Saturday, October 25, 2014

Retro Saturday: My Name ... Jose Jimenez

Click the arrow to listen to the Bill Dana comedy sketch on YouTube. Warning: the content is considered offensive by modern standards. Video source: dvidgreen's YouTube channel.

He was as much an icon of the Space Age as the Mercury astronauts, but today Bill Dana's Mexican astronaut Jose Jimenez comedy sketch is considered a racial parody and politically incorrect.

According to the official Bill Dana web site, the Jose Jimenez character began on The Steve Allen Show in the late 1950s. The biography states:

Adopted by the original seven Mercury astronauts, Dana became part of U.S space history on May 5, 1961 when the first words from planet Earth spoken to Alan Shepard (America's first man in space) were "O.K. José, you're on your way!" Bill and José are honored by their inclusion in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the Astronaut Hall of Fame. He also serves on the board of the Astronaut Scholarship Fund. Bill's appearances at Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden, and the London Paladium were highlights on the way to an honored and show-stopping appearance at the John F. Kennedy Inaugural Gala in 1961.

The routine was famously repeated on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Bill Dana as The Astronaut in 1963. Image source: Wikipedia.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Fit to Print

A replicator on the Starship U.S.S. Voyager. Image source: Memory Alpha web site.

The replicator on Star Trek: The Next Generation and its sequels dematerialized matter and reconstituted it into another form. Although it could replicate food and other simple organic objects, the writers put a limit of the technology, deeming living beings and higher order organic creatures beyond its capability.

According to Memory Alpha, “replicators could be used for replicating machine parts, clothing or other objects ... Industrial replicators could even be used to replicate heavier machine parts.”

3D printing isn't quite a replicator, but it is a step in that direction.

The SpaceX CRS-4 mission delivered to the International Space Station in September the first 3D printer in space.

The printer was manufactured by Made in Space, a company located in Moffett Field, California. According to their September 19 press release:

Made In Space’s additive manufacturing technology creates 3D objects layer by layer from filament through an extrusion method specifically adapted for the challenges of the space environment. In addition to designing and building the hardware, Made In Space will be operating the printer from a mission control ground station ...

This first printer will be using ABS plastic while the second generation unit, scheduled for delivery to ISS in 2015, will offer multiple material capacity and an increased build volume. The second Made In Space printer will be available for use by businesses, researchers and anyone who wants to create in-space hardware rapidly, affordably, and safely.

New industries are popping up to provide the materials used in 3D printers. Stratasys, for example, offers “offers a powerful range of additive manufacturing materials, including clear, rubberlike and biocompatible photopolymers, and tough high-performance thermoplastics.” Shapeways will send you 3D printing material sample kits, offering polymers, plastics and metals in a variety of colors.

The limits on the Star Trek replicator may be no obstacle for 3D printers.

On October 20, 3D Printing Industry reported that “Vancouver’s Aspect Biosystems has created a 3D printer that will bioprint human tissue capable of developing full biological functions. The bioprinted tissue can be used to test dangerous or experimental drugs, and could eventually lead to completely viable and transplantable bioprinted organs.”

Konrad Walus, one of the co-founders of Aspect Biosystems. Image source: Aspect Biosystems web site.

According to the Aspect Biosystems web site, their mission is to “to engineer human tissues on demand for broad applications in the life sciences.”

Aspect Biosystems has developed a patent-pending 3D bioprinting platform and human cell culture technology capable of creating living human tissues on demand. Aspect Biosystems’ initial products and services aim to improve the predictive accuracy of the pre-clinical drug discovery process by providing pharmaceutical companies, contract research organizations (CROs), and researchers with physiologically-relevant 3D human tissue models that they can employ in the development of new drugs and therapies. Aspect Biosystems’ technology has the potential to drive a fundamental shift in the pharmaceutical industry by enabling the development of completely new therapeutics for diseases that they are not able to adequately address currently, as well as test or re-test drugs they may have discounted in the past due to a lack of appropriate models. Aspect’s technology also represents a powerful research tool for fundamental biology allowing scientists to ask and answer questions about cellular systems that are not possible today. Building on short- and medium-term goals, Aspect Biosystems has a long-term vision to expand beyond drug development by creating human tissues on demand for broad applications in personalized medicine, organ transplantation, cellular and molecular biology, and the development of safe cosmetics and personal care products.

