Search results for: microgravity

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Can Astronaut Waste Be Turned Into Fuel?

space toiletOne of my favorite aspects of Mary Roach’s book Packing for Mars is her hilarious but thorough examination of what happens to astronauts’ bodily functions in space. Given how much these rely on gravity, microgravity is a challenge in many ways, including using the bathroom. I certainly never thought about the advantages of a toilet with a vacuum system before reading the book. But all those messy details may soon amount to more than just a funny story. NASA commissioned researchers at the University of Florida to see how human waste could be useful, and the results indicate that we may be able to make rocket fuel out of astronaut poop.

Just yesterday I was watching a nature documentary that featured small communities living in India just south of the Himalayas. They burn goat and buffalo poop, which establishes the dual purpose of maintaining a degree of cleanliness while also providing cooking and heating energy–though they’re not trying to get rockets off the ground.

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Space Travel May Mess With Your Fertility, Here’s How

ShatnerAstronauts have the job with the highest highs and the lowest lows. They’re hailed as heroes, they get to look upon Earth, that pale blue dot, see the sun “rise” or “set” every 45 minutes, and bounce around in zero gravity. But, as we saw in Gravity, pretty much anything and everything they do is dangerous enough to kill them. Even if a mission is entirely successful, their bodies suffer simply from being in space—their immune systems become weaker, their bone density decreases, their muscles begin to atrophy, and their cells age more quickly, primarily due to lack of gravity. Scientists are beginning to study effects of radiation exposure as well, using twins, but suffice it to say, that probably doesn’t help astronauts either. Now NASA is afraid that being in space may reduce an astronaut’s fertility, and has even begun offering to freeze astronauts’ sperm and eggs before they head into the cosmos.

Russia sent up some geckos to see how microgravity affects their sexual activity, but alas, they died before they could have any fun. But the fruit flies made it (and had sex), and there are mice on the ISS right now, so scientists should be able to conduct more in-depth studies on the effects of microgravity, as well as radiation, on both male and female reproductive organs. But scientists are worried that the results might pose a major problem for future Mars colonies.

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Book Review: Packing For Mars Explores Your Bodily Functions In Space

PFMcoverWhen I read Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars two thoughts kept coming up: one, that I so wish I’d written the book, and two, that going to space is a royal pain in the ass. I’m amazed anyone has ever wanted to or, in fact, done it. Going to the bathroom alone—a topic Roach delights in investigating in spite of, or perhaps because of, the associated awkwardness—is a major feat in zero gravity. Her book answers all of the practical and embarrassing questions you could ever think to ask about space. Best of all, she gets those answers through correspondence with astronauts and visits to various NASA outposts around the country, as well as a visit to JAXA headquarters.

If you don’t know Roach’s work, do yourself a favor and read one of her books. You’ve got plenty to choose from beyond Packing for Mars. I first found out about her when her first book, Stiff, which examines “the curious lives of human cadavers” made an appearance on Six Feet Under. Her next book, Spook, is all about ghosts and the afterlife. There’s Bonk, which is all about the science of sex and features crazy studies about things such as pig orgasms (and is my favorite of all her books so far), and Gulp, which explores eating and digestion.

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SpaceX To Bring Zero-G 3D Printer To The ISS

zerogprinterSpaceX will be bringing the first 3D printer to space on Friday, delivering it to the ISS. Once it’s up and running, astronauts will be able to print new parts for the station and for repairs, rather than wasting precious space storing spares or having to wait for a supply run.

Private companies such as SpaceX and Orbital Science make cargo delivery runs to the ISS every few months, but every inch of cargo space is valuable. If there’s room, then the additional cost is difficult to calculate and depends on the size and mass of the parts being delivered. Generally, though, it costs anywhere from $3,000-$13,000 per kilogram to send objects into low Earth orbit (depending on the rocket and its manufacturer). So the only question regarding having a 3D printer on the ISS is, what took them so long?

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Space Whisky Is About To Become A Tasty Alcoholic Reality

ardbegAs I’ve gotten older, I’ve transitioned away from clear alcohol and towards the more rust-colored varieties. No more nasty vodka (an incident in high school took care of that), and times have to be tough for me to turn to gin. These days, I’m all about whisky, bourbon, and rye. Does this mean I’m finally growing up, or does this mean I’m in a state of alcoholic regression? I don’t know and don’t really care, because I like the booze I like. And because as far as I know, whisky is the only hard alcohol to have taken a ride in space.

Sure, there’s a beer made from moon dust (which I hear isn’t quite as tasty as star dust), a Chilean wine made from an ancient meteorite, and there’s currently a brewery onboard the ISS (you didn’t think Chris Hadfield was sober when he made all those videos, did you?). And yes, there’s enough pure alcohol in space to get everyone on either drunk every day for billions of years. Still, it’s pretty awesome that in four days, ingredients that have been coalescing in space will return as whisky. At least, that’s what Scottish distillery Ardbeg hopes.

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Russian Geckos Die Before They Can Have Sex In Space

gecko spaceOn July 19, Russia’s Institute of Medico-Biological Problems launched the Foton-M4, a research satellite that contained geckos, fruit flies, mushrooms, and bacteria. They wanted to see what the effects of microgravity would have on these species, particularly on their sexual behavior. No one really knows how reproduction works—or if it works—in space, so before we send people up there, it makes sense for other animals to give it a whirl first. Five days later, the Foton-M4 stopped responding to commands, prompting concern for the geckos, whose equipment was working in automatic mode.

The craft never reached its intended orbit. Communication was reestablished roughly a week later, and program officials were confident that the geckos would be okay. Unfortunately, that appears not to be the case. The satellitereentered Earth’s atmosphere this weekend—a few weeks ahead of the planned return—and when scientists opened the gecko capsule, they were all dead. And what’s even sadder, they never even got to have sex in space.

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