Saturday, August 25, 2012

Rest in Peace Neil Armstrong

Neil A Armstrong (1930 - 2012)
The world has lost a great man tonight and I am saddened by the loss of a personal hero. He was not only a great pilot and unforgettable astronaut, but a man of integrity who, when he found he could no longer do the job asked of him, left with integrity and grace in the pursuit of personal fulfilment and happiness after many years of honourable service to his country and to his planet.

Neil Alden Armstrong was born on August 5th 1930 in Ohio. He is famous for being the first man to walk on the surface of the moon and uttering those undying words,
"One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind"
But he was also so much more.

Armstrong started flying when he was just 8 years old and at the age of 15 achieved his pilots licence before he could drive.
"Pilots take no special joy in walking, Pilots like flying"
He joined the United States Navy and served as a pilot in the Korean War and was awarded the Gold Star, the air medal, the Korean service medal and engagement star.

After leaving the Navy he returned to college where he received a bachelors degree in Aeronautical engineering and met his first wife Janet. He then became a test pilot for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) the predecessor to NASA. His test flights while at Edwards Air Force base go down in test history folklore.

In 1958 Armstrong was selected for the Man in Space Soonest program run by the U.S Air force and in 1960 was part of a selected group to consult on a military space plane project. on March 15th 1962 he was named as one of six pilot engineers who would fly the space plane on completion.

It was his friend Dick Day, who slipped Armstrong's Astronaut application form into the pile at NASA after he handed it in late, that got him into the astronaut program which he joined on September 13th 1962. He was one of two civilian astronauts selected for the program.

Three years later Neil Armstrong was announced as the Command Pilot for Gemini 8 it was to be the first ever docking between two spacecraft which was successfully completed after 6.5 orbits. Gemini 8, however, came into some trouble when the Orbital Altitude and Maneuvering System failed and the mission had to be aborted.

As a Gemini veteran it was no surprise to Armstrong when the Apollo lunar mission astronauts were announced. Armstrong started as the back-up crew for Apollo 9, however, complications and the standard crew rotation system meant that Armstrong would command Apollo 11 which he was offered on December 23rd 1968.

Apollo 11 launched on July 16th 1969 from the Kenedy Space Center in Florida and along with Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins he made his way towards the moon.
"I think we're going to the moon because it's in the nature of the human being to face challenges. It's by the nature of his deep inner soul... we're required to do these things just as salmon swim upstream."
During the landing sequence Armstrong noticed they were heading towards unsafe terrain and took over manual control of the Landing Module. In an effort to find a safer landing site thefuel level became a worry and with just 40 seconds of fule left the Eagle landed on the Lunar surface at 20:17 UTC on July 20th 1969.

Neil Armstrongs footprint forever on the Moon
Not wanting to wait in the LM Armstrong and Aldrin informed command that they would be taking the space walk earlier than scheduled. Armstrong set his boot on the surface of the moon at 02:56 UTC on July 21st 1969 and the famous words echoed across the globe.

After the return to Earth the Apollo 11 team were paraded around the world as part of a 45 day "giant Leap" tour which took its toll on Armstrong who did not particularly enjoy the limelight.

After Apollo 11 Neil Armstrong did not fly in space again and moved around different administrative positions at NASA until he quit in 1971.

Armstrong went back to University where he accepted a teaching position in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati where he worked until 1979.

Armstrong kept a private life away from the press and refused requests for autographs. He has, however, been a part of each reunion of the crew every 5 years and remained a strong adviocate of manned missions stating that he would happily take command of a manned mission to Mars in the future.

Sadly this will not be the case, however, he ramains an inspiration to the young and the old. Although I was not alive in 1969 to see the moon landing each time I see those picture and hear the words spoken from the surface a great sence of pride at our reach towards the stars and our quest for exploration is reinforced. The Apollo program is and will be an inspiration for generations it is the example of science and exploration uniting the world and the reluctant and humble hero will always be remembered.

At the age of 82, due to complications from heart surgery earlier this year, Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, died. August 25th 2012. 

His family have a simple request: look at the Moon, think of him, and give him a wink
"The important achievement of Apollo was demonstrating that humanity is not forever chained to this planet and our visions go rather further than that and our opportunities are unlimited." Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

The International Space Station: What, When, and Why?

The International Space Station

The International Space Station (ISS) is our very own flying city and a truly international scientific and technological collaboration. It orbits the Earth once every 90 minutes meaning that in one day it will see 16 sunrises and sunsets. Its orbit is offset at 51.6° to the equator meaning that it covers over 90% of the Earths populated area. The ISS can be easily seen in the night sky and it is always fascinating to look up and see it passing overhead as you only have to look up and think “there are people living on that right now.” You can track where the ISS is using NASA’s ISS tracker (here).

WHAT is it?

The ISS is a habitable satellite in low earth orbit (370 – 460 km up) and it is the largest of its kind surpassing that of its predecessor MIR in both size and duration of habitability. It has been continuously inhabited since 2000 by crews of three to six people form 15 different countries. The ISS is a collaboration of five different space agencies; NASA (USA), CSA (Canada), RFSA (Russia), JAXA (Japan, and ESA (European), with the European Space Agency funding coming from 11 European countries; UK, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Belgium. 

