[Video] The Latest Pluto “Flyover” Video

A scientist at NASA has compiled a number of the latest photos received from the New Horizons probe to create a stunning “Aerial Tour” of Pluto. Stuart Robbins, whose research focus is mapping craters on Pluto that were created by objects from the Kuiper Belt impacting the icy world, creates these amazing flyover videos to show the sheer beauty of Pluto by stitching together hundreds of photos and layering them on a virtual sphere to create a 3D effect. Check out this amazing video from the NASA collection on YouTube:

In Robbins’ detailed blog post on the NASA website, he explains how this “mosaic” was stitched together to create an amazingly realistic flyover:

The mosaic used in this animation was carefully constructed by New Horizons science team members with some of the latest images from the spacecraft to provide an incredibly accurate portrayal of Pluto’s surface. The mosaic starts with images of the “heart” of Pluto – informally named Tombaugh Regio – and the immediate surrounding area that are up to 400 m/px. The mosaic then includes other images of the hemisphere New Horizons flew over that are up to 800 m/px and were released last week. The rest of the mosaic that’s shown uses images at up to 2.1 km/px.

There are a lot more details in his post, which you can read on the NASA website.


Source: NASA.gov – “Art Meets Science in New Pluto Aerial Tour

Here’s the Answer to the Most-Asked Question of Women Astronauts

NPR’s Adam Cole had the opportunity to interview 3 woman astronauts about their experiences at the space station. What was the question that got asked most frequently? A very informative article on NPR’s website reveals that overwhelmingly, that question was: “what happens when you get your period in space?” In fact, the question was so loaded with historical baggage, that Mr. Cole didn’t ask it (although he does provide the answer in the end), and instead, the article explores the history of how that question has directly impacted the participation of women in space exploration:

First, a little history. In the early days of space flight, menstruation was part of the argument for why women shouldn’t become astronauts.

Some claimed that menstruation would affect a woman’s ability and blamed several plane crashes on menstruating women. Studies in the 1940s showed this was not the case. Female pilots weren’t impaired by their periods. But the idea wouldn’t die.

In 1964, researchers from the Women in Space Program still suggested (without evidence) that putting “a temperamental psychophysiologic human” (i.e., a hormonal woman) together with a “complicated machine” was a bad idea. (Evidently the Soviets struggled with this, too.)

Others raised concerns about hypothetical health risks.

They feared that microgravity might increase the incidence of “retrograde menstruation.” Blood might flow up the fallopian tubes into the abdomen, causing pain and other health problems. No one actually did any experiments to see if this really would be a problem, so there weren’t any data to support or refute these fears.

The lack of any kind of data to bar women from spaceflight had advocates argue that women should be allowed to participate until there was any proof that there really might be some kind of issue. The article continues:

Advocates for women in space argued that there had been a lot of unknowns when humans first went to space, but they sent men up anyway. Rhea Seddon, one of the first six female astronauts at NASA, recalled during an interview:

“We said, ‘How about we just consider it a non-problem until it becomes a problem? If anybody gets sick in space you can bring us home. Then we’ll deal with it as a problem, but let’s consider it a non-problem.’ “

That makes a lot of sense. After all, how is it really different to send men into space without knowing how microgravity will affect their physiology? The article goes into more detail regarding how the men running the space program in the 60s, 70s, and even the 80s had their biases when it came to sending women to space. In retrospect, those biases seem pretty ridiculous now.

Ok, but you’re probably still wondering what the answer to the question really is, right? Well, it turns out that the answer is pretty boring, as Mr. Cole’s thoughtful article concludes:

So what does happen when you get your period in space?

The same thing that happens on Earth! In the past three decades of female space flight, periods in space have been normal — no menstrual problems in microgravity.

Pretty crazy how simple the answer really is, but it turns out that, just like men, women’s biological functions continue pretty normally in the microgravity of the space station. So, now you know.


Source: NPR.org – “What Happens When You Get Your Period In Space?

Photo Credit: NASA


Incredibly Innovative Hedgehog Robot Designed for Exploring Comets and Astroids

An innovative new robot is being tested for exploring microgravity environments like those that exist on comets and asteroids. I found this informative article over on space.com that goes into detail:

This summer, researchers tested two “hedgehog” robot prototypes, to get an idea of the machines’ potential to explore space locations inaccessible to conventional rovers.

Wheeled robots like the car-size Mars rover Curiosity work well on planetary surfaces, but in the low-gravity environment of a comet or an asteroid, such machines would be in danger of floating away or snagging on the rough terrain, NASA officials said.

