Living out in Space: From ‘Major Tom’ to Major Tim

A photograph showing astronaut Chris Hadfield on board the International Space Station (ISS) in the video of his cover version of 'Space Oddity' by David Bowie.Chris Hadfield’s Space Oddity

♫ This is Ground Control to Major Tom… ♫

Commander Chris Hadfield ascended to international stardom when he released his cover version of David Bowie’s 1972 Song ‘Space Oddity’ from the International Space Station. 

Chris Hadfield lived at the International Space Station (I.S.S.) between December 2012 and March 2013, as part of Expedition 34 and 35.  As a commander of the I.S.S., Hadfield was responsible for a crew of five astronauts and he helped run dozens of scientific experiments dealing with the impact of low gravity on human biology.  During the mission, he gained popularity by chronicling life aboard the space station and taking pictures of the Earth, which he posted to his many international followers on social networks, like Facebook and Twitter.  He retired shortly after his return to Earth, ending an outstanding 35-year career as a military test pilot and astronaut.

The International Space Station (I.S.S.)

A picture showing a blueprint of the International Space Station (ISS) Port View.Over 200 kilometres above the Kármán line, Earth has gained an extension – a sort of “annex”, so to speak.  The International Space Station has a stable orbit within the middle of the thermosphere, between 320 and 380 kilometres (200 and 240 miles) above the Earth.  For the past decade, mission after mission has constructed a space station the size of a football pitch, where people can live and work while orbiting 250 miles above the Earth.

Along with the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the International Space Station is the greatest and most ambitious scientific project in the World.  Weighing around 450 tonnes, the space station was delivered jointly by the European Space Agency (E.S.A.), NASA, Russia and several others such as JAXA, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Until now, the I.S.S. has cost $ 100 billion, making it the most expensive single item ever constructed.

The International Space Station currently hosts six international crew membersLiving in the International Space Station implies some pretty cramped conditions.  And some downright challenging physical conditions…

 

Weightlessness – Floating in Space

The phenomenon of weightlessness is fairly easy to understand.  Weightlessness occurs when there is no force of support acting on your body

The sensation of apparent weight comes from the support that you feel from the floor, from the seat, etc.  When your body is effectively in “free fall”, accelerating downward at the acceleration of gravity, then you are not being supported.  You are in a state of being free from the effects of gravity!

Different sensations of apparent weight can occur on a roller-coaster or in an aircraft because they can accelerate either upwards or downwards.

v_{weightless} = \sqrt{g r}.

In an airplane, the feeling of weightlessness occurs any time the aircraft is accelerating downward with acceleration 1g, when the downward acceleration of your seat equals the acceleration of gravity.  Of course, the feeling is somewhat different for orbital missions where you can experience weightlessness all the time.

The sensation of weightlessness, or zero gravity, happens when the effects of gravity are no longer felt.  Gravity does exist everywhere in the universe, because it is defined as the force that attracts two bodies to each other.  But astronauts in space usually do not feel its effects.

The International Space Station is in perpetual freefall above the Earth.  However, its forward motion is just equal to the speed of its “fall” toward our planet, meaning that the astronauts inside are not pulled in any particular direction.  So they float.

 

Weightless – Eating in Space

A photographic collage showing Chris Hadfield playing with his food aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Cooking with NASA!Weightlessness has a remarkable effect on life as we know it.  Not having to bear your own weight on your feet may sound relaxing, but in the long term there are many health problems associated with it.  One of the functions of the I.S.S. is to study how an astronaut health is affected by long periods in weightlessness.

Bones and muscles weaken in zero gravity, and other changes also take place within the human body.  With no gravity to compress the bones, astronauts’ spines can lengthen by up to 7 centimetres (about 3 inches), painfully pulling on muscles and nerves.

As astronauts’ bones and muscles do less work to keep them upright once they experience weightlessness, they can also start wasting away.  On average, astronauts lose 1% of their bone mass every month they spend in the reduced gravity environment of the I.S.S.  So the first important thing to remember is to eat well while in space.

Astronauts are often portrayed as playing with their food in zero gravity: a ‘party’ trick that never fails to catch the media attention and always delights viewers around the World.

Not failing to honour this well-loved space tradition, Chris Hadfield cooked a ‘space burrito’ in zero gravity.  Chris was also seen “juggling” with fresh tomatoes and what looks like NASA-issue food rations…  Looking a lot like the weight-watcher boil-in-the-bag pouches you used to get in my supermarket… and why not !!  You wouldn’t want to look big in your spacesuit, would you?

 

Weightlessness – Astronauts Don’t Cry

A photographic collage showing Chris Hadfield crying in space... and generally playing with water, as well as demonstrating the sleeping arrangements on board the International Space Station (ISS).Astronaut Chris Hadfield showed us what happened when you are trying to wash in outer space, brush your teeth in space or even sleep while in space.  If you find that funny, why not try it for a month?  If you decide that gets a bit challenging after a week, imagine how your average astronaut feels for six months or more in space.  Fortunately, Chris Hadfield also demonstrated that it wasn’t really possible to cry up there.  😉

But I think Chris Hadfield will forever be remembered for being the first astronaut to record a pop song in outer space.

 

Weightlessness – In Conservation with a Most Unlikely Travel Companion

A photograph showing Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata with the first robot astronaut Kirobo - both were recorded chatting, with Kirobo asking Santa for a rocket for Christmas, in a historic talk on board the International Space Station (ISS).And when you’re a Japanese astronaut stuck for conversation, what do you do?  You take along an unusual space companion: the first-ever talking robonaut, Kirobo.

Do robots dream of electric sheep… for Christmas?

Kirobo wanted a toy rocket for Christmas.

Since the BBC reported on Christmas presents finally being delivered to the ISS, I expect we will keep on hearing more in future from Kirobo… and fresh fruit, 800 ants and 28 ‘doves’… and maybe even a partridge in a pear tree… 

 

From “Major Tom” to Major Tim Peake

Former army helicopter pilot Major Timothy Peake is the first “home-grown” British Astronaut who will be heading to the International Space Station.  The 41 year-old will fly out to the I.S.S. in November 2015.  He has described being selected for the mission as a ‘true privilege’.

A photograph of Major Tim Peake posing in front of his pressure suit.Despite being an ESA member, Great Britain had originally opted out of the space programme.  It was generally thought that manned space flight could not justify the expense.

However, the chance came up to join the programme last year with a one-off contribution of £ 16 million.  A landmark moment signalling the nation’s return to the front rank of scientific exploration and ambition.

Major Tim Peake will stay on the International Space Station for a duration of six months.  The country’s first astronaut for two decades, Major Tim is set to finally put an end to Britain’s very own space oddity…