Catch up with the world’s satellites

This NOAA satellite image taken Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at 10:45 AM  shows a prominent storm wound up off the the Northeast US with clouds across much of the western Atlantic Basin with heavy snow and strong winds affecting Nova Scotia and coastal New England.  (AP PHOTO/WEATHER UNDERGROUND)

This NOAA satellite image taken Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at 10:45 AM shows a prominent storm wound up off the the Northeast US with clouds across much of the western Atlantic Basin with heavy snow and strong winds affecting Nova Scotia and coastal New England. (AP PHOTO/WEATHER UNDERGROUND)

The use of satellites during the search for a lost jetliner has drawn attention to those orbiting platforms. Here is a snapshot of what’s in orbit, with help from Nicholas Johnson, who retired Thursday as NASA’s chief scientist for orbital debris:

HOW MANY SATELLITES ARE UP THERE?

About 1,100 active satellites, both government and private. Plus there are about 2,600 ones that no longer work. Russia launched the first satellite, Sputnik 1, in 1957. The oldest one still in orbit, which is no longer functioning, was launched in 1958.

HOW BIG ARE THEY?

Size varies. Communication satellites can be as big as a small school bus and weigh up to 6 tons, the Federal Communications Commission says. Most weigh a few tons or less. Some that are used briefly are 4 inch cubes and weigh about 2 pounds.

WHAT EXACTLY DO THEY DO?

They have a wide variety of roles: GPS satellites aid navigation, others relay telephone or television signals, others aid in weather forecasting, national defense, science, and agriculture, as in monitoring crops and areas of drought. The Union of Concerned Scientists, a private organization that maintains a database of satellites, says about 60 percent are used for communications.

WHERE ARE THEY?

It depends on their use. Communications satellites relay signals from a fixed spot on the equator, about 22,000 miles up. GPS satellites are at 12,400 miles, high enough to be accessible to large swaths of the Earth. Others that need a closer look at Earth are lower. For comparison, the International Space Station is only about 260 miles high, and very few satellites are lower than that. While some satellites remain over fixed spots on Earth, others fly over both poles or can move from place to place as needed.

You can see their locations at the NASA satellite tracker: http://1.usa.gov/1dyKhCd

HOW HAVE THEY HELPED IN THE SEARCH?

A British communications satellite picked up signals from the plane; analysis of them led authorities to conclude that the airliner crashed in a remote area of the southern Indian Ocean. This week, Thai authorities said one of their satellites spotted 300 objects that might be from the airliner. Some satellites were moved into place to look for debris.

WHO OWNS THEM?

Governments large and small, and private companies. More than 50 countries own a satellite or a significant share in one, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. There are 502 active satellites with a U.S. tie; 118 for Russia and 116 for China. Thailand has four satellites and shares in another, the scientist group says.

WHAT IF THEY STOP WORKING?

Old satellites can pose a risk for collisions with active ones, so there are rules and recommendations to avoid a buildup of junk in space. Satellites that fly below a certain height are supposed to be put in an orbit that will make them fall to Earth and burn up within 25 years. At high altitudes, they are to be boosted up to still higher orbits to get them out of the way.

Reported by MALCOLM RITTER of the Associated Press

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Mice return from a month in space

A science experiment to gauge animals' reactions to a month in space was recently completed by Russia. Among the creatures sent up were mice, lizards, crayfish and fish. (TwoShortPlanks photo via Flickr.com)

A science experiment to gauge animals’ reactions to a month in space was recently completed by Russia. Among the creatures sent up were mice, lizards, crayfish and fish. (TwoShortPlanks photo via Flickr.com)

A Russian capsule carrying mice, lizards and other small animals returned to Earth on Sunday after spending a month in space for what scientists said was the longest experiment of its kind.

Fewer than half of the 53 mice and other rodents who blasted off on April 19 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome survived the flight, Russian news agencies reported, quoting Vladimir Sychov, deputy director of the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems and the lead researcher.

Sychov said this was to be expected and the surviving mice were sufficient to complete the study, which was designed to show the effects of weightlessness and other factors of space flight on cell structure. All 15 of the lizards survived, he said. The capsule also carried small crayfish and fish.

The capsule’s orbit reached 575 kilometers (345 miles) above Earth, according to the news agencies, which said this was far higher than the orbit of the International Space Station.

Russian state television showed the round Bion-M capsule and some of the surviving mice after it landed slightly off course but safely in a planted field near Orenburg, about 750 miles southeast of Moscow.

