Captain Kirk Hails the ISS

ISSIn a move that was sure to give Trekies a collective fangasm, William Shatner made contact with the International Space Station this week. This past Thursday, thanks to the marvels of 21st century communications technology, the man who portrayed Captain Kirk was able to speak to Chris Hadfield, an astronaut on board the International Space Station.

Captain-KirkThe conversation began when Shatner – ahem! – opened hailing frequencies and contacted the ISS. Hadfield replied and, using some Star Trek sound effects as background, the two had a live, streaming video conversation. The entire conversation was recorded and uploaded to Youtube for the benefit of fans and amateur astronomers everywhere.

Needless to say, when science fiction and reality collide like this, it is an epic day in nerdom! Check out the video below…


The Moon: The Next Hot Vacation Destination?

apollo17Back in 2006, a series of millionaires shelled out a hefty 20 million dollars for a round trip to the International Space Station. At the time, this was considered quite the privilege, seeing as how civilian personnel almost never get to go into space or spend time on the ISS. But as it turns out, this story may be on its way to becoming small potatoes, thanks in part to a new company that has announced plans to mount commercial voyages to the moon by 2020.

Apollo_11_bootprintThe company is called Golden Spike, a company made up largely of former astronauts and personnel who want to use existing and future technology to make private Lunar trips possible. Its current chairman is Gerry Griffin, Apollo flight director and former director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The president and CEO is planetary scientist Alan Stern, former head of all NASA science missions.

Given the cost, Golden Spike is mainly focused on offering its services to governments at the moment, much like how Russia has offering its services to governments looking to get to the ISS in the past few years. In that case and this one, these would be nations that would like to participate in space and planetary exploration but can’t afford a program of their own. But of course, should there be private citizens who want to book a ride and can afford it, they are not likely to be turned away!

Alpha Moon Base at
Alpha Moon Base at

Granted, at one time, science fiction writers were predicting that humanity would have bases on the moon by the early 21st century. But those predictions were largely abandoned thanks to the scrapping of the Apollo program and the fact that the ISS was Earth’s only orbiting space station by the turn of the century. And of course, the only way to get there cost private citizens 20 million bucks!

But this announcement, which comes on the heels of several encouraging developments, may have reignited these hopes. First, there was Reaction Engines Ltd’s announcement of the concept for the Skylon hypersonic engine , followed shortly thereafter by Virgin Galactic’s successful deployment of SpaceShipTwo. Given the pace at which aerospace is evolving and progressing, commercial flight to the moon may be coming, though a little later than previously expected.

However, making it affordable remains a daunting task. As it stands, Golden Spike’s own estimates place the cost of a single trip to the Moon at roughly 1.5 billion dollars. Naturally, the company has also indicated that they intend to make the process more affordable so all people can make the trip. No telling how this will be achieved, but if history is any indication, time has a way of making technology cheaper and more commercially viable.

apollo14So… vacation on the moon anyone? Hell, I can envision an entire line of spas, time shares and getaways on the Lunar surface in the not-too-distant future. Sure, it may not be the Mediterranean or the Mayan Riviera, but I can think of plenty of fun activities for people to do, and the novelty factor alone ought to sell tickets. Rover tours, visits to the Apollo landing sites, low-g sports and anti-aging therapies. Oh, and if Alan Shepard and the Apollo 14 mission are any indication, you can even play golf there!

Check out this video of Golden Spike’s proposed tours to the Moon, or learn more about the company by visiting their website.


Three-Man Soyuz Crew Headed for ISS

I just came across this news story on, of how a Russian Soyuz rocket departed Earth to deposit a team of two rookies and one veteran cosmonaut on the International Space Station. Hmm, a three man crew is heading for the ISS aboard a Russian-built Soyuz rocket? That sound familiar to you? Provided you’re a fan of Big Bang Theory, it damn well ought to seeing as how this is exactly how the last season ended.

In any case, this mission has a somewhat unusual profile: to test the effect of zero-g on aquariums and aquatic life forms contained therein. I kind you not. The Soyuz craft, which lifted off at 4:51 p.m. (local time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, was carrying with it a tank with 32 medaka fish that were bound for a zero-gravity research aquarium aboard the ISS’s lab complex.

