptions can be made about the Feitian based on the Orlan. For example, the Feitan’s helmet is assumed to be built onto the torso as one piece just like the Orlan; in contrast, the EMU helmet is removable.
Astronaut Chiao commented on the Russian influence on Feitian design: “There is nothing wrong with the approach. It is arguably optimal to take an existing design and improve upon it, while retaining critical systems that are proven. In my view, China is taking a very logical course in developing their manned space capability.”
As well as resemblance in glove design, spacesuit interface control panel, training facilities and simulators, the Feitian uses the Orlan style umbilical connection, carrying an emergency oxygen supply tube during the EVA. The video of the EVA displays contrasts not just between spacesuits, but between EVA procedures as well: the shortage of handholds on the Shenzhou was notable, as were pressure differences affecting the door and objects flying out of the airlock. Such observations are key to identifying areas of improvement for future EVAs.
NASA's Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or EMU (Credits: NASA).
NASA’s Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or EMU (Credits: NASA).
Liu Guoning, a researcher of China’s Manned Space Engineering Program, believes that amongst such likeness, there are three key differences in technology and reliability. Firstly, digital technology is extensively present in the design of the Feitian whereas Orlan-M, designed in 1970s-80s does not. Code Division Multiple Access network (CDMA) technology is applied in the Feitian’s communication system but the Russian suit depends on short-wave communication. Lastly, Guoning also states that the elbow and knee joints of Feitian are softer than those of the Russian version.
The Russian spacesuit style icon has as many as 135 spacewalks under its belt and has recently undergone an upgrade. Dubbed Orlan MKS, new features include a fully automated thermal control system, built-in computer, enlarged color display with increased viewing and informational capacity as well as a pressurization layer made of a material with improved wear and tear resistance and easier manufacturability.
This new polyurethane skin has the ability to withstand depressurization, making the suit much lighter and flexible thanks to the no-longer-needed back up layer. The Orlan MKS is scheduled to be sent to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2014.
Such advancement and international influence in spacesuit design is vital to ensuring that EVAs are conducted in the safest and most comfortable method as possible whilst maintaining efficiency in time and cost.
Watch Croog’s talk on the Feitian below:

Image caption: In 2008, China became the third nation to conduct an EVA from a spacecraft (Credits:

Written for Space Safety Magazine by Nikita Marwaha

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Happy Birthday International Space Station!

From top to bottom are the modules, Unity, Zarya, Zvedza and the Progress M1-3 supply spacecraft. As seen from the departing STS- 106 Space Shuttle Atlantis, the crew of which prepared the station of permanent occupation.
Credits: NASA

15 years ago today, humans took the first step towards living and working in space with the launch of Zarya in 1998. The first International Space Station (ISS) module and the Russian word for sunrise, the module would grow to become the space research and exploration powerhouse that it is today with humans living there for 12 years. The size of a football field, with a three laboratories, a gymnasium and observatory on board, the sheer magnificence of  the ISS is a beautiful product of international cooperation between nations on Earth and in space working and living together peacefully.

 One of my favourite astronauts Nicole Stott recently stated that her son has never known a time without humans living in space. Or even a time when the benefits of space exploration haven't had an impact on his life down here on Earth. The thought that for over 10 years, we can look up at the sky and see fellow humans orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes is a pretty amazing one. 
With the launch of Zarya 15 years ago today, a new dawn began.

The Princess Machine

Only 1 in 10 engineers are female.
 It's definitely time to fix that shocker of a statistic and to do so, it may be worthwhile taking a look at our childhood. A time where most of us spend our hours napping (I still do) and watching cartoons (again I still do), playing with toys is a past time that takes up a great deal of our time as children. However, the toys that we are exposed to are those that manufacturers think that we want. Girls around the world are encouraged to play with anything in the shade of pink, ranging from Barbie dolls to kitchen sets and playhouses, whereas toys that encourage engineering-minds to grow, build and invent are marketed as toys for boys. 

Source: TrendsActive

I myself remember growing up surrounded by my Barbie doll friends and having several teddy bear picnics with delicious imaginary food, however my now engineer sister somehow managed to break outside of this girly mould. I would spot her taking apart things such as the TV remote control just to figure out how to put it back together and being far more interested in how things work as opposed to how much hair to cut off her doll to give her the make over of her life (RIP to all of my doll's hair). At the time, I just saw it as an odd past time to have, however looking back she was simply looking to the world around her in order to fulfil the engineering-mind that she clearly had and still has to this day.

It is this inquisitive, inventive mind of the budding engineer that San Francisco toy company GoldieBlox are harnessing  in order to inspire the next generation of female engineers. They aim to provide girls with toys that offer more than what is found in the 'Princess Machine' world of the girls toy aisle of today.

