Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Olympic Torch in Space: A Prelude to Space Olympics?

With the Olympic Torch for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in a six-hour sprint to the International Space Station, is this just a prelude for an eventual “Space Olympics”? 

By: Ringo Bones

After blasting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin, together with NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata of Japan will be carrying the Olympic Torch slated for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics up to the low-Earth orbit of the International Space Station for a first-ever space-walk with the Olympic Torch in a literally out-of-this world venue. Even though the Olympic Torch will be tethered for safety reasons to whomever be carrying it for an EVA (extra-vehicular activity – i.e. space-walk) this Saturday, it would be the first time ever in the history of the Olympic Games that the torch has taken an “out-of-this –world-route” en route to its venue for the opening ceremonies of the next year’s Winter Olympic Games. But will it also signal for a first ever “Space Olympics”? 

Imagine new legitimate Olympic events like “Weightless Rhythmic Gymnastics” of “Weightless Wrestling” or any other Olympic games performed in the weightless environment of low Earth orbit like that of the International Space Station. Would the launching of the Olympic torch for a space-walk eventually inspire the beginnings of the “Space Olympiad”? 

India’s Mission to Mars: The Sino-Indian Space Race to Mars?

With an ambition to be full-fledged space faring nation with a space program that only costs 1 billion US dollars a year, is India’s latest mission to Mars a blatant attempt to beat Mainland China to the red planet? 

By: Ringo Bones 

Critics and detractors might be pointing to the fact that for a country that can even hardly lift a significant portion of its citizens living less than 3 US dollars a day and mired in poverty shouldn’t be involving themselves in space exploration, but India’s latest mission to Mars is set to prove the detractors of its fledging space program wrong – as the recent interview with Kopillil Radhakrishnan, head of India’s Space Research Organization aims to prove that India’s poverty related problems can be solved with the science learned from the country’s ongoing endeavor. With a long term goal to solve the country’s chronic food, potable water and other vital resource shortage via its latest space exploration and related science and technology endeavors, India is indeed taking whatever advantage to be a both a technologically advanced nation and one that is capable of meeting the vital needs of its own citizens. 

At a budget of 1 billion US dollars a year – India spends around 1/60th a year less than NASA spends annually in space exploration. And the 74-million US dollar (4.5 billion rupee) Mangalyaan (Mars craft in Hindi) spacecraft costs about one-tenth of a typical Mars bound spacecraft that NASA has been sending to the red planet since the late 1990s. If all goes to plan, India’s Mars probe should be orbiting around the red planet by September 2014 – making India the fourth space faring nation / conglomerate to send a space-probe to the Mars – i.e. The United States, Russia (former Soviet Union) and the European Union. Even though Mainland China had been sending manned craft to orbit for about a decade now, the Beijing government seems to have no plans at the moment to send a space-probe to Mars. Could an Indian astronaut beat the People’s Republic of China in the Sino-Indian Space Race to Mars?    

Monday, March 25, 2013

Space For Sale?

After given US Congressional approval, are historic Apollo mission memorabilia really worth the money? 

By: Ringo Bones 

Unlike the Soviet era cosmonaut space memorabilia that had been on the auction block as far back as 1992, the US Congress has just given the green light on the sale of historically significant Apollo mission memorabilia. The items reached the New York auction house Bonhams back in Monday, March 18, 2013 and they truly represent a treasure trove of America’s glory days of manned space exploration during the late 1960s and the early 1970s. 

The most famed item on auction is the “Space Magna Carta” a 1975 printed certificate marking the symbolic end of the space race between the United States and the then Soviet Union that was valued at 100,000 US dollars that supposedly set on paper the end of the American and Soviet space exploration rivalry when the Soviet era Soyuz capsule docked with an American Apollo spacecraft. And also, two sheets of the Apollo 11 manual on how to get back to Earth from the Moon is also expected to go for 90,000 US dollars. 

The now iconic checklist of the Apollo 13 emergency procedure annotated by astronaut Jim Lovell was also offered. And one of the esoteric items offered was an uneaten “space meal” potato soup packet brought on the Apollo 13 mission. If you have the requisite money, there are also space suit gloves and other Apollo era related memorabilia – and most of them could cost, for starters, as much as a high-end sports car or as much as a million US dollars for more iconic items offered. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

One Small Step For Multi-Millionaire: One Giant Leap For Mankind?

