How Do Astronauts Go to the Bathroom in Space?


Ever since Yuri Gagarin was first launched into space on April 12, 1961, engineers and space travelers have had to face the problem of how to go and where to put the waste.

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Birth of Space Travel

In the early years of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), manned space flights were to be so short that the astronauts were reasonably expected to hold it.

For example, the mission that sent the first American into space, Mercury-Redstone 3 inFreedom 7, was planned to last only 15 minutes.

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Forgetting to expect the unexpected, NASA engineers assumed that Freedom 7′s pilot would be free of the cockpit long before nature called.

Yet on the morning of May 5, 1961, after astronaut Alan Shepard was forced to sit through several hours of delays, he realized, “Man, I gotta pee.” With no good options available, it was decided that Shepard should pee in his spacesuit after its electronics were temporarily de-activated with the hope that his peeing in the suit wouldn’t short out his bio-sensors and give him a jolt in the process.  The hack was mostly successful in that he didn’t electrocute himself and he no longer had to pee, but it did ultimately short the sensors.

Soon after, Shepard became the first American in space… soaking in his own urine.

By the time John Glenn became the first American in orbit, in the four-hour plus Mercury-Atlas 6 mission on Friendship 7 in February 1962, NASA engineers had developed a sealed system that connected the astronaut to a secure storage system via a “condom-like device.”

As the technology advanced, the missions were longer. By the time the Apollo-11 astronauts landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, NASA had developed a “urine and fecal containment system” that was worn by the astronauts under their spandex. One small step for man… with a load in his pants.

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Space Shuttles

Luckily for the astronauts, NASA made advancements. For space walks and other suit work, special “high-tech diapers” were (and still are) worn that can absorb an astonishing amount of liquid.

In addition, by the time of the shuttle era, a special space privy had been developed. Relying on air pressure, the toilet worked by a simple design:

Liquid waste is sucked into a plastic funnel on the end of the trunk-like tube and deposited into the base’s urine container, which vents into space when filled. Outside, the urine sublimates and eventually turns into gas.

To use the tube, lady astronauts were able to securely place the “cup-shaped” funnel directly against their bodies, so no urine escaped. Male astronauts were not so lucky, and must carefully remain close to the suction tube, without getting “vacuumed in.” As one NASA trainer said, “We do not want men docking.”

Solid waste was also sucked straight into a bowl, but then stored until the craft returns to Earth because, as one commentator noted, sending poo “hurtling 17,500 mph through space” would be “bad for business.”

To properly put the poop where they wanted it, shuttle inhabitants used the space john’s foot straps and thigh braces. In order to place the fecal matter just so, NASA astronauts:

Spend a lot of time in training sitting on space toilets to learn how to create a strong seal and how to align themselves properly.

In fact, at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, one of the bathrooms is equipped with two space toilets – one for actual use and the other for training:

A “positional trainer” has a video camera beneath its rim, and a television monitor on a table in front of it.

Taking a “lot of glamour out of the business” of being an astronaut, one spaceman termed the training toilet: “the deepest, darkest secret about space flight.”

International Space Station

The loo on the International Space Station (ISS) works on much the same principle as the space shuttles’. A former commander of the ISS, Captain Sunita Williams, when discussing its facilities, noted that:

It’s pretty small and you have to have pretty good aim, and be ready to make sure things get let go in the right direction.

Not completely uncivilized, toilet paper is provided, and as it is an international facility, more than one kind is available to meet the preferences of its cosmopolitan crew. Gloves and disinfectant wipes are also provided, “in case things really get out of control.” But despite all of the precautions, as Captain Williams noted, “the number one stuff can get really all over the place if you don’t aim correctly.”

Space Throne Malfunction

As with any technology, glitches are bound to happen. In July 2009, “with a record 13 people aboard,” one of the ISS commodes broke down. Luckily, the station had another potty that remained functional. In addition, the astronauts who had come on the space shuttle Endeavour were able to use that, although they could not vent liquid as designed because the spray would hit a portion of the Japanese lab, potentially corroding expensive machinery.

The next day, in true MacGyver fashion, the station commander and a flight engineer replaced certain components and repaired the lav – to the relief of everyone.

