An astronaut: symbol of the 20th century?

The astronaut of the Cathedral of Salamanca in Spain.

The New Cathedral of Salamanca was built between the 16th and 18th centuries. It was formally consecrated in 1733. Salamanca is in the west part of Spain located 200 km from Madrid.

In 1992, the New Cathedral of Salamanca was restored and one of the artisans, Jeronimo Garcia, decided to integrate a modern figure of the 20th century: an astronaut.

This surely means that human spaceflight is one of the great achievements of modern mankind.

New Cathedral of Salamanca's astronaut

New Cathedral of Salamanca’s astronaut

Anecdote: Jeronimo Garcia kept the secret of the astronaut for a while. Initially, nobody was able to explain the presence of this astronaut on the wall of the cathedral. Some crazy theories emerged claiming that the astronaut was the result of alien invasion or time travel.

More info about this anecdote on Portal do Astrmómo (Portuguese) here.

New Cathedral of Salamanca - Credits: Aly Jentges

New Cathedral of Salamanca – Credits: Aly Jentges

Because we are all Born For Space!

The use of algae for life support systems

Would you like to eat algae for your dinner? Astronauts might have to ask themselves this question in the near future. Actually, algae are organisms which could supply some food and oxygen for the crew during a long journey. In what way? In this post, we are referring to microalgae. They are unicellular organisms, and depending on the species their sizes are around micrometers. They require a microscope for observation.Last summer, Phillippa and Angélique were given the amazing opportunity to work in the Exobiology Branch at NASA Ames Research Center in California. We are glad to tell you about the great potential of algae.

Algae are present in salt and in fresh water all over the planet including in unexpected places. They are very robust organisms and are able to grow in a wide range of milieu: very high salinity, very high UV, dryness, extreme temperature or, extreme pH. Algal metabolism can undergo extreme environments and have multiple uses. This is why algae are very good candidates for life support systems in space or on celestial bodies.

While the crew is breathing and producing C02, algae exchanges CO2 to O2 in a controlled ecological life support system while they perform photosynthesis. This exchange is very efficient: algae are one of the main oxygen producers on Earth. A good example is the Chlamydomonas reinhardtii.

Some algae such as Spirulina are highly nutritive, full of protein and vitamins. It is actually already available on the market in the form of tablets and pills.  Spirulina could be used in astronaut food to help ensure they keep a nutritious and balanced diet. This year at the International Space Univeristy (ISU), Phillippa participated in a study about astronaut acceptability of algae as a food supplement. Since astronauts are from many different countries, this included a food tasting involving people from many different cultures to assess their level of acceptability.

Algae2More and more applications….

Furthermore, algae have a high potential for producing biofuel and filtering water. Algal metabolisms need light (power supply), water, nutrients and C02 for performing photosynthesis and growing in a space-bioreactor.

In association with bacteria, Chlorella vulgaris could contribute to degrade astronaut’s urea. Thanks to chemical reactions, algae uses CO2 and elements present in the ureain order to clean urea. Chlorella vulgaris, could also produce biofuel thanks to its high lipid content.

Food, oxygen, fresh water, biofuel… Algae look like a very promising culture for space exploration. Like a large range of space technologies, space algae might take place in your daily life…maybe sooner than you expected.

Because we are all Born For Space!

Artificial gravity through a rotating system

Will you miss gravity on your way to Mars?

A long mission to Mars currently requires a long journey on-board of a spaceship. Weightlessness imposes some physiological changes on the human body including: bone loss, cardio-vascular perturbations and, muscles deterioration. It also affects the astronaut’s sense of orientation and consequently can generate a lot of stress.

These clinical changes in the human body could affect the astronaut’s health, affect the crew performance and could potentially jeopardize the mission.

How would the centripetal force help humans in space?

Aside of daily exercise for the crew, it may be possible to generate gravity in space with centripetal force, with a rotating system. The Force felt by the astronaut’s body depends on the rotation rate of the system and the distance of the body from the rotation axis. It is possible to generate various gravity levels and therefore the gravity level on different planets or celestial bodies can be simulated. For example, the astronaut could experience the gravity level of the Moon, Mars or Earth.

Centripetal Force - In the scenario , the body feel more gravity on the legs than on the head.

Centripetal Force – In this scenario , the body feels more gravity on legs than on the head.

The artificial gravity generated by rotation has two major disadvantages. Firstly, depending on the configuration of the rotating system, some parts of the astronaut’s body are exposed differently to the gravity. Secondly, the Coriolis Effect disturbs astronaut’s movement by affecting trajectories. For example, similar to being on a carousel, it is very difficult to walk “straight”.

The rotating system design must be the result of trading between physiological needs, rotation rate, radius, and Coriolis Effect. The cost also has a significant impact on the design. Ideally a large rotating system will reduce most disadvantages of the rotation, imagine a giant rotating wheel in space like in a Sci-Fi movie. Unfortunately, the construction of such a spacecraft requires a large amount of money and consequently a large amount of energy.

Giant rotating space wheel - SPL/MIT

Giant rotating space wheel – Crédits SPL/MIT

Otherwise, the crew could be exposed periodically to simulated gravity in a smaller devise. In the movie, 2001: A space Odyssey (1968) by Stanley Kubrick, the crew are placed in a rotating wheel while they are sleeping.