With multi-millionaire and first ever space tourist Dennis Tito’s slated private fundraising to send a trained couple for a round-trip to Mars represent a one giant leap for all of us? 

By: Ringo Bones 

The planned endeavor is expected to cost by as much as 1 billion US dollars using current rocket technology and is slated to be given the go ahead by the year 2018, such challenges aside it hasn’t yet discouraged American multi-millionaire and pioneering space tourist Dennis Tito to establish a private fundraising campaign to send a trained middle-aged male and female couple on a 500 day round trip to Mars. Though the planned mission saves by as much as 19 billion US dollars by merely orbiting Mars instead of landing on the red planet’s surface, it does still exposes the prospective couple’s to still largely unknown risks of a long-duration spaceflight – namely, solar radiation exposure since the mission involves venturing away from the Earth’s protective magnetic field and the detrimental health effects of long-term weightlessness. This is why the prospective couple that will be chosen for the mission should be a little over past their child-bearing ages to minimize the risks of bearing genetically mutated children due to exposure to unfiltered solar and cosmic radiation. 

The 2018 date was not just chosen arbitrarily, it is one of the few “auspicious” years in a century where Mars gets closest to the Earth – about as close as 36 million miles. And such rare planetary alignment allows the spacecraft to use the gravity of Mars to whip it back to Earth at 25,000 miles per hour, thus saving the cost of precious rocket fuel to be used in the overall mission. 

Dennis Tito’s “altruism” behind such complex and pricey endeavor is to inspire the current generation of schoolchildren to be more enthusiastic about math and science subjects that are indispensible in the aerospace industry and space exploration. Sadly, since the Bush era “War on Terror”, the math and science knowledge of America had been mostly applied in the militarization of the aerospace industry – i.e. unmanned military drones. With Tito’s privately funded space exploration initiative, the math and science knowledge of the United States will now be used for more peaceful means, 

Dennis Tito first gained fame in the field of space exploration when he used his own money – a little over 20 million US dollars – to allow him to went into a 2-week “working vacation” on the International Space Station a few years ago. Thus making him the first ever space tourist who used his own money. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Are There Space Travel Superstitions?

Given that space travel is largely a result of scientific and technological endeavors, are there any space travel superstitions still practiced by our space-faring brethren in this day and age? 

By: Ringo Bones 

For all its armored veneer of fact-based science and technology that made all of it a technical possibility, it seems that from day one and even this day and age, there had been since-established space travel superstitions that had been practiced from the Cold War era on both sides of the Iron Curtain that had been carried on until the present day. But what are these space travel superstitions that had since became de rigueur whenever the U.S. government or any other nation state who can afford to practices before being launched into low-Earth orbit? 

In America, the US government has since bowed down to the “religious pressures” of the Evangelical conservative community. And since they are a significant taxpaying portion of the U.S. citizenry, the practice of jettisoning those so-called “Children's Letters to God” since the start of U.S. manned space flight. Given that the “Christian God” supposedly lives in “Heaven” and “Heaven” is supposedly located up there, the “Letters to God” are probably usually jettisoned somewhere between the Armstrong Line and the Kármán Line whenever a U.S. government owned rocket or the NASA Space Shuttle goes to orbit. 

While in Russia, their “space travel superstitious practices” were probably established back in the days when their first space travel pioneer, Yuri Gagarin, was still in training in lieu to explore what was back then the still largely unknown region of low-Earth orbit. Until this day, male Russian cosmonauts on their way to the launch sites in the Baikonur Cosmodrome “relieve” themselves on the wheels of the bus that transports them to the launch pad. Given that the then Soviet Union was the first to send the first woman to space i.e. Valentina Tereshkova - most of their cosmonauts are still largely men. And since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russian Orthodox blessings have since become de rigueur on every scheduled spaceflight. Well, a Russian Orthodox blessing is deemed as “superstitious” to those Russians still harboring secular humanist viewpoints.