Recycling in Space

Perhaps a result of guilt from the huge litter problem caused by 50 years of space exploration, the ISS has taken steps to become more green – by recycling urine:

The new system takes the combined urine of the crew from the toilet, moves it to a big tank, where the water is boiled off, and the vapor collected. The rest of contaminants – the yucky brine in the urine – is thrown away. . . . The water vapor is mixed with water from air condensation, then it goes through filters, much like those put on home taps.

Astronauts report that the recycled water tastes “great,” although they do acknowledge that it comes with the label: “drink this when real water is over 200 miles away.”

World’s Lightest Material #Graphene Aerogel


World’s Lightest Material,  Seven times lighter than air and 200 times stronger than steel.

Chinese material scientists have created the world’s lightest material: A graphene aerogel that is seven times lighter than air, and 12% lighter than the previous record holder (aerographite). A cubic centimeter of the graphene aerogel weighs just 0.16 milligrams — or, if you’re having a problem conceptualizing that, a cubic meter weighs just 160 grams (5.6 ounces). The graphene aerogel is so light that an cube inch of the stuff can be balanced on a blade of grass, the stamen of a flower, or the fluffy seed head of a dandelion (see pictures below).

Most aerogels are produced using a sol-gel process, where a gel is dehydrated until only the aerogel remains. Some aerogels are also produced using the template  method — aerographite, for example, is created by growing carbon on a lattice (template) of zinc oxide crystals — and then the zinc oxide is removed in an oven, leaving just the carbon aerogel. To create the graphene aerogel, however, researchers at Zhejiang University use a novel freeze-drying method. Basically, it seems like the researchers  create a solution of graphene and carbon nanotubes, pour it into a mold, and then freeze dry it. Freeze drying dehydrates the solution, leaving single-atom-thick layers of graphene, supported by carbon nanotubes. The researchers say that there’s no limit to the size of the container: You could make a mini graphene aerogel using this process, or a meter-cubed aerogel if you wish.

The end result is an aerogel that weighs just 0.16 milligrams per cubic centimeter, and has truly superb elasticity and absorption. The graphene aerogel can recover completely after more than 90% compression, and absorb up to 900 times its own weight in oil, at a rate of 68.8 grams per second. With these two features combined, lead researcher Gao Chao hopes that the material might be used to mop up oil spills, squeezed to reclaim the oil, and then thrown back in the ocean to mop up more oil. Beyond filtration, graphene aerogel might be used as insulation — or, if it’s as conductive as aerographite (which seems likely), graphene aerogel could enable the creation of lighter, higher-energy-density batteries.

Over the next few pages we’ve compiled some amazing photos of aerogels. Click through if you want to see lumps of carbon balancing on a blade of grass, centimeter-thick slabs of aerogel that can insulate against the blue flame of a Bunsen burner,  or a two-gram piece of aerogel that can hold up a 2.5-kilogram brick.

aerogel-brick-balance-640x675A 2.5-kilo brick, perched atop a 2-gram block of silica aerogel

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Professors Andre Geim (left) and Kostya Novoselov: Discovering graphene in the course of research at Manchester University earned the pair a joint Nobel prize in physics and a knighthood each

Graphene aerogel, propped up on the stamen of a flower.

Graphene aerogel, propped up on the stamen of a flower.

  • It is a material made with Graphene oxide that is so light (99% air)
  • it can rest on this flower without bending its petals.
  • The cube, which is roughly an inch across, probably weighs less than 5 milligrams.
  • It is just 0.16 milligrams per cubic centimetre.
  • For reference, the density of air is 1.2 milligrams per cubic centimetre — so the new material is 7.5 times lighter than air.
  • It’s twice as heavy as hydrogen and less dense than helium.
  • It is also a superb conductor of electricity — far better than copper, traditionally used for wiring — and is the best conductor of heat on the planet.
  • Thinnest material ever made, yet 200 times stronger than steel

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Uses :

  • it’s incredibly elastic, returning to its original shape after being compressed.
  • It’s super-low density also makes it highly absorbent.
  • One gram of aerogel can absorb up to 900 times its own weight in organics like oil.
  • Beyond the environmental aspects, this material could have applications in energy storage and transfer.
  • Graphene itself has been studied extensively for its high conductivity. It’s pretty amazing stuff.

 Another shot of the graphene aerogel, balanced on the spine of a plant. Another shot of the graphene aerogel, balanced on the spine of a plant.