The ISS is a modular satellite constructed out of over 100 individual parts that fall into four different categories, canisters and spheres, triangles and beams, solar panels and radiators, and cranes and robotic arms. 

Tracy Caldwell Dyson in Cupola looking down at Earth
Canisters and spheres are the larger modules that are used as working and living quarters. There are 14 different pressurised modules on the ISS one of which is Cupola, a seven window observatory used to view the Earth and docking spacecraft.  Imagine the design of turret on the Millennium Falcon and you will get a good idea as to what it looks like. 

Triangles and beams are used, much like on Earth, as structural components of the space station. A long beam, the integrated truss structure (ITS), forms the backbone of the station which is made up of lots of triangles like that seen on large bridges. The ITS is 108.5 m long and forms the mount for the solar panels and radiators.

The ISS has eight large solar panel arrays each 73m long (2247 m2) that collect sunlight for electrical power. Each array has two blankets of solar sails that are mounted on telescopic masts which are able to extend and retract as well as fold. They are also mounted on a gimbal which allows them to rotate to face the Sun so that the maximum amount of energy can be generated. In the sunlight the ISS can be exposed to temperatures of over 200°c this combined with the heat all of the instruments on board means that there also needs to be a system in place to keep the station cool. This is done using large radiator panels along the outside of the stations main structure and along the ITS. 

Last, but certainly not least, the cranes and robotic arms. The main robotic are on the ISS is Canadarm 2 whose counterpart, Canadarm 1, is on the Space Shuttle (now retired).  Canadarm 2 is used for station docking as well as module manipulation during the assembly of the ISS. There are also two Russian cargo cranes which are used during EVA’s to move the crew around outside the station.

WHEN was it made?

The first section of the ISS was launched into orbit on November 20th 1998 perched on the nose of a Russian Proton rocket. It was a pressurised functional cargo bay called Zarya, which is Russian for sunrise. It was not until November 2nd 2000, that the first ISS crew docked with the station where they lived and worked for 136 days. Expedition 1 crew was commanded by Bill Shepherd (NASA) with two Russian cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko (Soyuz commander) and Sergei Krikalev (Flight engineer). Shepherd kept a log of the “shake down” crew’s time on board the ISS and they can be found here

The ISS has now been inhabited for a total of 4314 days (25/8/12) out of its 5027 day life time. The current crew on-board is Expedition 32 which is a 6 member crew who docked with the station on July 17th and will remain on-board until the Expedition 33 crew relieve them in November later this year.   

The flags of all nations associated with the ISS
Since the launch of the first module there have been 125 launches to the ISS (as of July 2012); 81 Russian vehicles, 37 space shuttles, three European and three Japanese vehicles, and one US commercial vehicle. The first commercial vehicle to dock with the ISS was launched on May 22nd 2012, by the private U.S. company SpaceX their module, The Dragon, is hoped to have been the first in a number of commercial supply runs to the ISS with commercial space ventures playing a vital role in future missions since the decommissioning of the Space Shuttle last year. 

The ISS is now complete and is set to serve out its mission lifetime until 2020 with some hope that the mission will be further extended until 2025-28 when it will be de-orbited. 

WHY is it there?


Cosmonaut Valery Tokarev with PK-3 plus experiment on the ISS
Microgravity has many benefits for experiments and research that can only be conducted on the ISS due to the stable long term environment. For example in microgravity atoms and molecules act differently allowing them to form near-perfect crystals. These near perfect crystals can be used to create better superconductors, which are used in MRI machines as well as many other technologies. Near-perfect crystals can also be used in pharmaceuticals to create better more efficient drugs to fight disease.

Another effect of microgravity can be seen in combustion due to the affect it has on air turbulence. In microgravity conditions cleaner and more effective combustion techniques can be found which may help in reducing pollutants on Earth and increasing the output of power that we get.7

Each day of an astronauts time on the ISS is planned in advance (sometimes by years) and mostly by anyone other than the astronauts. NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus recorded a journal whilst part of the expedition 18 crew describing a typical day on the ISS that is scheduled down to when they can sleep and eat their meals as well as perform their scientific duties (Sandra Magnus’ Journal).

Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk and his Willow saplings on the ISS
In her journal Sandra describes her regular exercise routine; this is a very important part of an astronaut’s day as prolonged exposure to a weightless environment can have serious effects on the human body. The astronauts themselves are part of an experiment to understand the aging process as the weightless environment causes a reduction in bone density similar to that caused by aging. The exercise helps them retain muscle mass and reduce the effects that microgravity have on their bones.

You can go on a tour of the ISS with NASA astronaut Mike Fincke where he explains the use of the different modules and shows you the ins and outs of life on the Space station.

Part IV


There are a number of fantastic sites about the International Space Station that are full of information if you want to find out more. 

NASA Mission page The International space station -

How Stuff Works takes you through the functions of the ISS -

ESA’s building the ISS takes you through a picture time line of the stations construction -