NASA Gets Record Numbers for Astronaut Training

Last Thursday ended the application process for those looking to be a part of NASA’s 2017 class. The process started on December 14th and after two months of accepting applications, NASA received 18,300 applicants. This number shattered the 2012 application pool record of 6,300. Unfortunately for the record breaking number of applicants, NASA will only be able to accept 14 or fewer applicants.

NASA’s astronaut-selection board will have their work cut out for them over next 18 months, as they will review applications and narrow them down. The best applicants will be interviewed in Houston, at Johnson’s Space Center. After interviews with the cream of the crop, NASA will select a final set of eight to fourteen astronauts to begin training.

The training process, according to a NASA official, will include “training on spacecraft systems, spacewalking skills and teamwork, Russian language and other requisite skills.” Those who make it through the intense training process will be receiving different assignments, which include the International Space Station, NASA’s Orion spacecraft, the Boeing CST-100 Starliner or the SpaceX Crew Dragon. These are all incredible opportunities that each person who applied would be honored to apart of. The goal for NASA’s Orion spacecraft is to hopefully launch in the early 2020’s. This specific assignment will be able to sustain a crew of four astronauts for three weeks. Both the Starliner and Crew Dragon are in development aided by NASA’s commercial crew program to bring four astronauts to the space station at a time.

Brian Kelly, the director of Flight Operations at Johnson Space Center had a few words to say about this record breaking application number: “it’s heartening to know so many people recognize what a great opportunity this is to be part of NASA’s exciting mission. I look forward to meeting the men and women talented enough to rise to the top of what is always a pool of incredible applicants.”  In the end, this will be an exciting but difficult time for NASA as they will be deciding what the future will entail for the NASA space program.

Remembering the Space Shuttle Challenger

Today, marks 30 years since the devastating explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger that took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The shuttle exploded exactly 73 seconds after takeoff, killing all seven on board. It was one of the most tragic accidents in our nation’s history and it marked the first time that a tragedy like this was broadcasted on live television.  Millions of people all over the world,  tuned in to watch what was supposed to be a remarkable achievement performed by these astronauts turn into horrific nightmare in a matter of seconds. There was also a lot of buzz generated about this launch because of one the crew members on board, Christa McAuliffe. Christa was a teacher and first regular citizen to have the opportunity fly into space. This was a dream of her’s that was cut too short.

Once this accident occurred everyone wondered why and how this  horrific incident occurred. President Ronald Regan wanted to get to the bottom of it and after forming the Rogers Commission and working with physicist Richard Feynman they found out what really happened on that cold January day. According to Feynman the reason was because the  O-ring seal in the right solid rocket booster failed, which let pressurized burning gas escape and breach the external fuel tank, and led to the breakup of the spacecraft.   NASA had no way of finding out that the O-ring wouldn’t survive a launch in frigid temperatures. However, there were two engineers, Roger Boisjoly and Bob Ebeling that tried and failed to get NASA to postpone the launch.  Ten years after the explosion, CBS had an interview with these two men on the 60 minute broadcast. In a interview, Ebeling said that the night before the launch he tried to stop NASA from launching the Challenger. Both Ebeling and Boisjoly believed that the O-rings could be effected in the cold weather and sadly they were right.

After the challenger took off, Bob whispered in Roger’s ear saying  “We dodge a bullet” thinking everything  would be fine but seconds later everything changed. This will always be a day of remembrance for the innocent people who lost their lives on that tragic day.

British Astronaut Tim Peake Begins Six Month Residence Aboard the ISS

As of December 15, British astronaut Tim Peake began his stay aboard the International Station. On December 15, he blasted off from Kazakhstan on the Soyuz rocket to begin his six month residence on the International Space Station.

According to the British Interplanetary Society, Peake is the seventh UK-born individual to go into space. The first was former chemist Helen Sharman, who participated in the Soviet scientific space mission Juno in 1991. Nonetheless, Peake is making history as the first official UK astronaut. Past British-born astronauts acquired U.S. citizenship, had dual citizenship, or they were space tourists.

