Archive for December, 2016

Pregnancy in Space

In 2007 a cockroach called Nadezhda, meaning hope in Russian, was the first Earth creature to give birth in outer space. The cockroach conceived and gave birth to 33 young in microgravity on the FOTON-M3 spacecraft. The young matured faster than usual in space but seemed normal.

Rats that were taken to space for part of their gestation period were brought back to Earth to give birth. The baby rats were born without the ability to right themselves. The scientific study revealed that gravity was important for the proper development of the fetus.

No human baby has been conceived in space yet. In fact no pregnant astronaut has spent time in space either. The results from this science project mean that we are unsure about human ability to reproduce in space. If studies conducted so far are considered, it seems that gravity is essential for the normal development of a human fetus.

For this end future spacecrafts may need to include special centrifuge cabins where artificial gravity can be maintained for a pregnant member of the crew. This set up may be necessary on long term missions such as the trip to colonize Mars that NASA seems to be considering. Although I feel it’s going to be a while before we actually see a child being conceived and delivered in outer space.

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Animals in Space

While NASA is in a race with itself to send humans to live on Mars, let’s consider the fact that before any human got the title of an astronaut, animals had been sent into space to check if life actually could survive the harsh extremes found there.

In the year 1947 the nose of a V2 rocket captured by the Nazis became famous when it was launched to 109 km altitude with a bunch of fruit flies. The capsule ejected and the insects were safely returned to Earth guided down by a parachute. These were the first living creatures from the planet to enter space.

The Russians made history in 1957 with Laika. She was the first dog in outer space that orbited the Earth. Unfortunately Laika was also the first dog to die in space. However the record for being at the highest altitude lies with Veterok and Ugolyok, the dogs who were in Kosmos 110 spacecraft in 1966.

The first monkey in space was Albert II who was killed on impact when the V2 rocket’s parachute failed to deploy. He was a rhesus monkey. In 1959 the primates that created the altitude record were Able and Baker. They were rhesus and squirrel monkeys.

Three months before Apollo 8 was launched in 1968 the Russians sent the spacecraft Zond 5 on a seven day journey around the moon. Onboard were two tortoises, some flies, worms, and bacteria. They returned safely back to the Earth. It would be interesting to see what new science projects involve animals in outer space.

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More Challenges About Living on the ISS

Adjusting to microgravity is the primary concern of any new astronaut that comes aboard the ISS. Microgravity refers to the low amount of gravity which is artificially generated on the International Space Station to allow the astronauts to function. It allows them to float from one area to another by simply pulling or pushing themselves around. However it can also lead to some amount of motion sickness in new arrivals who are unaccustomed to the sensation.

Eating food is not the most pleasurable experience on the ISS. Most food loses flavour in the processing it undergoes to become ready to eat in space. This is why foods with a strong flavour such as prawn cocktails, Japanese food and spicier Indian curries seem to become more popular with the astronauts. The taste-buds of astronauts may also change when in outer space but there is no consensus on what happens. Some claim reduction in taste while others say tastes get highlighted more than usual.

Hygiene is again no where near what you would expect on Earth. The urine on the ISS is actually filtered and recycled back in to the supply of drinking water. The solid wastes are collected in bags from the toilet and hauled away by the cargo ships that visit the ISS regularly for supply runs. Having a shower is impossible, but wipes are found in plenty. Washing hair is done with a no rinse shampoo and they have to be really careful as they can’t afford to let bits of water float around and short circuit the electronics on board. Make a science project on what you can expect as an astronaut on the ISS.

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Life on the ISS

The International Space Station has made it possible for astronauts to spend months in space. They learn to survive in an environment most unlike their home planet and have interesting details to share about their experiences. Here is what some astronauts have shared about their stay on the ISS.

The smell of space is difficult to discern as human noses can not detect anything in outer space. However astronauts on the ISS have reported a metallic fume sort of similar to the kind you get when welding on their spacesuits once the airlock has been re-pressurized. There has also been the smell of rotten eggs or bitter almonds reported on the Rosetta spacecraft.

Experiencing a “Cosmic Fairy” is a common occurrence. This term refers to little flashes of light that the astronauts see when they close their eyes. One astronaut likens it to seeing a shooting star streaking across the sky, only with your eyelids closed. The Cosmic Fairies are caused by the interaction of the retina with cosmic rays.

The biggest question to settle on the ISS is which way is up? Directions don’t mean much in space when microgravity allows you to take any position. However in a bid to reduce the feeling of total disorientation the astronauts use the plane of lights on the ISS as the ceiling, just like one would expect the lights to be in a home on Earth. It would make an interesting science project to catelogue all the different kinds of foods that astronauts manage to eat in space.

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How Your Senses React in Outer Space

We have five senses that allow us to visualize and make sense of the world around us. The way we perceive things comes from inputs primarily from our eyes and ears. In outer space the inputs from our senses gets disrupted due to the lack of gravity. Our brain is no longer able to get clear messages from the senses about what is up and what is down.

This happens because the balance of the inner ear is affected by the lack of gravity. It can affect the ability of the astronaut to judge the distance they are standing from an object, or give them the feeling that everything has been turned topsy turvy, upside down. The feeling can cause disorientation and an inability to function in an optimal manner as the brain struggles to make sense of what it sees and hears.

Given the fact that the astronauts also need to be confined to relatively smaller areas in space and are not getting adequate rest, they may also be sufereing from claustrophobia and exhaustion. Both points make it difficult for any human being to function at an optimal manner. This is the reason why some astronauts refer to their condition as suffering from “Space stupids.” More science projects are needed to study the effect that this space induced brain fog has on the astronauts.

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Taking Customized Suits to the Next Level

Astronauts need space suits to survive the harsh environmental conditions in space. The earliest spacesuits were air tight versions of the flight suits that fighter pilots used. In the older space suits it was a major problem adjusting internal pressure. Alexei Leonov was almost stranded outside his spacecraft on a spacewalk in 1965 when his suit ballooned out due to internal pressure. With improvements in technology the things got better.

The A7L space suits developed for the astronauts on the Apollo missions had constant volume joints that didn’t allow spacesuits to balloon out due to internal pressure. They also had an air recycling unit that allowed the astronauts longer duration of use. Not to mention the 100 m of piping added to the suit which pumped cooling water around it. New age space suits have has so many science experiments done on them, and they still continue to change and evolve.

Needless to say each spacesuit needs to be tailor made for the astronaut who will be using it. Each body measurement is customized before the suit is built. A single space suit for an astronaut costs about $500,000, now that is an astronomical cost. Considering the fact that an astronaut on a space mission needs a minimum of three space suits, you have to admit that it’s quite an expensive wardrobe that they have.

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