“This is the first time that animals have flown in space for so long on their own,” Sychov said in the television broadcast from the landing site. The last research craft to carry animals into space spent 12 days in orbit in 2007.

The mice and other animals were to be flown back to Moscow to undergo a series of tests at Sychov’s institute, which is part of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Reported by The Associated Press from MOSCOW, Russia.
Image by TwoShortPlanks via Flickr.com.

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Space capsule brings astronauts home

Russian cosmonaut Yevgeny Tarelkin, second left, is greeted with flowers upon arrival at an airport in Kostanai, Kazakhstan, Saturday, March 16, 2013, after they return to the earth with NASA's astronaut Kevin Ford, not in the photo, in a Soyuz space capsule. The Soyuz space capsule carrying the three men landed Saturday morning on the steppes of Kazakhstan after 144 days aboard the International Space Station, ISS. (AP Photo/Alexander Nemenov, Pool)

Russian cosmonaut Yevgeny Tarelkin, second left, is greeted with flowers upon arrival at an airport in Kostanai, Kazakhstan, Saturday, March 16, 2013, after they return to the earth with NASA’s astronaut Kevin Ford, not in the photo, in a Soyuz space capsule. The Soyuz space capsule carrying the three men landed Saturday morning on the steppes of Kazakhstan after 144 days aboard the International Space Station, ISS. (AP Photo/Alexander Nemenov, Pool)

A Soyuz space capsule carrying an American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts landed over the weekend on the foggy steppes of Kazakhstan, safely returning the three men to Earth after a 144-day mission to the International Space Station.

NASA’s Kevin Ford and Russians Oleg Novitsky and Yevgeny Tarelkin had been scheduled to return on Friday, but the landing was postponed by a day because of bad weather.

NASA's astronaut Kevin Ford, wearing a Kazakh traditional costume, poses for a photo with Matryoshka wooden doll with his portrait after his return to Earth. (AP Photo/Alexander Nemenov, Pool)

NASA’s astronaut Kevin Ford, wearing a Kazakh traditional costume, poses for a photo with Matryoshka wooden doll with his portrait after his return to Earth. (AP Photo/Alexander Nemenov, Pool)

Live footage on NASA TV showed all three men smiling as they were helped out of the capsule and into reclining chairs to begin their acclimatization to Earth’s gravity after nearly five months in space.

A NASA TV commentator said only two of 12 search and rescue helicopters were allowed to land at the touchdown site because of heavy clouds and fog. So instead of being placed in an inflatable medical tent for checks, the astronauts were taken fairly quickly to one of the helicopters. The temperature at the time was well below freezing.

The crew was then flown to Kostanai, the staging site in Kazakhstan, where they posed for more photographs. Ford put on a traditional felt Kazakh hat and draped a matching coat over his flight suit, while holding up a matryoshka nesting doll of himself —- all souvenirs of the mission that began and ended in the Central Asian country.

The three men blasted off on Oct. 23 from the Baikonur cosmodrome, which Russia leases from Kazakhstan.

Vladimir Popovkin, the head of the Russian space agency, described the crew as “giving off good vibes, that they are a united and friendly team,” the Interfax news agency reported.

Space officials said Ford would be flown to Houston, while the Russians would return to the space training facility outside Moscow.

Their return voyage to Earth began with the Russian-made capsule undocking from the space station and beginning its slow drift away. The craft made a “flawless entry” back into the Earth’s atmosphere, descended through heavy cloud cover and landed perfectly in an upright position, the NASA commentator said.

Three other astronauts -— from Russia, the U.S. and Canada -— remain at the space station. The next three-man crew -— two Russians and an American -— is scheduled to launch from the Baikonur cosmodrome on March 29.

Reported by LYNN BERRY of the Associated Press from MOSCOW, Russia.

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America’s first woman in space, Sally Ride, dies

Space used to be a man’s world. Then came Sally Ride, who blazed a cosmic trail into orbit for U.S. women. With a pitch perfect name out of a pop song refrain, she joined the select club of American space heroes the public knew by heart: Shepard, Glenn, Armstrong and Aldrin.

Sally Ride was America’s first female astronaut. She also created Sally Ride Science.

Ride, the first American woman in orbit, died Monday at her home in the San Diego community of La Jolla at age 61 of pancreatic cancer, according to her company, Sally Ride Science.