American astronaut Tim Kopra and Russian astronaut Yuri Malenchenko joined the International Space Station (ISS) alongside Peake. The three men arrived to the space platform six hours after departing from Kazakhstan, and the astronauts occupying the Soyuz space capsule were greeted by the existing resident ISS astronauts.

The ISS indicated the launched “beautiful” and there were no reported problems at blast off. However, there had been complications earlier with the automatic docking procedure prior to Peake’s arrival, which resulted in a need for the spacecraft to be steered by the Russian commander in order to dock it.

According to BBC’s science editor Paul Rincon, it’s rare for the ISS crew to manually dock the spacecraft because it’s easily regarded as one of the most difficult stages of the journey. However, the skill need to correctly manually dock the spacecraft is exactly Peake and fellow crew were brought aboard, in order to correct a range of other potential failures.

It takes approximately four orbits of the earth and six hours to reach the ISS, which will be home to the crew members for the next few months. Already aboard the craft was NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov, who are approaching the ninth month of the their one-year ISS mission.

Peake, who is a European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut with a background as a test pilot and a British Army Air Corps officer, will conduct scientific experiments while living on the ISS. He will also design educational projects, fashioned to attract young people’s interest in science. Peake has been flying since 1994 after completing the army pilots’ course. He became a qualified flight instructor in 1998 and joined the European Space Agency in 2009 after being selected as an astronaut. He’s spent about six years training to become the first professional British ESA-employed astronaut in space.

Peake is temporarily leaving behind his earth-bound wife, Rebecca, who watched the launch from below. Also, his mother, Angela, watched the docking live from a cinema near the launch site. He’s set to return June 5, 2016.

 

Inside the Webb World

Alexander LakhanpalSome exciting news has emerged from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center based in Greenbelt, Maryland. There, NASA engineers oversaw 2 deployments of the James Webb Space Telescope’s wings. Properly functioning sides of the structure are critical to the overall viability of the telescope because they compose the framework  that will house its mirrors.

Each deployment can last sixteen hours or more to complete, and the process requires multiple teams and very specific communication.

Once the James Webb Space telescope if assembled in full, the completed structure will be larger than any existing rocket that would have the capacity to launch it into space. Knowing this limitation, the engineering team behind the telescope came imagined, designed and created a telescope with the ability to fold up (similar to an origami piece) and fit inside a rocket.

After the rocket launches, Webb will continue on to its destination located roughly 1 million miles away.

To see more about these developments about the James Webb Space Telescope, see the video below or find them on Twitter.

 

Are Students Prepared for a Career in Computers?

AlexanderLakhanpalLeave it to Google to discover that American schools are not preparing young students for their future – a future in which many of them will be looking for jobs in a computer-related field.

Wired magazine ran a disheartening piece that looked at the seeming lack of awareness schools have regarding the modern job landscape. Schools in the US have apparently decided that there just isn’t the demand for computer science. This despite Gallup polls showing the opposite, that parents want their kids to learn to code, to program, starting at a young age. In a poll organized by Google, less than 50% of school leaders reported that their school boards want computer science education. How could this be true??

Start Them Early

Early exposure is critical in beginning to develop skills that will translate into careers. Students who took computer classes were more inclined to be interested in computer science in college. This is something we should be aiming for – jobs in computing are growing at double the rate of other jobs. In five years, there will be one million NEW computer science jobs created. Will American graduates have the skills to fill them all?

What’s Stopping Us?

It seems that in-fighting and bickering is getting in the way from what the data is telling us – that putting young students on a path of computer education is critical for their careers. That Americans want coding in the classroom.

If school administrators are right, and there isn’t enough money to support these programs – give them more! If teachers and students alike don’t have time because of all the standardized testing that has to be prepped – change the way that works! And if there aren’t enough qualified teachers to administer the curriculum, then jumpstarting a computer education initiative is more imperative than the article even lets on.