Rotating wheel for astronauts 2001: A space Odyssey (1968) by Stanley Kubrick

Rotating wheel for astronauts
2001: A space Odyssey (1968) by Stanley Kubrick

The human body is perfectly adapted to life on Earth. A long journey in space will transform humans in a new way. Could it be a part of natural evolution?

Because we are all Born For Space!

The Moon Agreement

The Agreement Governing the Activities of States
on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies

In 1979, a new space treaty was elaborated in order to create a regime for the exploration and use of the Moon and other celestial bodies (including orbits and trajectories). This is the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies also known as the Moon Agreement. It went into force in 1984 for the ratifying countries. The Moon Agreement is one of the five international treaties ruling space activities and it took place during the cold war, a significant period of time after the Apollo Program.

What are the main purposes?

  • Peaceful exploration and use of celestial bodies.
  • Exploration and use of celestial bodies is based under the common heritage of mankind.
  • Prevention of contamination of celestial bodies.
  • Equal access to celestial bodies for all states; states must cooperate with other states, and should share samples obtained with the entire scientific community.
  • Allocation and extraction of resources must be made by an international regime.
  • Banning claims of sovereignty and personal propriety of celestial bodies.
  • The United Nations must be informed of any activities on celestial bodies.

The Moon agreement has been intended to prevent any conflict related to the exploration of space. It prohibits ownership on celestial bodies by private organizations or individuals. Only the international regime is allowed to claim control and use of resources. There are currently only 15 ratifying countries.

Moon Agreement - Signatories and Ratifying states

Moon Agreement – Signatories and Ratifying states

All space treaties are available on the UNOOSA website in several languages.

Why have so few countries ratified the Moon Agreement?

Interestingly major countries with the capability to launch are not present on the list of signatories or ratifying countries such as USA, the Russian federation, China or the European Union.

The Moon Treaty is often not considered as a part of International law. It is also considered as a “Failed Treaty”. It appears this is due to article 11.  Within this article it clearly states that:

“Neither the surface nor the subsurface of the Moon, nor any part thereof or natural resources in place, shall become property of any State, international intergovernmental or non-governmental organization, national organization or non-governmental entity or of any natural person (Art11.3)”.

For some governments, the impossibility to make profit from the establishment of stations on the Moon may inhibit initiatives.

What are the consequences for human exploration of the Moon?

There are both positive and negative aspects to this agreement.

On one side, it is a positive perspective to see that no organization could claim property on Moon territory and make profit from local resources. Why should one nation be allowed to benefit from in-situ resources of the moon, and not another? This treaty aims to prevent problems similar to these.
On the other side, the absence of profit and tangible rewards for this effort could slow down initiatives. Considering the heavy cost and the difficult technical challenge to go to the Moon or Mars, it appears to be expected to use local resources in order to gain from the investment.

Currently, it seems that more and more private organizations are preparing missions to send humans to explore the solar system. This feat would be easier if the law preceded the next giant leap.

For more check out another article on the Space Review website.

Because we are all Born For Space!

41st anniversary of the Last Moon Walk

On December 14th, 1972 at 05:40:56 GMT: a human left the last footprint of mankind on the Moon…

The last mission on the Moon 

Apollo 17 - Credits NASA

Apollo 17 – Credits NASA

December 7th 1972, Apollo XVII was launched from the Kennedy Space Center with a Saturn V and three men on-board. This mission marked the last time humans landed on the Moon. The crew was composed of: Eugene A. Cernan, commander, Ronald E. Evans, the command module pilot and, Harrison H. Schmitt, the lunar module pilot and. E.Cernan and H.Schmitt landed on the Moon on December 11th. They performed 3 space walks outside of the Lunar Module which had a total duration of 22 hours and 4 minutes.  The mission included a Lunar Roving Vehicle which allowed them to cross a massive 30 km of the Lunar Surface. This mission was the last one which sent humans to the Moon and the most interesting for science. H. Schmitt was the geologist on the mission and they collected 110 kg of Moon rocks.

The Lunar module lift off was on December 14th. Eugene Cernan is officially the last man to leave a footprint on the Moon. This was 41 years ago. Nobody has achieved such a feat since this time.

More about the Apollo program here.

Why has nobody walked on the Moon for 41 years?

In 1970, NASA cancelled the last mission of Apollo due to budgetary restraints. Since then, scientists have not stopped dreaming about space. Many great developments took place after Apollo 17 Including the International Space Station (ISS) which is now permanently occupied by astronauts. Nevertheless, no person has been beyond low Earth orbit since Apollo 17.

Going to the Moon still remains a very high technological challenge but the main problem is the expense of such a mission.

Apollo 17 - Lunar Roving Vehicle - Credits NASA

Apollo 17 – Lunar Roving Vehicle – Credits NASA

Due to a lack of political will, some private organizations have popped-up with their own plans to reach the Moon with a crewed spacecraft such as Golden Spike Company. Their main challenge is the huge financial burden. Many scientists and politicians do not rank exploration of the Moon as a priority.

Eugene Cernan - The last man on the Moon - Credits RNASA

Eugene Cernan – Credits RNASA

“Too many years have passed for me to still be the last man to have left his footprints on the Moon. I believe with all my heart that somewhere out there is a young boy or girl with indomitable will and courage who will lift that dubious distinction from my shoulders and take us back where we belong. Let us give that dream a chance.” – Captain Eugene A. Cernan