 

Mars mission today: 10 things you should know about it #Mangalyaan #ISRO


With today’s launch, India is hoping to join the select few of the world’s deep-space pioneers who have reached Mars. The 44.4-metre tall spacecraft which will begin its journey to Mars today from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre spaceport in Sriharikota cost 73 million dollars, or Rs 450 crores to get off the ground. Here are ten things to know about the voyage.
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1. Mangalyaan, which means “Mars craft” in Hindi is scheduled to lift off at 2:38 pm from Sriharikota, 80 kilometres from Chennai.
2. The primary objective of the mission is to demonstrate India’s technological capability to send a craft to orbit around Mars and conduct meaningful experiments such as looking for signs of life, take pictures of the Red planet and study Martian environment.
3. The satellite will carry compact science experiments, totalling a mass of 15 kg — five instruments to study Martian surface, atmosphere and mineralogy.
4. Mangalyaan’s journey is a long one – a 300-day, 780 million-kilometre (485 million-mile) journey to orbit Mars and survey its geology and atmosphere. At its closest point it will be 365 kilometres (227 miles) from the planet’s surface, and at its furthest – 80,000 kilometres (49,700 miles).
5. Mangalyaan will also search Mars for methane, a key chemical in life processes on Earth that could also come from geological processes.
6. Once launched the satellite is expected to go around Earth for 20-25 days before embarking on a nine-month voyage to the red planet on December 1 and reach the orbit of Mars on September 24, 2014.
7. If the Rs 450 crore MOM mission turns out to be a success, ISRO would be the fourth space agency in the world to have sent a mission to Mars.
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8. European Space Agency (ESA) of European consortium, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the US and Roscosmos of Russia are the only three agencies which have so far sent their missions to the red planet.
9. Only 21 of the total of 51 missions sent to Mars by various countries have been successful.
10. Five solar-powered instruments aboard Mangalyaan will gather data to help determine how Martian weather systems work and what happened to the water that is believed to have once existed on Mars in large quantities.

 

NASA Unveils Potentially Hazardous Asteroids Map


In case you were wondering if Hollywood scenarios like the Armageddon could ever come to pass, NASA has just found an answer for you. In a recently unveiled map of potentially hazardous asteroids, the US Space Agency suggests those dangerous asteroids that are close to Earth’s orbit are several thousands.

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The disconcerting map of the inner Solar System points to the orbits of 1,400 PHAs that are currently close to our planet. This is part of NASA’s Near Earth Objects program and it only includes asteroid bodies that are considered dangerous.

Why are these considered dangerous asteroids, you may ask? For one thing, there is the size issue as these bodies are all over 140 meters in diameter. Included in this category are also asteroids that currently pass close to the Earth’s orbit, which is within 7.5 million kilometers from our planet.

The PHA map displays a rather dizzying swarm of orbits surrounding the sun. Most of the orbits are concentrated around the orbit of Jupiter.

If the thought of so many large asteroids hovering over the Earth is scary, try not to panic. According to NASA experts, these are only classified as potentially hazardous, and not an imminent threat to our life on Earth.

This does not mean that any of these PHAs will impact the planet over the coming 100 years. However, constant observation is necessary to map out their trajectory and to observe potential threats in the decades to come.

This NASA map shows the orbits of thousands of potentially hazardous asteroids.

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In fact, NASA researchers and astronomers are on a constant lookout for asteroid bodies that may pose a threat to the Earth. According to a NASA spokesperson, almost 90% of the largest asteroids that have been identified as potential threats so far, were unveiled by such surveys and mapping systems.

NASA’s Near Earth Objects (NEO) Program is focused on mapping all comet and asteroid activity that occurs near our planet’s orbit, in an attempt to have a clear decade long warning in place, in case a large object like a PHA approaches the Earth.

NASA warns Arctic thaw could have huge impact on global warming


 

Arctic sea ice by NOAA

The Arctic‘s permafrost soils have NASA worried. Scientists monitoring carbon levels in the top layers of Arctic soils have identified huge deposits that, if thawed sufficiently, could upset its carbon balance and magnify the impacts of global warming. The agency estimates that the Arctic’s permafrost soils store as much as 1,850 petagrams (one petagram equals 1 billion metric tons), comprising around half of all the carbon stored in Earth’s soils — most of it lying within 3 meters of the surface.

