Monday, 14 September 2009

Tinkle Tinkle Little Star

Stargazers in the USA have been wondering about a mysterious sparkling light seen overhead last Wednesday. A number of people who follow the Space Shuttle correctly surmised that it was something being dumped overboard.

The messy truth is that it was an unusually large urine dump - about 68kg. Since the installation of the Kibo module on the ISS, the Space Shuttle hasn't been able to dump liquid waste while docked. This means that 10 days worth of waste has to be stored and dumped at once after undocking.

According to astronauts, space ablution is one of the most commonly-requested topics of discussion. I have a display in my own collection entitled "How do you go to the toilet in space?" and it gets more comments than anything else. A friend of mine, upon learning that shooting stars are sometimes human waste, said "You've ruined the romance".

So this one's for you Colin. Just in case your imagination isn't enough, a photo courtesy of spaceweather.com to seal the deal. The lower streak is the Space Shuttle, the comet-like object is 68kg of romance-killing pee.

Urine Dump

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

NASA Budget ≠ NASA Ambitions

It's the worst-kept secret in space: NASA doesn't have enough money to do what it's doing. A much-anticipated report from the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, given to the White House today, begins ominously:

"The US human spaceflight program appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory. [NASA] is perpetuating the perilous practice of pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources."

Where this all ends up is anyone's guess. NASA has already spent nearly $8 billion (of a planned $40 billion) to return to the Moon. The Constellation project seems to be going reasonably well despite strong criticism, but where exactly is it going?

I'm finding my hopes are resting more and more in private space enterprise, where decision-makers are personally accountable and the goalposts aren't shifted every time there's a new administration.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Would you book a one-way ticket to Mars?

As the practical and financial problems associated with NASA's proposed manned Mars mission become ever clearer, one scientist has made an interesting suggestion: Remove the return trip. According to Lawrence M. Krauss of Arizona State University, plenty of astronauts would be willing to live out their remaining years doing work on the red planet.

I concur - I don't think there would be any problem finding volunteers. If it wasn't for the fact that I have a family on Earth who is less enthusiastic about the idea than I am, I'd be a starter myself. What a way to go down in history!

Krauss points out some historical precedents, saying "Colonists and pilgrims seldom set off for the New World with the expectation of a return trip, usually because the places they were leaving were pretty intolerable anyway. Give us a century or two and we may turn the whole planet into a place from which many people might be happy to depart."