I’ve often thought, upon waking from a sleeping position that my body didn’t particularly like, that it would be wonderful to sleep in an anti-gravity machine. Maybe I would sleep better, and maybe I wouldn’t, but the reality is that it’s quite probable that man was not really intended for long periods of anti-gravity. While a few hours of blissful sleep, followed by no aches and pains from pillow or mattress, might be something wonderful to experience, I can fully see, after reading about the astronaut, Scott Kelly, who at least for a time spent the longest number of consecutive days at the International Space Station, in a state of anti-gravity. That number was 340 days.
My first thought was of how gentle that must have been to his body, and maybe I would be right, but at some point, Kelly had to return to Earth. The experiment that he was a part of was over. The idea was to learn what the effects on the human body were in a prolonged state of anti-gravity. It really hadn’t occurred to me that there might be any adverse effects, but apparently I would have been wrong. Among the complaints Kelly spoke of, one of the worst was a burning rash all over his skin. I wondered what might have caused that. The answer amazed me. The rash appeared on his back, legs, arm, and anywhere else where his body has touched the bed he now sleeps in. Not only is there a rash, but it is inflamed, feeling hot to the touch. Okay, my body may not like my mattress and pillow all the time, but it doesn’t give me a burning rash, so maybe it’s not so bad after all, and since I only occasionally wake up achy from my night’s sleep, I’ll deal with it.
Among the other complaints Kelly suffered, were feelings of nausea (possibly a vertigo type of an issue), a stumbling gait from legs that are not used to gravity (Kelly’s vestibular system was trying to readjust to Earth’s gravity…like learning to walk all over again), an altered sense of gravity (waking up feeling like he is upside down), muscle atrophy from muscles that weren’t used, an all-over body ache from the pressures of gravity, and a constant grogginess, just to name a few. Of course, short -term anti-gravity such as I would experience by sleeping in an anti-gravity machine, would be very unlikely to produce any adverse conditions, like prolonged anti-gravity did in Kelly. Nevertheless, because our bodies are designed to work with gravity, I suppose my sleep idea is not such a good idea after all. At least, I don’t think it is one that I am willing to take a chance on.
Of the great minds that have lived, I think I like Albert Einstein the best. I suppose some people would disagree with me, but each person relates differently to people, than other people do. I wish I could have met Einstein, because I think we think a lot alike. Of course, I don’t claim to have anywhere near the level of IQ that he had, but I do see some similarities in how we think. We both had the tendency to think that if something can be written down, or in my case stored in my iPhone, then I don’t need to store it in my mind too.
For Einstein, who was a genius, not storing information in his head became a bit of a problem once, when he misplaced the train ticket he had just purchased. When the conductor came by to take his ticket, a frantic Einstein searched unsuccessfully for his ticket. Seeing that he was obviously very upset by this occurrence, the conductor told him, “It’s alright, Mr Einstein, I saw you buy your ticket.” Einstein, still highly upset, said, “It may be alright with you, but if I don’t find my ticket, I don’t know where to get off!” That must have shocked the conductor, because he knew that Albert Einstein rode the same train to and from work every day. Of course, many things are different these days, and I don’t ride a train, plus I’m quite good at navigation, so I don’t see myself not knowing where to get off or to turn, in my case, but it was a real problem to Albert Einstein. It was also an incident that I found amusing, given the mind this man had. Einstein is said to have had an IQ of between 160 and 190, and while I have not been tested, I am quite sure that my IQ is not as high as Einstein’s was, by any stretch of the imagination.
I do know that Einstein had the ability to understand things that would boggle the minds of most people. “Einstein showed that absolute time had to be replaced by a new absolute: the speed of light. Einstein went against the grain and totally dismissed the “Old Physics.” He envisioned a world where space and time are relative and the speed of light is absolute. Prior to that time, it was believed that space and time were absolute and the speed of light was relative. In 1921, Albert Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics “for his services to theoretical physics and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect”. In 1925, he was awarded the Copley Medal by the Royal Society, which is perhaps the oldest surviving scientific award in the world. Einstein’s mind was so interesting to me, but to him, it was just normal.
The year was 1959, and things were changing rapidly in the world of flight. Airplanes had been around, and actually flying since the December 17, 1903 flight of the Kitty Hawk by the Wright brothers. Air travel, while not as common as it is today, was fairly common. Now, it was time for the next step. We had looked through telescopes, found the planets, their moons, and other suns. We discovered galaxies beyond our own, and then, someone…somewhere, decided that it was time for mankind to go out there and have a look for ourselves.
By late 1958 plans were well underway to take that first step. Seven men were picked, and on this day April 9, 1959 NASA announced that they had decided on the first seven astronauts, who would take that very first space flight. The men were dubbed The Mercury Seven, but were also called the Original Seven or Astronaut Group 1. The men were Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton. They piloted the manned spaceflights of the Mercury program from May 1961 to May 1963. They weren’t the first men in space, but they were the first from the United States. The first human to journey into outer space, was Yuri Gagarin, when his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth on 12 April 1961. Alan Shepard became the first American in space when the Freedom 7 spacecraft blasted off from Florida on May 5, 1961, just under a month after the Russian flight. Ten years later, Shepard would fly again to become the fifth man to walk on the moon…and the first one to play golf there.