One percent of permafrost methane has the same environmental impact as 99 percent of carbon dioxide

Worried that the permafrosts might not be as permanent as the name suggests, NASA believes the warming of Earth’s surface could lead to the release of the Arctic’s carbon stores into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane. If the Earth gets warmer and drier, scientists expect most of the carbon to be released as carbon dioxide, but if it gets warmer and wetter, most will be released as methane. Methane is considered the more potent greenhouse gas and NASA is making it one of its top priorities to predict potential emissions.

Studies have found that global warming is making the Arctic greener, adding more layers of organic carbon beneath the soil. NASA is leading the Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE) project which will study how climate change is affecting the Arctic’s carbon cycle. By observing the permafrosts, scientists hope to identify how global warming is impacting the frozen land mass, providing a better insight into Earth’s future climate.

Saturn’s Satan – A monster hurricane with an eye of over 2,000km ..#NASA #Saturn


Nasa spacecraft captures stunning image of a cyclone at Saturn’s North Pole

1752463444In an undated in this false-color image from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft and provided by NASA/JPL shows stunning views of a monster hurricane at Saturn’s North Pole. The eye of the cyclone is an enormous 1,250 miles across. That’s 20 times larger than the typical eye of a hurricane here on Earth. The hurricane is believed to have been there for years.This image is among the first sunlit views of Saturn’s north pole captured by Cassini’s imaging cameras. (AP)

Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft has captured stunning views of a monster hurricane at Saturn’s North Pole.

The eye of the cyclone is an enormous 1,250 miles (2,010 kilometers) across. That’s 20 times larger than the typical eye of a hurricane here on Earth. And it’s spinning super-fast. Clouds at the outer edge of the storm are whipping around at 330 mph (531 kph).

The hurricane is parked at Saturn’s North Pole and relies on water vapor to keep it churning. It’s believed to have been there for years. Cassini only recently had a chance to observe the vortex in visible light.

Scientists hope to learn more about Earth’s hurricanes by studying this whopper at Saturn.

Cassini was launched from Cape Canaveral in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004.

#Asteroid2012DA14 brushes past Earth


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Asteroid 2012 DA14 brushed past Earth early Saturday morning (IST) causing no damage to any satellite. It passed inside the ring of geosynchronous weather and communications satellites. “The asteroid safely passed our planet 17,500 miles above Indonesia,” NASA said.

The newly discovered asteroid, about half the size of a football field, was tracked by NASA and various space centres, giving scientists a rare opportunity for close-up observations without launching a probe.

At its closest approach, which occurred at 1924 GMT or 0055 IST, the asteroid passed about 17,200 miles (27,520 km) above the planet traveling at 13 km per second, bringing it nearer than the networks of television and weather satellites that ring the planet.

Although Asteroid 2012 DA14 is the largest known object of its size to pass this close, scientists had predicted that there would be no chance of an impact.

Currently, DA14 matches Earth’s year-long orbit around the sun, but after today’s encounter its flight path will change, said astronomer Donald Yeomans, with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“The close approach will perturb its orbit so that actually instead of having an orbital period of one year, it’ll lose a couple of months,” Yeomans said. “The Earth is going to put this one in an orbit that is considerably safer,” he said.

For scientists, DA14 presented a rare, albeit short, opportunity to study an asteroid close-up. In addition to trying to determine what minerals it contains, which is of potential commercial interest as well as scientific, astronomers want to learn more about the asteroid’s spin rate. The information not only will be useful to plotting DA14’s future visits but could help engineers develop techniques to thwart more threatening asteroids.

Ozone hole second smallest in 20 years


Bringing great reprive to scientists monitoring ozone hole over the Antarctic, the the average area covered by the hole this year is smallest in the last 20 years. 
 
The ozone hole reached its maximum size Sep 22, covering 8.2 million square miles (21.2 million sq km), or the area of the US, Canada and Mexico combined, according to data from NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellites.
 
The average size of the 2012 ozone hole was 6.9 million sq miles (17.9 million square km). The Sep 6, 2000 ozone hole was the largest on record at 11.5 million square miles (29.9 million sq km). 
 