GoldieBlox have released the clever advert below showcasing some serious girl power that rivals even that of the Spice Girls and possibly even Queen Bee herself. (Sorry Beyoncé) Now that's some powerful stuff. Watch the empowering video below featuring the best Rube Goldberg machine I've seen and share it with girls and mothers that you know to encourage them to dream outside of the pink and blue boundaries that society has taught us from such a young age. 

"For the past 100 years, construction toys have inspired our boys to be thinkers, builders, and inventors. Our girls deserve the same...I created GoldieBlox because I believe that every girl is more than just a princess, despite what the pink aisle tells them. In under a year, we've grown from a home- made prototype to the shelves of Toys R Us. To survive next to Barbie, we need your help disrupting the pink aisle. Oh, and if we win we've got a group of 6 year old girls ready to rush the end zone. In tutus. "- Debbie Sterling Founder / Chief Officer of Fun

Vote for Goldieblox to win the chance of airing this advert at the Super Bowl here


Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Getting to the Root of Debris Predictions with Terminal Velocity Aerospace

The Space Act Agreement provides for Arc-jet testing of thermal protection system materials at NASA Ames Research Center in which the conditions experienced by a vehicle during atmospheric reentry are approximately created (Credits: NASA)

On October 28, Terminal Velocity Aerospace (TVA) signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA Ames Research Center to collaborate on evaluation, testing, and technology transfer of newly-developed thermal protection system (TPS) materials.
“The Space Act Agreement mechanism offers a great way for companies to partner with NASA,” said Dominic DePasquale, the company’s CEO. “I’m excited that we have an opportunity to collaborate with the premier TPS technologists at NASA to transition this TPS material out of the laboratory for use in real missions that deliver value.”
This new development is a multi-year non reimbursable Space Act Agreement and presents both manufacturability and cost saving advantages for customers of TVA’s Reentry Devices (REDs), which collects data during the fiery conditions of spacecraft reentry.
“The chief benefit of the conformal thermal protection systems materials developed at NASA Ames is their manufacturability, especially for small reentry probes like TVA’s REDs. By employing the Ames TPS technology, TVA will be able to produce heat shields at lower cost, and those savings can be passed on to customers,” DePasquale said.
The basketball sized ReEntry Device (RED) joins the journey of a de-orbiting vehicle as it relays data on the physics behind atmospheric breakup (Credits: TVA).
The basketball sized ReEntry Device (RED) joins the journey of a deorbiting vehicle as it relays data on the physics behind atmospheric breakup (Credits: TVA).
TVA began operations in 2012 and is dedicated to improving reentry safety and furthering the utilization of outer space. The company offers a family of small REDs for data collection and cost-effective small payload return through an ongoing relationship with The Aerospace Corporation, and a research and commercialization partnership with the Georgia Institute of Technology.
With the goal of advancing the understanding of reentry and breakup incidents, TVA is working towards addressing the present lack of high quality data on the subject. Atmospheric breakups are the best method for removing spacecraft from orbit. However, TVA reports that 10-40% of spacecraft mass survives reentry. Such debris usually has a high melting point and poses a danger to the public since the location of its landing is currently unidentifiable in advance.
The first device in this line of products, RED-Data, records data during the reentry of its host vehicle to provide a unique insight into the physics behind atmospheric breakup. DePasquale describes it thus:
Our RED-Data device provides a first-hand account of what occurs during reentry and breakup. The basketball-sized device rides aboard a host vehicle to collect pressure, temperature, acceleration, and other engineering data during the actual reentry event. This high fidelity reentry data is very useful for scientists and engineers for calibrating prediction models and designing for survivability or intentional demise.
The newly signed Space Act Agreement with NASA Ames provides for arc-jet and other ground testing of the new TPS materials at NASA Ames in preparation for flights on TVA’s REDs. With a line of RED-Data devices and Space Act Agreement with NASA Ames under its belt, the next step for TVA involves utilizing the TPS material developed at Ames in the next generation of RED devices, RED-Data2.
“TVA plans to implement the Ames TPS material for RED-Data2, and the entire family of TVA’s next generation RED devices that accomplish missions such as small payload return, reentry flight testing, and ’black box‘ safety recording for crewed space vehicles,” says DePasquale. “RED-Data2 is closer to the size of a softball as opposed to a basketball. It is also more than 50% lighter, autonomously initiated, and capable of passive in-space operations for several years as opposed to months. These characteristics of RED-Data2 allow for reentry data collection from an extended set of host vehicles including launch vehicle upper stages and small Earth orbiting spacecraft.”
These development brings humanity one step closer to gaining a fully comprehensive understanding and greater ability to predict the characteristics of uncontrolled spacecraft reentry and breakup incidences so that accurate safety precautions can be put into place in advance.
Image caption: The Space Act Agreement provides for Arc-jet testing of thermal protection system materials at NASA Ames Research Center in which the conditions experienced by a vehicle during atmospheric reentry are approximately created (Credits: NASA).

