Back to the Future in Space Exploration

While people often discuss the futuristic aspects of space flight, there was once a real opportunity for smaller nations to reap the benefits of sailing the stars. The Hermes shuttle was a French manned space plane design that was canceled in 1992. It represented a small reusable platform for space travel. Small crafts that could take people to and from Space stations have long been a favorite of science fiction writers yet each year, we get a little closer to the notion becoming reality.

Ariane 5, Hermes Shuttle, and MTFF Module

Read More →

ESA’s Gaia Mission Aim Highs

Yesterday I posted about the important work being conducted on the LSST project. Today I wanted to cover another amazing project – ESA’s Gaia mission.

While many space borne observation platforms have provided excellent images to scientists, these have mostly been in two dimensions thus far. Gaia is a very ambitious mission by the European Space Agency to make a three dimensional map of the Milky Way. While GAIA originally stood for Global Astrometric Interferometer for Astrophysics, it seems that the acronym has been dropped in favor of the shorter name. Read More →

Are Robots the Future of Space Exploration?

Mashable recently posted about the upcoming We Robot 2012 conference and naturally I had to check it out to see if anything space related is included. Alas it’s not but it got me thinking about the future of space exploration in terms of robotics/artificial intelligence (AI). This topic is of course always hotly debated but one worth exploring nonetheless. Read More →

Health Problems Found in Returning Astronauts

NASA is closely monitoring a problem with the eyesight of astronauts who spend a long period in space. Approximately 60% of the astronauts who have spent more than a month in space suffer from intracranial hypertension. This condition is caused by fluid pressure in the skull. This flattening has caused astronauts problems so severe that they can no longer focus correctly. Many astronauts returning to Earth must get glasses for the first time. For others, the problem is so severe that it cannot be corrected. For some astronauts, they can no longer pass the eye exam to get their pilot’s license. Doctors believe the problem is caused by a buildup in fluid in the eyes during the astronauts’ time in flight. Normally, the fluid is pulled down by gravity.

Additionally, 20 percent of the astronauts showed a flattening in the rear of their eyeballs. Almost 33 percent of the astronauts studied also showed an expansion of the space around the optic nerve. This space is normally filled with cerebral spinal fluid. Some astronauts find that the problem corrects itself shortly after returning to earth. Others find that the problem never corrects itself.

Doctors warn that these problems must be further evaluated before longer trips in space can be carried out. Doctors at the University of Texas also warn that astronauts appear to be at greater danger of head trauma upon returning to Earth.

Studies have shown that the human heart could be changed in space, too. According to astrobiologists, it shrinks and pumps less blood. When an astronaut is exposed to microgravity, the blood travels from the lower body to the heart and the head, making the heart larger temporarily. The body interprets this change as an increase of blood volume and tries to expel the excess of fluid through urination, but also the heart shrinks in order to pump less blood. That’s the reason why astronauts feel dizziness when return to Earth.

Image: SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY Spacewalk. Composite image of an astronaut floating free during aspacewalk against a backdrop of cloud systems on Earth. A spacewalk is also known as ExtraVehicular Activity (EVA). Astronaut photographed during a space shuttle mission; the spacecraft can be seen reflected in his visor.

New Book: Lights of Mankind Shows Beauty of Earth from Space

As far as we know, Earth is the only planet in the universe that lights up at night. Now comes the first full-planet study of Earth after dark. Lights of Mankind: The Earth at Night As Seen From Space shares the awe-inspiring views that have caught the imagination of millions, showcasing more than 250 incredible photographs taken by astronauts on the International Space Station.

Recently released by Lyons Press, this stunning illustrated book documents the entire globe, featuring over 100 world-class cities and 70-plus regional panoramic images that show in striking detail the interplay of geography, man, and science. Covering every major city — from Paris to Milan, New York City to San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro to Rome — this is a photographic reference of the Earth at night, as seen from space.

Five astronauts — Clay Anderson, Sandra Mangus, Don Pettit, Mario Runco Jr., and Doug Wheelock — eloquently share their own perspectives on Earth at night, infusing this beautiful and informative book with eyewitness testimony. As Wheelock describes, “Earth presents itself as this raging explosion of light in a black, empty sea.”

At night our cities glow in patterns of light that speak volumes about how we inhabit this planet. The human story, including political conflicts and cultural proclivities, is highlighted from this perspective:

  • Powerful images of the Korean Peninsula underscore in a glance the literal and metaphorical differences between democracy and a totalitarian state.
  • Lights delineate the seemingly harmonious line of Gaza, Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan perched on a narrow strip of land along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean.
  • Water as the lifeblood of civilization is clearly seen worldwide as the lights of major cities line sheltered harbors and navigable rivers.

Keeney’s picks for the “Seven Wonders of the Nighttime World” show truly awe-inducing panoramic images of population centers around the globe in all their glittering glory. His playful selection on “The Unintentional Artwork of Man” offers a counterpoint to the zodiac creatures of the ancient astronomers.

The book itself is a testament to new technology, very human sharing without face-to-face contact: inspired by an astronaut’s tweet, filled with digital images, refined via Twitter consultation, facilitated by interviews on, and transmitted by YouSendIt.

L. Douglas Keeney is the author of eleven books on military or American history. He is a cofounder of The Military Channel, and has visited many of the cities in this book. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky.

Source: Globe Pequot Press