Google’s RISE Grants Seek to Change These Stats

Say what you will about Google, but the work they’re doing here is hugely beneficial to the country. Their RISE program gives awards in the forms of grants to groups that promote computer science literacy around the world, with a strong focus on women the poor, and minorities. With only half of principals reporting that their schools offer computer science classes at all, this is obviously a needed program.

According to program manager Hai Hong of Google’s K-12 education outreach,“If we’re trying to address existing disparities and access, we need the rigorous research to understand what the landscape of computer science even looks like.”

Pluto’s Closeup


 

Earlier this month, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made headlines. July 14th marked the first time that a spacecraft successfully explored the dwarf planet Pluto up close.

After hurtling through our solar system for over a decade at a speed of over 30,000 miles per hour, New Horizons finally reached its closest approach to Pluto, approximately 7,750 miles from the surface on July 14th. This was the first-ever space mission that successfully explored a world so distant from Earth.

New Horizons gathered data as it approached the planet, but by Wednesday, the information made its way back to Earthbound scientists and the rest of the world.

According to Jeff Moore of New Horizons’ Geology, GGI Team,

“The mountains likely formed no more than 100 million years ago — mere youngsters relative to the 4.56-billion-year age of the solar system — and may still be in the process of building”.

This information means that a small percentage of Pluto’s surface is in fact active to this day! This coupled with the seemingly unblemished nature of the surface of the planet imply that Pluto is fairly young compared to the other systems that we’ve been able to observe within our solar system.

Pluto is not heated through gravitational interactions with a larger planetary body so scientists believe that another process is responsible  for creating Pluto’s mountainous terrain. Presumably the mountains are composed of a water-ice “bedrock.”

Both methane and nitrogen ice cover a large portion of Pluto’s surface, but these materials aren’t durable enough to be responsible for the mountains. It’s more likely that the stronger material of water ice created these mountains.  Because Pluto is so cold, water maintains properties that are more similar to rock than to ice.

Scientists have already gleaned a lot of information from these first images of Pluto, and in 16 months a cache of computer data from New Horizons will make it’s way back to our planet.  It will be exciting to see what we glean from that.

 

A video posted by NASA (@nasa) on

New Defense Against Extraterrestrial Threat

Hollywood films have been preoccupied with the idea of comets and asteroids threatening our very existence for a long time. From blockbusters like Armageddon and Deep Impact to art films like Melancholia, the threat of space debris destroying the earth is a surprisingly common theme.

These kinds of films tend to display very creative interpretations of fact and dramatize this potential threat from space in order to keep viewers interested.

However, it is interesting to note that the US government is beginning to catch up to the plots of these films by announcing an agreement to begin working on planetary defense.

The nation’s agencies that build civilian rockets and nuclear arms revealed on Wednesday  that they will collaborate in order to deflect asteroids and comets that pose a threat to cities or possibly the planet.

For years both NASA and the National Nuclear Security Administration — have researched threats of rocky debris from space independently. Both have assessed the space debris, proposed new designs for rocket interceptors and run computer simulations to test if a nuclear blast could force a massive asteroid onto a different trajectory.

Even so, this new interagency pact will formalize the cooperation between the two. The hope is that the two agencies will now be able to better coordinate governmental planning that would lead to better solutions for deflecting this kind of threat.

Alex LakhanpalIn 2013,  a 7,000-ton meteoroid exploded over a city in Russia which injured approximately 1500 people. This tragedy in Chelyabinsk illustrates the potential risk of cosmic debris.

Scientists who prefer nuclear-free  methods of asteroid interception admit that the atomic method would only be necessary if a huge threat appeared too fast for weaker countermeasures

In public interviews officials refuse to comment on whether or not any arms in the nation’s nuclear arsenal have been set aside for countering extraterrestrial strikes. However, it is acknowledged that there is a discussion surrounding possible nuclear options.

Regardless of the true threat of rock debris crashing into our planet and causing large-scale damage, it is encouraging to see government agencies working together in an effort to combat this kind of potential threat in the future. To learn more, see this article from the New York Times.