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What is there to eat on Mars? Not much, but NASA has a plan

NASA’s Advanced Food Technology Project manager Michele Perchonok, right, and Lockeed Martin Sr. Research Scientist Maya Cooper, try a pizza recipe being tested in a kitchen at Johnson Space Center. (AP Photo/Michael Stravato)

Through the winding hallways deep inside an old building that used in the early years of U.S. space travel, a group of scientists in white coats is stirring, mixing, measuring, brushing and, most important, tasting the end result of their cooking.

Their mission: Build a menu for a planned journey to Mars in the 2030s.

The menu must sustain a group of six to eight astronauts, keep them healthy and happy and also offer a broad array of food. That’s no simple feat considering it will likely take six months to get to the Red Planet, astronauts will have to stay there 18 months and then it will take another six months to return to Earth. Imagine having to shop for a family’s three-year supply of groceries all at once and having enough meals planned in advance for that length of time.

“Mars is different just because it’s so far away,” said Maya Cooper, senior research scientist with Lockheed Martin who is leading the efforts to build the menu. “We don’t have the option to send a vehicle every six months and send more food as we do for International Space Station.”

Astronauts who travel to the space station have a wide variety of food available to them, some 100 or so different options, in fact. But it is all pre-prepared and freeze-dried with a shelf life of at least two years. And while astronauts make up a panel that tastes the food and gives it a final OK on Earth before it blasts off, the lack of gravity means smell — and taste — is impaired. So the food is bland.

On Mars though, there is a little gravity, allowing NASA to consider significant changes to the current space menu. That’s where Cooper’s team comes in. Travel to Mars opens the possibility that astronauts can do things like chop vegetables and do a little cooking of their own. Even though pressure levels are different than on Earth, scientists think it will be possible to boil water with a pressure cooker, too.

Lockeed Martin senior research scientist Maya Cooper chops vegetables, which will be the only menu items available for astronauts traveling to Mars. (AP Photo/Michael Stravato)

Greenhouse on Mars: One option Cooper and her staff in the Johnson Space Center in Houston are considering is having the astronauts care for a “Martian greenhouse.” They would have a variety of fruits and vegetables — from carrots to bell peppers — 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.

“That menu is favorable because it allows the astronauts to actually have live plants that are growing, you have optimum nutrient delivery with fresh fruits and vegetables, and it actually allows them to have freedom of choice when they’re actually cooking the menus because the food isn’t already pre-prepared into a particular recipe,” Cooper said.

The top priority is to ensure that the astronauts get the proper amount of nutrients, calories and minerals to maintain their physical health and performance for the life of the mission, Cooper said.

Variety needed: The menu must also ensure the psychological health of the astronauts, Cooper explained, noting studies have shown that eating certain foods — such as meatloaf and mashed potatoes or turkey on Thanksgiving — improve people’s mood and give them satisfaction. That “link to home” will be key for astronauts on the Mars mission, and there are currently two academic studies looking further into the connection between mood and food. Lacking certain vitamins or minerals can also harm the brain, she said.

Jerry Linenger, a retired astronaut who spent 132 days on the Russian Mir space station in 1997, said food is important for morale and the monotony of eating the same thing day after day is difficult.

“You just wanted something different. I didn’t care if it was something I wouldn’t eat in a million years on Earth. If it was different, I would eat it,” Linenger said, recalling with a laugh how he would even drink up a Russian sour milk-like concoction for breakfast or drink up some borscht because it offered variety.

Veggies only: Already, Cooper’s team of three has come up with about 100 recipes, all vegetarian because the astronauts will not have dairy or meat products available. It isn’t possible to preserve those products long enough to take to Mars — and bringing a cow on the mission is not an option, Cooper jokes.

To ensure the vegetarian diet packs the right amount of protein, the researchers are designing a variety of dishes that include tofu and nuts, including a Thai pizza that has no cheese but is covered with carrots, red peppers, mushrooms, scallions, peanuts and a homemade sauce that has a spicy kick.

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A look at the landscape of Mars (NASA).

Reported by RAMIT PLUSHNICK-MASTI of the Associated Press from HOUSTON, Texas. Plushnick-Masti can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RamitMastiAP

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John Glenn: Astronaut ace


John Glenn fever gripped Cape Canaveral last week, just as it did half a century ago when America was on the verge of launching its first man into orbit.

Hundreds of NASA workers jammed a space center auditorium, three days before the 50th anniversary of Glenn’s historic flight, to see and hear the first American to circle the Earth. Then journalists got a crack at Glenn, ever patient at describing his momentous flight aboard Friendship 7 and the decades since.