Take that, Beverly Crusher.

According to, “The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Foundation and NASA have partnered together to develop a series of 3D Space Challenges focused on solving real-world space exploration problems. Students can submit 3D models directly to the site for a chance to win prizes, including a 3D print on the International Space Station.”

All these technologies help further the ability for human beings to permanently leave the Earth for settlement in deep space and on other worlds.

The movie Apollo 13 depicted how the crew had to kludge together a carbon dioxide scrubber for the lunar module. If they'd had a 3D printer, perhaps they could have just made one.

Bioprinting could lead to making organs that replace those injured while on deep space missions.

The 3D printing materials may be recyclable. If a part breaks ... throw it back in the machine, and let the machine remake it. Just like a replicator.

The replicators were common technology in the fictional 24th Century of Star Trek. Here in the 21st Century, we're about to creating the first replicator.

For more information on 3D printing, try 3D Printing Basics: The Free Beginner’s Guide on the 3D Printing Industry web site.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Look Out Below

An artist's concept of the Terrestrial Return Vehicle. Image source: Intuitive Machines.

Popular Science posted an article October 17 about a company called Intuitive Machines which hopes to develop what the magazine called a “UPS-Style Shipping Service” for the International Space Station.

Except there’s one little snag when it comes to conducting experiments on the ISS: It’s kind of far away. Getting critical samples from the station to Earth can be a lengthy process, and researchers usually have to wait anywhere from six months to a year before samples can make the trip to laboratories on the ground. These long waits can be risky, as live biological samples have a perishable lifespan and often need to be reviewed quickly before they degrade.

Well now, private spaceflight company Intuitive Machines has a solution to this problem. In cooperation with NASA, the company is developing the Terrestrial Return Vehicle (TRV), a spacecraft that can deliver experiment samples from station to Earth in less than 24 hours. Think of it as same-day shipping for the ISS. Such a short sample return time opens up more opportunities for research on the ISS that could never have been done before.

“Those experiment samples are left stranded on board until we can get a whole vehicle up there packed with 5,000 pounds of return cargo,” Steve Altemus, president of Intuitive Machines, tells Popular Science. “In our paradigm, we have opportunities to come home every single day, bringing critical samples home when they’re needed.”

According to the company's web site:

Intuitive Machines in cooperation with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been selected by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) to develop a Terrestrial Return Vehicle (TRV) that will enable on demand, rapid return of experiments from the International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory. Through this commercial service, Intuitive Machines will enable researchers to regularly and quickly return small samples and components from the ISS to Earth ... As part of this new venture Intuitive Machines is responsible for the overall design and certification of the return vehicle, as well as terrestrial payload return services for its customers. CASIS will provide integration onto a commercial launch vehicle for access to the ISS, as well as on-orbit flight operations services.

The Popular Science articles states a TRV will be “about the size of a bag of golf clubs.”

After it enters the Earth’s atmosphere, the TRV will release a super sonic drogue parachute to slow down its descent. Then, at about 25,000 feet, it will deploy a parafoil, allowing it to steer more easily to its landing site — a test range in the Utah desert. In total, the TRV’s return trip to Earth will take a mere six hours, which is comparable to how fast the Shuttle used to come home from the ISS.

In this artist's concept, the TRV ejects from the Japanese Experiment Module Kibo on the ISS. Image source: Intuitive Machines.

According to the company, the first TRV will be launched in 2016, presumably aboard either a SpaceX Dragon or Orbital Sciences Cygnus vehicle.

It's a neat idea, but immediately a few safety concerns come to mind.

Presumably the TRV will have some sort of hypergolic fuels on board to steer it into the atmosphere. Hypergolic propellants spontaneously ignite when in contact with each other, eliminating the need for an ignition source. The Space Shuttle had 44 Reaction Control System (RCS) jets that used hypergolic fuels to maneuver while in orbit.

Launching a hypergolic-fueled TRV inside a Dragon or Cygnus means that essentially the cargo craft is carrying a bomb on board.

In the early days of the Space Shuttle program, the orbiter was used to launch satellites from its payload bay despite the presence of fuel on the payload. The 1990 Augustine Commission report titled “Report of the Advisory Committee On the Future of the U.S. Space Program” stated that “in hindsight” it was “inappropriate in the case of Challenger to risk the lives of seven astronauts and nearly one-fourth of NASA's launch assets to place in orbit a communications satellite.”