Most of these seven men went on to fly in many successful missions, with Gus Grissom being the only one to die young and on duty with NASA, in the Apollo 1 fire. Members of the group flew on all classes of NASA manned orbital spacecraft of the 20th century…Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and the Space Shuttle. John Glenn, the oldest, is the only one who is still living. He went on to become a United States senator, and flew on the Shuttle 36 years later to become the oldest person to fly in space. The others all survived past retirement from service. These men played a key part in the world as we know it today, because space travel has played a key part in many of our modern medicines and scientific research. And it all began on this day in 1959.
Today, March 23rd, is known as Near Miss Day because it was on this day in 1898 that a large asteroid, named Apollo Asteroid 1989FC…an asteroid that was, in fact, bigger than an aircraft carrier and traveling at 46,000 miles per hour, passed the Earth, and it was a mere 400,000 miles away. The Earth had been at that place in space just six hours earlier. Six hours was all that stood between the Earth and the asteroid. Had it hit the Earth, scientists predicted that it would have left a crater the size of Washington DC, and destroyed everything around it for up to a hundred miles. Of course, that asteroid did not hit earth, and so was forgotten in the minds of most people, with astronomers being the possible exception. Earth does get hit periodically with meteors…some larger than others, and our atmosphere deals with them quite often, burning most of them up, causing what we all know as a shooting star. I find it interesting that we are in the middle of another close encounter right now. This time it is with a comet…or to be more accurate, two comets.
The smaller comet, Comet P/2016 BA14, was difficult to see, but it passed by us at a distance of just 2.2 million miles, making it the third closest flyby of a comet in recorded history. The larger comet is called Comet 252P/Linear. It was first discovered back in 2000, and has been monitored since that time. Comet P/2016 BA14 was only spotted in January this year. At first, astronomers thought it was a potentially dangerous asteroid heading towards us. Comet P/2016 BA14 will make its closest approach at around 11:30am EDT on March 22 (2.30am AEST on March 23). Of course, if you live in the United States, these two occurrences will not be on Near Miss Day, but they will be for those who live in Australia. I don’t know if Australia recognizes Near Miss Day, but if they do, they would find this weeks event interesting too.
I think that most of the time, we think very little about space…at least most of us do. Space seems so far away, and while we know that there are lots of things floating around out there, we somehow don’t believe they will ever impact Earth. That is even more strange, in that the craters on the moon come from meteor strikes, so why would the Earth somehow be immune. Of course, it wouldn’t be immune at all. The Earth occupies pretty much the same space as the moon. So we could get hit. I know that 400,000 miles seems like a lot, but in the perspective of space, it would be classified as a near miss.
After a horrific accident such as Space Shuttle Challenger’s explosion 73 seconds after liftoff on January 28, 1986, taking with it seven astronauts, it is only prudent for NASA to have stopped all future flights until they knew the cause and had a fix in place. The Space Shuttle program was really NASA’s greatest achievement, and Challenger was its second shuttle into space. Challenger had a great record, having been sent into space nine times…before disaster struck on the tenth trip.
The Space Shuttle Challenger was first intended to be a test vehicle, Construction began in November of 1975. It was sent for testing on April 2, 1978, and after eleven months of vibration testing they decided to make it an actual vehicle. The first shuttle to be built into an actual workable unit was the Columbia, which ended up breaking up on February 1, 2003, to become the second time NASA lost lives in flight.
After Challenger blew up shortly after liftoff, NASA had to see what went wrong, and the space program was on hold for two years and eight months. Finally, after it was determined that an O-Ring failed due to weather that was too cold, a different NASA emerged. No longer would there be a rush to launch. Conditions would be right, or the launch would be scrubbed. It had to be that way. And yet we, as a nation, knew that America belonged in space. This was more that just a whim, but was rather an important contribution in many areas. The scientists who went into space performed experiments that led to many things we use today. Not to mention all of the information we have learned about our own little part of the universe. It was time to put America back in space.
So, on this day, September 29, 1988, NASA launched STS-26. It was the return to flight mission, and it was a success. The mission lasted four days, one hour, and eleven seconds, and traveled 1,680,000 miles, making 64 orbits around the Earth. The Shuttle that made the return to flight mission was the Discovery. On board were Frederick H Hauck, Richard O Covey, John M Lounge, Davis C Hilmers, and George D Nelson. I’m sure there were moments of anxiety, especially at the moment when the command to Go with Throttle Up, the very command that led to the explosion of the Challenger, was given. Nevertheless, these men went, and made it through that anxious moment, to have a successful mission. It was the first mission since STS-9 to use the original STS numbering system, the first to have all its crew members wear pressure suits for launch and landing since STS-4, and the first mission with bailout capacity since STS-4. STS-26 was also the first all-veteran crew mission since Apollo 11, with all of its crew members having flown at least one prior mission. I’m sure there were specific reason for each of those things, but my guess is that it was mainly to have all the best possible precautions in place.
Besides conducting the mission’s various experiments, crew members practiced suiting up in new partial-pressure “launch-and-entry” flight suits, and also practiced the unstowing and attaching of the new crew escape system. On 2 October, the day before the mission ended, the five man crew paid tribute to the seven crew members lost in the Challenger disaster. Discovery landed on Runway 17 at Edwards Air Force Base, California, at 12:37 pm EDT on 3 October 1988, after a mission duration of four days, one hour and eleven seconds. Capsule Communicator Blaine Hammond Jr welcomed the crew, saying it was “a great ending to a new beginning.”