The 90-year-old Glenn was joined at both events by Scott Carpenter, 86, the only other survivor of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, as the weekend of anniversary festivities began.

Glenn said he recollects the flight so often it seems like it took place just a couple weeks ago. He and Carpenter visited their old launch pad, Complex 14; it was from the blockhouse there that Carpenter called out “Godspeed John Glenn” before the rocket ignited.

The national attention then was “almost unbelievable,” Glenn said, adding that he and his colleagues learned to live with the acclaim “or tried to anyway.”

Former U.S. Sen. John Glenn talks, via satellite, with the astronauts on the International Space Station, before the start of a roundtable discussion titled "Learning from the Past to Innovate for the Future" Monday, Feb. 20, 2012, in Columbus, Ohio. Glenn was the first American to orbit Earth, piloting Friendship 7 around it three times in 1962, and also became the oldest person in space, at age 77, by orbiting Earth with six astronauts aboard shuttle Discovery in 1998. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Magical time: The early 1960s were a magical time in Cape Canaveral and adjoining Cocoa Beach, Carpenter said. “Everyone was behind us. The whole nation was behind what we were doing,” he said.

Glenn’s Friendship 7 capsule circled Earth three times on Feb. 20, 1962. Carpenter followed aboard Aurora 7 on May 24, 1962.

Not the first: They were the third and fourth Americans to rocket into space. Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom flew short suborbital missions in 1961, the same year the Soviet Union launched two cosmonauts into orbit on separate shots.

The Cold War was raging, and America was desperate to even the score. Glenn could have died trying if the heat shield on his capsule was loose as flight controllers feared. But the protective shield was tight, and Glenn splashed down safely.

Return to space: Glenn, a U.S. senator for Ohio for 24 years, returned to orbit aboard shuttle Discovery in 1998, becoming the world’s oldest spaceman at age 77 and cementing his super-galactic status.

“Flying in space at age 77, you’ve given me hope. I’ve got a few good years left, and I’m ready,” Kennedy Space Center director Robert Cabana, a former shuttle commander, told Glenn. Another retired shuttle commander, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr., shared how the Mercury astronauts “really lit up the world for me in terms of probability or possibility of things that we could do.”

Glenn recalled how the Mercury astronauts traveled during their training to Cape Canaveral to watch a missile blast off. It was a night launch, and the rocket blew apart over their heads.

“That wasn’t a very good confidence-builder for our first trip to the cape,” Glenn said. Improvements were made, and Glenn said he gained confidence in his Mercury-Atlas rocket, a converted nuclear missile. Otherwise, he said he would not have climbed aboard.

No launch:Glenn and his wife, Annie, for the attempted liftoff of the newest of the Atlas rockets, an unmanned booster that NASA contractors hope one day will carry astronauts. Windy weather forced a scrub of the Navy satellite launch.

Astronaut John Glenn climbs into the Friendship 7 space capsule atop an Atlas rocket at Cape Canaveral, Fla. for the flight which made him the first American to orbit the earth in 1962. (AP Photo/NASA)

“Scrub! Welcome to the space program,” Glenn said at the news conference held in the old Mercury Mission Control, now located at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. “Not anything brand new to me.” Lousy weather spoiled Friday night’s launch attempt as well.

It took 11 tries for Glenn to get off the pad in 1962. He boarded three times before finally taking off, which he believes created even more of a public frenzy over his flight.

Reunion: On Saturday, Glenn and Carpenter will reunite with more than 100 retirees who worked on Project Mercury. And on Monday, the actual anniversary, Glenn will be feted at Ohio State University; its school of public affairs bears his name.

Glenn said he’s uncertain how he’ll mark the exact time of liftoff — 9:47 a.m. — come Monday. He admitted sometimes forgetting to mark the precise moment in the past. But not for this golden one, “for sure.”

What’s next? Besides reminiscing Friday, Glenn and Carpenter spoke of the future of space travel. When asked by Cabana “given where we’ve come, where are we going,” Carpenter had a one-word response. “Mars.” The crowd applauded.

Glenn had more to offer, stressing the importance of exploration as well as scientific research. He criticized the previous administration for promoting lunar bases and Mars travel, but providing no funds, and for canceling the space shuttle program. “A big mistake,” he said.