Aside from the ignition potential, a leak of a toxic propellant would also be of concern, for no other reason than contamination of other experiments aboard.

Even though people won't be aboard the Dragon or Cygnus, I have to wonder how other ISS customers will feel about these “bombs” being aboard. The risk management people are going to have a field day.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Camping in Space

Click the arrow to watch the Alyssa Carson interview on CBS This Morning.

Huntsville's Space Camp was founded in 1982, according to its web site, “to inspire and motivate young people from around the world to join the ranks of space pioneers who persevere to push the boundaries of human exploration.”

I became aware of the program in 1986 when, less than five months after the Challenger accident, a movie called SpaceCamp was released in theatres. The movie is a bit silly, but at its core was the message that, give a positive direction early in life, youth can make a contribution to the future of humanity.

I was 29 when the film was released, too young for the kiddie corps, but found out they also offered adult programs. I attended Space Camp's adult program in November 1986, then returned in 1989 and 1994. During the 1994 visit, my peers voted me the Right Stuff award, which sits here on my desk.

I credit Space Camp with helping to start me on the journey that brought me from California to here on the Space Coast, where I'm now part of the third generation of human spaceflight.

That third generation might include Alyssa Carson, a 13-year old from Louisiana who puts my Space Camp record to shame.

According to her web site, Alyssa has been to the Hunstville Space Camp twelve times, as well as the Space Camps in Canada and Turkey, and the Sally Ride Camp.

Her call sign “Blueberry” was given her at Space Camp due to her diminutive size and the blue Space Camp flight suit she wears.

(My powder blue Space Camp flight suit from 1986 still hangs in the closet, but alas it no longer fits ... Let's see if yours fits when you're 58, Alyssa.)

In recent weeks, Alyssa has become a media sensation, including appearances on CBS This Morning and Al Jazeera America. She has also given a TedX talk, in Kalamata, Greece. She says her goal is to be on a human spaceflight to Mars.

Click the arrow to watch Alyssa Carson's TedX talk in Kalamata, Greece on June 7, 2014. Video source: trebprod YouTube channel.

You can follow her exploits on Twitter at @NASABlueberry1.

Another Space Camp alumna is Abigail Harrison, who goes by Astronaut Abby. Her web site is and you can follow her on Twitter at @AstronautAbby. She's four years older than Alyssa. Abby has also been invited to give a TedX lecture.

Click the arrow to watch Abigail Harrison's TedX talk in Tampa on October 25, 2013. Video source: TEDx Talks YouTube channel.

Space Camp alumni are changing the world. The Space Camp Hall of Fame includes Samantha Cristoforetti, scheduled to launch to the International Space Station on Expedition 42 on November 23. Samantha attended Space Camp at age 18.

When SpaceX launched its first Dragon demonstration flight ot the International Space Station on May 22, 2012, a Space Camp alumna was standing in the front row of the employees watching outside Mission Control. Watch for the Space Camp T-shirt.

SpaceX employees watch the Falcon 9 launch the Dragon COTS demonstration flight on May 22, 2012. Video source: SpaceX YouTube channel.

The Space Camp web site credits Dr. Wernher von Braun for the original Space Camp idea. Von Braun “reasoned there should be an experience for young people who were excited about space.” He passed away in 1977, but Space Camp began five years later.

Maybe, one day, we'll see a Space Camp on Mars. Led by Blueberry and Astronaut Abby.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Retro Saturday: Атомный флагман (Atomic Flagship)

Click the arrow to watch the film. Video source: Archival Video YouTube channel.

Something a little different for your Retro Saturday.

Атомный флагман (Atomic Flagship) is a 1959 Soviet documentary about the atomic-powered ice-breaker, Ленин (Lenin). The film runs about 21 minutes. It's narrated with an English-language voiceover.

According to Wikipedia, Lenin was “both the world's first nuclear-powered surface ship and the first nuclear-powered civilian vessel. Lenin entered operation in 1959 and worked clearing sea routes for cargo ships along Russia's northern coast. She was officially decommissioned in 1989. She was subsequently converted to a museum ship and is now permanently based at Murmansk.”

I don't think this quite qualifies as a propaganda film, but it has all the trappings. A great classical orchestra and sophisticated cinematography. It also would have made a great target for Mystery Science Theater 3000.