That’s where the Hedgehog comes in. This spiked cube moves around using spinning and braking internal flywheels. The spikes keep the robot attached to the ground and protect its more delicate body from the terrain.

“Hedgehog is a different kind of robot that would hop and tumble on the surface instead of rolling on wheels,” Issa Nesnas, Hedgehog team leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said in a statement.

“It is shaped like a cube and can operate no matter which side it lands on,” Nesnas added. “The spikes could also house instruments such as thermal probes to take the temperature of the surface as the robot tumbles.”

Testing over the summer in simulated microgravity conditions that can be created on board a NASA C-9 aircraft for a few seconds at time. The tests proved out the concept and now researchers will use the data they gathered to improve this new robotic design.

This short video over on space.com explores the concepts behind the Hedgehog and shows some of the tests that that were done over the summer. More details are in the full article.


Source: Space.com – “Hopping ‘Hedgehog’ Robot Could Explore Comets and Asteroids (Video)

Image Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/Stanford

What’s a Ride Into Space Without a Nice Triple Malt?

You just plunked down a huge pile of cash to be a space tourist, so you might expect some special treatment, no?  Don’t worry, Ballantine’s, who makes blended Scotch whiskey, has got your back, according to a fascinating article on DiscoverMagazine.com:

… pouring a nicely aged whiskey is basically impossible without gravity there to lend a hand. Fortunately Ballantine’s, a maker of blended Scotch whiskey, has a solution: On Friday the company unveiled its Space Glass, which is the first vessel engineered specifically to deliver a distilled beverage to your lips while enjoying the weightlessness of space.

The specially-designed Space Glass, which has been designed by some seriously creative space enthusiasts over the Open Space Agency, uses capillary action, originally described by Leonardo DaVinci, to deliver the whiskey to the connoisseur’s lips for their enjoyment. Capillary action is how plants make water travel from their roots to their leaves and flowers.

How does the whole experience of pouring and serving whiskey in a Ballentine’s Space Glass work? Check the next page for that info…


Is Pluto a Nitrogen Generator?

Interesting new data from the New Horizons spacecraft indicate that Pluto may be generating nitrogen from geologic activity.  An in-depth article over on Science Daily explains the nitrogen paradox that they’ve discovered on Pluto:

The latest data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft reveal diverse features on Pluto’s surface and an atmosphere dominated by nitrogen gas. However, Pluto’s small mass allows hundreds of tons of atmospheric nitrogen to escape into space each hour.

So where does all this nitrogen come from? Dr. Kelsi Singer, a postdoctoral researcher at Southwest Research Institute, and her mentor Dr. Alan Stern, SwRI associate vice president and the science lead for the New Horizons mission, outlined likely sources in a paper titled, “On the Provenance of Pluto’s Nitrogen.” The Astrophysical Journal Letters accepted the paper for publication on July 15, just a day after the spacecraft’s closest encounter with the icy dwarf planet (ApJ, 808, L50).

“More nitrogen has to come from somewhere to resupply both the nitrogen ice that is moving around Pluto’s surface in seasonal cycles, and the nitrogen that is escaping off the top of the atmosphere as the result of heating by ultraviolet light from the Sun,” said Singer. They looked at a number of different ways that nitrogen might be resupplied.

And it’s kind of amazing what kinds of sources they considered. On the next page, we explain….


Six Incredible SciFi Space Technologies That Are Becoming Real!

I found an article on Geekwire.com that just rearranged my mind… I read so many SciFi books when I was younger that talked about these “fantastic” space travel concepts like solar sails, ion drives, and fusion engines. Like most people would, I figured that they were more on the fiction side of it than the science side.  Turns out that I was very wrong about that!  The article details six technologies that come straight out of those old SciFi books but are actually being researched and created today… Amazing!

Check this out from the Geekwire article:

Artist’s conception of a spacecraft propelled by a Magbeam station. (Credit: UW Advanced Propulsion Lab)

Ion drives: These are the engines that provide the “impulse power” for starships on “Star Trek,” but the technology is science fact, not fiction. The current generation of solar-powered ion thrusters provide only enough push as a piece of paper weighing down on your hand — but they figure prominently in NASA’s Dawn mission to Ceres and Vesta and the future mission to a near-Earth asteroid. Aerojet Rocketdyne’s Redmond office plays a key role in electric propulsion development.

See the next page for another mind-blower…