At the same time, the crew will be shuttling supplies to the station and conducting routine maintenance on the station’s spacewalk while they are aboard. This will consist of fixing a leak in the coolant system of the station’s far left-side solar array, which is responsible for dissipating heat within the station. The mission is expected to last a total of 143 days, with the three man crew returning to Earth in March 2013. Personally, I can’t imagine being in space, or anywhere, for that long! I hope they packed plenty of digital devices, and at least have an internet hookup up there 😉


A robot and an astronaut shake hands… That might sound like the set up for a really cheesy joke, but in fact, it was a moment in history. Back in February of this year, a first occurred when Daniel Burbank. the commander of the International Space Station, shook hands with the first ever Robonaut. Controlled by ground crews, and currently lacking in full-body motion – they aint got no legs! – this does represent a big step forward in robotics.

As things stand, it is not yet clear if this represents a plan to “unman” space, or just supplement astronauts with humanoid machines that are capable of performing rote tasks and the more labor intensive aspects of space travel. But given the fact that space travel still requires adaptation and flexibility as much as calculations and precision, and that no amount of remote control can equal the thrill of actually being there, I’m thinking human astronauts are going to be around for a long time.

Check out this video of the Robonaut and Burbank making their historic handshake!


The Martian Menu

A recent article on CBC tells us something interesting about the Red Planet. It seems that the good folks at NASA’s Advanced Food Technology Project are planning a menu that astronauts will be taking with them to Mars. It’s all part of a planned mission that will be taking place in 2030, involving six to eight astronauts with an expected duration of six months.

This is no easy feat, but it’s further complicated by the fact that once there, the astronauts will not be able to be resupplied at regular intervals. Yes, unlike the ISS, they can’t just send shuttled loaded with freeze dried food. Luckily, NASA knows that Mars low gravity means that once there, astronauts will be able to prepare their own food. Things things like chopping vegetables and boiling water with a pressure cooker are possible there, unlike in a zero-g environment.

So in addition to planning a travel menu, NASA is planning on equipping the mission with the means to create a “Martian greenhouse” upon their arrival. This would include a variety of fruits and vegetables — from carrots to bell peppers — kept in a hydroponic solution, meaning they would be planted in mineral-laced water instead of soil. The astronauts would care for their garden and then use those ingredients, combined with others, such as nuts and spices brought from Earth, to prepare their meals.

Not bad. And an improvement over a space menu for one simple reason. Zero-g has an effect on taste and smell. Yes, zero gravity seems to impair these things, making food taste bland. So a spicy red pepper sauce and a chili and oil sauce, when eaten in space, are pretty much paste. Not cool…

This research is an important step in ushering in the age of colonization. Much like the recent surveys which discovered of water on the moon, and tested its gravity and for minerals, it’s the sort of nuts and bolts planning that will one day go into real mission planning. First the Moon, then Mars, then Ganymede, Europa, Ceres, Titan and Oberon. All bodies with gravity that could be settled in the not-too-distant future, and that’s just within our solar system! Given the time, resources and technology, the universe really is the limit!


SpaceX Dragon’s Launch a success!

I am indebted to my good friend Fraser over at Universe Today for another cool story. Lord knows this is not exactly breaking news, but as of two days ago (May 22nd) at 3:44am, the long awaited launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 shuttle and its Dragon module finally happened! After aborting the launch three days prior, the Falcon 9 left Cape Canaveral in Florida during the wee hours of the morning and achieved orbit by daybreak. Once there, the Dragon module deployed its solar arrays and began the game of cat and mouse with the International Space Station, its intended rendezvous point.

NASA anticipates that Dragon will make contact with the ISS by tomorrow morning, Eastern Daylight Time. This will consist of the ISS’s Robotic Arm (courtesy of Canadian aerospace engineers) grappling with the Dragon and guiding it to its birth on the Harmony module. This is an historic mission since it is the first time a private spacecraft has has ever docked with the ISS. Remember the bit in Fight Club where Edward Norton said that “when space exploration begins, it will be the corporations that name everything”? Well this could be it.

In the meantime, check out the video of the launch and the awesome footage and still pics taken by the Dragon spacecraft:


spacex falcon 9 launching from cape canaveral
dragon module’s picture of earth