Mars500 mission/ISS flyovers/Moon Zoo

May 12, 2010

Credit: NASA

Space Shuttle Atlantis is set to liftoff for its final scheduled flight this Friday at 2:20pm EDT. This will give some parts of the US an opportunity to see both the ISS and Atlantis streaking overhead at night. They will appear as simply a relatively fast-moving bright dot in the night sky. The ISS is so large now that its reflective surface allows it to be one of the brightest visible objects in the sky, even brighter than Venus. You can use Spaceweather.com’s simple satellite tracker web-tool to see when the ISS (and other satellites) will be doing a flyby of your area. Here’s the list for Nashville this week/end.

The European Space Agency is in the final phase of a large experiment designed to study the physiological and psychological effects of a small group of people being isolated for extended periods of time as they would be on a mission to Mars. This final phase is called Mars500, and is about to subject 6 crew members from all over the world to 520 days of a simulated Mars mission. They’ve gone to great detail to make the simulation as realistic as possible, with outside communication on a 40-minute delay, and with random interruptions. This all sounds a bit crazy, but it’s absolutely essential to understanding how humans will behave and interact in such isolated conditions. I have no doubt that this research will contribute to the success of mankind’s first manned mission to the red planet. The participants were all, of course, eager and willing to put themselves through this. (Via ESA website)

NASA is asking for help from the general public in identifying “scientifically interesting” features on the surface of the moon. The recent Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken extremely high-resolution images, and there’s so much real estate to cover that NASA scientists can’t possibly go through it all in any reasonable amount of time. So, they created a website through the Zooniverse project called Moon Zoo where people can take a virtual tour of the surface of the moon, seeing details potentially as small as astronaut footprints from the Apollo missions! The surface feature identification tasks they need everyday people to do are still too complex for even a supercomputer to manage. This idea follows a long line of crowd-sourcing computing projects that began with SETI@Home in the late 90’s. A brilliant idea if you ask me. (Via Space.com)

On a personal note: I just bottled a batch of Belgian Blonde Ale and it should be ready to drink in a week or so. This stuff is 7.3% ABV so it’s venturing into the realm of high-gravity beer. Contact me if you want to try some. Next batch: a British ESB/American Pale Ale hybrid that should be interesting.

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