Ozone layer acts as Earth’s natural shield against ultraviolet radiation, which can cause skin cancer. The ozone hole phenomenon began making a yearly appearance in the early 1980s. 
 
“The ozone hole mainly is caused by chlorine from human-produced chemicals, and these chlorine levels are still sizable in the Antarctic stratosphere,” said atmospheric scientist Paul Newman of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, according to a NASA statement. 
 
“Natural fluctuations in weather patterns resulted in warmer stratospheric temperatures this year. These temperatures led to a smaller ozone hole,” added Newman. 
 
The Antarctic ozone layer likely will not return to its early 1980s state until about 2065, Newman said. The lengthy recovery is because of the long lifetimes of ozone-depleting substances in the atmosphere. 
 
Overall atmospheric ozone no longer is declining as concentrations of ozone-depleting substances decrease. The decrease is the result of an international agreement regulating the production of certain chemicals.

Phew! Asteroid to miss Earth in 2040, NASA says


On a day when global doomsday predictions failed to pan out, NASA had more good news for the Earth: An asteroid feared to be on a collision course with our planet no longer poses a threat.

The position data obtained for near-Earth asteroid 2011 AG5 in October was used to reduce its future orbital uncertainties.

Uncertainties about the orbit of the asteroid, known as 2011 AG5, previously allowed for a less than a 1% chance it would hit the Earth in February 2040, NASA said.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The asteroid previously had a 0.2% chance of hitting the Earth

  • More observation by astronomers in Hawaii shows no risk of collision

  • A collision would have released about 100 megatons of energy

  • Observing the asteroid wasn’t easy

To narrow down the asteroid’s future course, NASA put out a call for more observation. Astronomers from the University of Hawaii at Manoa took up the task and managed to observe the asteroid over several days in October.

“An analysis of the new data conducted by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, shows that the risk of collision in 2040 has been eliminated,” NASA declared Friday.

The new observations, made with the Gemini 8-meter telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, reduce the orbit uncertainties by more than a factor of 60. That means the Earth’s position in February 2040 is not in range of the asteroid’s possible future paths.

The asteroid, which is 140 meters (460 feet) in diameter, will get no closer to Earth than 890,000 kilometers (553,000 miles), or more than twice the distance to the moon, NASA said.

A collision with Earth would have released about 100 megatons of energy, several thousand times more powerful than the atomic bombs that ended World War II, according to the Gemini Observatory.

Observing the asteroid wasn’t easy, said David Tholen, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy.

The asteroid’s position was very close to the sun, so astronomers had to observe it when the sky was dark. Tholen told CNN there was about a half-hour between when the asteroid got high enough in the sky for the telescope to point at it and before the sky became too light to observe it.

Because the astronomers were looking at the asteroid low in the sky, they were viewing it through a lot of atmosphere, which scattered some of the light and made the object fainter, he said.

“The second effect is the turbulence of the atmosphere makes things fainter,” Tholen said. “We had to keep trying over and over until we got one of those nights when the atmosphere was calm.”

Tholen and the team also discovered the asteroid is elongated, so that as it rotates, its brightness changes. That was another challenge for the astronomers: Because they didn’t know the asteroid’s rotation period, they didn’t know when it would wax and wane, and when it would grow too faint to see.

“This object was changing its brightness by a factor of three or four — it was just enormously variable,” Tholen said. “It was hit and miss depending on which night you observed it.”

Many predicted the end of the world would come Friday, the day on which a long phase in the ancient Mayan calendar came to an end. Some believe the day actually comes Sunday.

Modern-day Mayans say the end of the calendar phase doesn’t mean the end of the world — just the end of an era, and the start of a new one.

Milky Way to inevitably merge with Andromeda Nebula – NASA


© Flickr.com/zen/cc-by-nc-sa 3.0

According to NASA, the merger of two neighbouring Galaxies, namely the Milky Way, of which the Solar System is a part and the Andromeda Nebula, is inevitable, since the Galaxies are approaching each other at some 400,000 kilometres per hour.

But the Earth will not get destroyed, nor will humanity suffer in the process, if humans still inhabit the Earth by then. NASA officials said this during a news conference on Thursday.

The merger will begin in approximately four billion years from now and is due over in six billion years.

The new galaxy that will emerge as a result will have a different, most likely elliptical form, and will be populated by fewer cosmic bodies than today.