Written for Space Safety Magazine by Nikita Marwaha

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Could A Vegetable Compound Protect Against the Effects of Radiation?

DIM could be used to protect astronauts during space travel (Credits: NASA)
DIM could be used to protect astronauts during space travel (Credits: NASA).

A compound found in cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower may be the key to radiation protection, scientists have found.
The compound, called 3’3-diindolymethane or DIM, is under investigation as a cancer preventative agent. Used as a potential medical countermeasure, DIM may be able to prevent or mitigate acute radiation syndrome due to whole body exposure.
Previously studied as a cancer prevention agent, this is the first instance in which DIM has been considered as a radiation protector.
One of the study’s author Dr. Eliot Rosen of Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in the US describes why this new development holds great intrigue and significance: “I find it fascinating that a known cancer preventive agent (DIM) has powerful radiation protection properties and wonder if there is a relationship in the case of DIM between its radioprotection and cancer prevention mechanisms.”
The early stage laboratory study administered DIM to rodents in a multidose schedule in order to identify whether DIM could protect against the effects of exposure to radiation.
Results from the experiment demonstrated that the compound protected the animals against lethal doses of body irradiation up to 13 Gy. This was the case whether DIM dosing was initiated before or up to 24 hours after radiation exposure. The irradiated rodents injected with DIM survived longer than those left untreated.
This suggests that DIM may be useful in protecting against the effects of radiation. Rosen commented “DIM could potentially be used to protect normal (non-tumor) tissues against radiation therapy treatments for cancer.”
The compound functions uniquely from other radioprotectors and mitigators. ”DIM works in part by amplifying the normal DNA damage response that occurs when cells and tissues are irradiated. DIM also acts to prevent radiation-caused apoptosis, a type of programmed cell death. The first mechanism is novel among radiation protectors, though other protectants might also act to block apoptosis.”
DIM could protect normal tissues in patients receiving radiation therapy for cancer (Credits: CTCA).
DIM could protect normal tissues in patients receiving radiation therapy for cancer (Credits: CTCA).
The experimental evidence collected thus far supports DIM as a potential radioprotector and mitigator. In terms of the direction of future research, Rosen added: “We will work toward FDA approval of DIM as a radioprotectant and mitigator. This is a complex process that will involve determining the best way to deliver DIM (e.g. oral, subcutaneous, intramuscular) and other animal testing studies.”
It is uncertain whether an outcome similar to the irradiated rodents treated with DIM is possible in humans. However if so, the potential applications for DIM may venture into orbit as a radioprotector for astronauts exposed to the harsh environmentof space.
“Although speculative at this time, DIM could be used to protect against radiation received by astronauts during space travel (eg., cosmic radiation). One has to be careful because there are different types of radiation, and we don’t yet know whether DIM protects against all forms of radiation.”
With the duration of time that astronauts spend in space set to increase with future Mars and asteroid missions, DIM may provide a method of radiation protection that is sustainable and that can be grown in-situ due to its vegetable origins.
The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Image credits: Charles Smith

Written for Space Safety Magazine by Nikita Marwaha

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Chronicles From Concordia

Today, my friend and International Space University classmate Adrianos Golemis is embarking on a year-long Antarctic adventure. 
Braving harsh temperatures as low as -80˚C, Adrianos will reside alongside 13 others in Concordia Station, Antarctica. Established in 2005, Concordia is a remote research base located 3200m above sea-level. It shares a great deal of characteristics with a long-duration space mission, isolation and confinement to name just a few. The station is inaccessible for 9 months during the winter and due to extreme frost and icy winds, the crew are unable to venture further than 1 km around the base with precaution. Shrouded in a blanket of darkness for many months, Concordia Station is a challenging place to live for a month, let alone a year. 

However, the unique conditions found in Antarctica are a valuable tool for humanity to explore the limits of the human body and mind when faced with such environmental extremes and as a result, an excellent analogue platform for research into space medicine.  Analogous to human settlers onto a planet once humanity has advanced to space colonisation, Concordia Station requires total autonomy during the winter, as will a human base on another planet.

Adrianos will therefore pretty much experience a year in the life of an astronaut living on a planet other than Earth. Pretty amazing way to spend a year if you ask me.
 Adrianos, who originates from Greece will join the crew as the European Space Agency sponsored Medical Doctor. There, he will conduct physiological and psychological research during his time at the station and has written his first blog entry, Chronicles from Concordia on the ESA site here.

"This year the lucky one to go is me. “Lucky” might sound a bit funny to your ears if you consider that we are about to travel to the infinite white desolation that is Dome Circe. But there are great returns to be discovered in such a journey, and after giving it much thought, I yearn to go."

Good Luck Adrianos!  Say hi to the penguins from me :)

Follow Adrianos on his journey at the Concordia Base Log here and on Twitter here


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