Friday, May 1, 2015

Adieu, MESSENGER: 8/03/2004 - 4/30/2015

Alas, poor MESSENGER

I knew it, Mercury, a spacecraft of infinite data gathering, of most excellent fancy. 

Numbers as of last August. via Johns Hopkins APL

It hath borne my wonder on its back a thousand times, and now, how abhorred in my newsfeed it is! My gorge rises at its impactful outcome

Last image from MESSENGER 

Here hung those cameras whose images I have view'd I know not how oft. 
—Where be your tweets now? 
Your gifs? 
Your flash of Earth that was wont to set the media on a roar? 

Earth/Moon from Mercury!

Not about now to mock your own accomplishments? 
Quite chapfallen?

[h/t W. Shakespeare for the prose]

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Dava Newman and Advanced Spacesuits

Friday night (April 24th), I had the wonderful opportunity to meet then-NASA Deputy Administrator Appointee Dr. Dava Newman (she was confirmed by the Senate Monday the 27th). She was giving a lecture at the Philosophical Society of Washington (DC) on [what else?!] advanced spacesuit research, which happens to be her forte.

She highlighted four different prototypes - two intra-vehicular and two extra-vehicular suits. She also made clear, and quite excitedly I might add, the potential worldwide medical impacts these types of suits could have.

But more on that later.

Because spacesuits.

The first suit is like a super compression suit, called the Gravity Loading Countermeasure Suit. It is made to mimic gravity by compressing the muscles constantly, therefore the astronaut's body is in a constant state of exercise. The hope is, simply by wearing it, they can decrease muscle atrophy and bone loss associated with extended spaceflight.

The second suit, also used while inside the capsule/station, is called the Variable Vector Countermeasure Suit. It is still a work in progress, but the suit is to have mini gyroscopes in strategic locations, which will orient a "down" direction, providing viscous resistance to the body during movements. The ideal size for these gyros are 1"-2", but the smallest they can make them functional right now are 6". Work in progress, but promising!

Then she dove into what everyone really wanted to hear about, which were the glamorous EVA EMUs. She showed the past EMUs and how bulky they are and how difficult it was to operate on the moon:

If we're going to Mars, we need to be more agile. We need a locomotion suit.
Then there is a segue into astronaut injuries for the Injury Comfort and Protection Suit. It's interesting. There have been dozens of documented - documented - injuries from NBL training. However, there are no documented cases of injuries from flight EVAs. I happened to have a gaggle of astronauts at Udvar-Hazy on Saturday, and I asked Rich Linnehan about this (he's logged a modest 42 hours of EVA time, including working extensively on Hubble). He said that training in NBL is brutal, he actually had to have shoulder surgery from injuries sustained in the pool. In space, it is completely different, so much easier on the body.

Dr. Newman and her teams from MIT have done research with the current and new prototypes with sensors, and revealed that pressurized suits restrict body movements by over 50%, especially the upper body. One of many short-term solutions is to offer customizable inflatable padding in trouble spots to alleviate injuries.

The last suit is by far the most interesting and outrageous. I am sure you've seen it grace articles the internet over:

The Human BioSuit. If the ladies at ILC Dover thought those suits were time-consuming, this bad boy has 340 meters of lines of non-extension. Well, what the heck is that?

Lines of non-extension are non-lineal lines that run along the human body. Body movement doesn't cause contraction or stretch. The suit utilizes this by placing tension elements in high strain areas like joints to enable constant pressure directly on the skin no matter how the body moves.
(Okay, it's more complicated and in-depth than this, but this was way over my head and I haven't yet had time to do my own research to understand it. My hope is to read up on it, then get to have conversations with her, because her passion is my passion.)

They use active materials (materials that contract/constrict with a current passed through) at critical points where constant pressure is an issue, like joints. There are questions as to whether 1/3 of Earth atmospheric pressure is adequate, as bre-breathing takes a lengthy and expensive period of time The suit already creates that amount of pressure across most of the body. What should be considered, instead, is the astronauts' daily atmospheric living conditions. Why is ISS pressurized to a full atmosphere? If you make it 2/3 atmosphere, it would be much easier to transition to and from EVAs. Dr. Newman is clearly thinking ahead to Mars.

Thursday, January 8, 2015



These are the the highlights commemorating the 50th anniversary of the excursions by humans into the void of space, presented by the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

The eyecatcher is most likely the "slinky" of gloves

Last night they held a preview for Air and Space Society Members. The temporary exhibit officially opened today, and is on public display at the museum on the National Mall until June 8, 2015. I just wanted to share photos, and I will be returning (several times, most likely) because this is a wonderful gallery.
Disassembled Omega watch face from above

And from the front
This isn't just objects on display. This is thoughtful artistic consideration of how the objects should be presented, while still maintaining preservation of the pieces. They are interspersed amongst fine art relevant to Extravehicular Activities, and mission photography.

Gene Cernan's G4-C Pressure Suit from Gemini IX & a prototype cover layer in front

Ed White's Helmet & Gloves from Gemini IV
Air and Space has an interactive website you can peruse and learn even more about these objects and more. This isn't everything in the exhibit; this is only what I took photos of last night. There is SO much more.