Glenn noted how NASA is relying on the Russians to transport American astronauts to and from the International Space Station, now that the shuttles are retired. That will continue until private U.S. companies have spacecraft ready to fly crews, an estimated five years away.

“What a big change that is from the days when there were the depths of the Cold War … fueling a lot of the interest in the space program,” he said.

Carpenter said he deplores the fact that America seems to have lost its resolve to press ahead in space exploration, as evidenced by NASA’s small share of the federal budget.

“I really miss my citizenship that was once in a can-do nation,” he said.

Another change in five decades: Glenn pointed out how cellphones have “more computing capacity than anything back at the time when we were flying in ’62.” Society has become so accustomed to new things, he said, that it will be difficult for NASA to generate the kind of excitement that Project Mercury or Apollo’s moonwalks did.

Repeatedly Friday, Glenn and Carpenter paid tribute to their five deceased Mercury colleagues: Shepard, Grissom, Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper and Deke Slayton.

“We need five more chairs here,” Glenn told the NASA crowd.

The two pioneers received standing ovations.

Here’s a look at Glenn’s launch: http://youtu.be/8T0i0YkxGOU


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Online:

NASA:http://www.nasa.gov/

Ohio State University: http://glennschool.osu.edu/
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Reported by MARCIA DUNN of the Associated Press from CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.

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Wanted: New astronauts

WASHINGTON—Looking for a job? NASA is hiring astronauts. You can even apply online at a giant government jobs website.

There’s only one hitch: NASA doesn’t have its own spaceship anymore and is sending fewer fliers into orbit right now.

Astronaut class member Mark Vande Hei, left, and Navy instructor Victor Mower train during a 2009 ASCAN water survival training at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Pensacola, Fla. NASA is hiring astronauts. You can even apply online at a giant government jobs website. There's only one hitch: NASA doesn't have its own spaceship anymore and is sending fewer fliers into orbit right now. "The experience is well worth the wait," promised NASA flight crew operations director Janet Kavandi as the space agency started a public search Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011, for new astronauts. (AP Photo/NASA, James Blair)

“The experience is well worth the wait,” promised NASA flight crew operations director Janet Kavandi as the space agency started a public search Tuesday for new astronauts.

There will be flights, but not many, with the space shuttle fleet retired. A handful of astronauts each year are launching on a Russian Soyuz spaceship to the International Space Station for six-month stays.

In about three to five years, NASA hopes to purchase trips for astronauts headed to the space station on American-built commercial rockets instead. And eventually, NASA hopes to fly astronauts in a government owned Orion capsule to an asteroid or even Mars, but those pioneering trips are more than a decade away.

With veteran astronauts leaving the space agency, Kavandi said NASA is afraid it will not have enough astronauts, something a National Research Council report pointed out in September.

NASA needs about 55 astronauts, and with a new class of nine graduating earlier this month, the astronaut roster is up to 58. One of those new astronauts will get to fly to the space station as early as 2013, Kavandi said.

“We’re ready to serve, we’re ready to get going,” new astronaut Serena Aunon said Tuesday at NASA headquarters.

Candidate search: So to find candidates, NASA on Tuesday unveiled what its personnel chief called its biggest ever push to hire new astronauts —with dozens of cheering elementary school students there to ask questions.

In the past—when NASA had a space shuttle—the space agency didn’t make such a big deal of searching for astronauts, and they were inundated with applications. This new drive comes with a YouTube recruitment video complete with flashy images and driving techno-beat background music.

“We need you to help plan for this future of exploration,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden says in the video. “Join NASA. Get your application in now for the 2013 astronaut candidate class. Your spaceflight experience begins right now.”

Requirements: But before you polish up your resume, NASA isn’t loosening its standards. You must have at least a bachelor’s degree—most astronauts have a master’s or a doctorate—in engineering, biological science, physical science or math. You must learn Russian, but be a U.S. citizen. You must know basic physics. Being a medical doctor or a teacher helps. You must have vision that can be corrected to 20/20, no high blood pressure and be between 5 foot 2 inches and 6 foot 3 inches.

Given these tight requirements, NASA will still probably get 3,000 qualified applicants, Kavandi said. The job pays between $64,700 and $141,700.

And if you are hired expect to do lots of traveling to foreign countries, Kavandi said. And oh yes, maybe into space.

———

Online:

NASA’s site for seeking astronauts: http://astronauts.nasa.gov/

NASA recruitment video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?vhLblEzuX8Zo

Government jobs site:
http://tinyurl.com/astronautjob

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