How to have space fun in … Prague?

Prague, Czech Republic - Credits: B4S

Prague, Czech Republic – Credits: B4S

Prague is the very dynamic capital city of Czech Republic which offers some possibilities for having space fun. Czech Republic joined the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2008 and renewed the country’s motion in space. The Czech Republic’s involvement in space started in 1969 when payloads developed in the former Czechoslovakia flew on the Intercosmos-1 satellite. One of the most significant achievements was when Vladimír Remek spent 6 days on the Salyut-6 orbital station in 1978, making Czechoslovakia the third country whose citizens entered space. Currently the Czech Space Office coordinates many different sectors of research, development and applications.

For the general public

The public is invited to visit the Štefánik Observatory. It is located in the heart of Prague in Petřín’s parks at the Hunger Wall. The very friendly staff are mostly volunteers and will be pleased to welcome you in Czech and in English. If you arrive at night (21:00-23:00) you will have the pleasure to perform some celestial observations, during the day however, the observatory focuses on observations of the sun and sun spots.

Štefánik Observatory in Prague - Crédits: B4S

Štefánik Observatory in Prague – Crédits: B4S

Štefánik Observatory - Credits: B4S

Štefánik Observatory – Credits: B4S

Additionally, the National Technical Museum of Prague has a gallery dedicated to astronomy. The public will find many old and new instruments for celestial observations among other fun space items. The main gallery also has a floor dedicated to aerospace. Currently there is a specific exhibition showcasing the Czechoslovak satellites Magion (70’s-90’s) and the astronaut Vladimír Remek.

Magion satellite - Crédits: Institute of Atmospheric Physics AS CR in Prague

Magion satellite – Credits: Institute of Atmospheric Physics AS CR in Prague

For the space enthusiast

In 2013, the Czech Space Office, itself located in Prague, published the Czech Space Catalogue. Not less than 42 entities (universities, institutions and companies) are located in Prague. Many departments of the Technical University of Prague and research institutions are working on space related projects in close relation with local companies.

Particularly, the Institute of psychology academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and QED group are both studying human Behavior in Space. They have contributed to the project Mars500 by socio-mapping for monitoring communication within work teams, including those exposed to extreme conditions. The Mars-500 mission was a 6 man psychosocial isolation experiment conducted between 2007 and 2011 by Russia, the ESA and China, in preparation for an unspecified future manned spaceflight to the planet Mars.

The dynamic of a small group in a confined and extreme environment must be studied very carefully for a long term mission. Monitoring the crew psychological health and difficulties are essential for the success of any space mission. Crew mates must be able to perform social interactions and handle different issues. The behavior of the entire crew can drastically affect the success of a mission.

Prague will provide you with a greater understanding of the significance of space in the Czech Republic. This city has definitely a role to play in human space exploration. It may not have been somewhere you thought space activities prevailed, but you should not forget that we are all…

Born For Space!


Why investing in space exploration makes sense?

Space exploration is often seen as just a huge waste of money. It’s not a surprise that sending a robot to Mars doesn’t make a lot of money.

To explain this why space isn’t a waste of money we will try to compare the space sector to something a little bit more familiar. Surprisingly, trains are very similar to the space sector!

A train is composed of a locomotive and carriages. The locomotive pulls all the carriages along and the train company makes money from passengers and freight within carriages.

The carriages represent all fields of the space sector; there are as many carriages as we wish in our train: communication satellites, navigation, Earth observation, transport systems, tourism, education, etc. Most people acknowledge that satellites play a very important role in our economy but they remain skeptical about space exploration.

In fact, most return on investment within the space sector comes from transfer of technology and sciences to the industry. On May 12th 2014 at the Copernicus Conference in Athenes, Dr. Christina Giannopapa (Relations Member States Department) declared: “Every Euro spent in space gives back 6 Euros in economic development”.

Space exploration is the most important component to invest in!

Space exploration is the locomotive of the train. This is the leader, the power, the direction, the inspiration. Space exploration transfers all its energy to the space sector and drives all synergies. This is the element that creates the movement.

Investing in space exploration is essential for the global space sector. The locomotive alone doesn’t make profit but the train is not going anywhere without a locomotive. Space exploration alone doesn’t generate much profit but it is the most important power source for all other space fields. The train needs both: locomotive and carriages in order to be successful.

The locomotive "space exploration" leading the entire space sector

The locomotive “space exploration” leading the entire space sector

In steam trains, the motor is powered by carburant (coal) and combustive (air). In the space train, the role of carburant is played by money. If more money is injected: the train will be able to go further, faster and will be able to carry more loads. Therefore, carriages will generate more profit. Similarly, the role of combustive is played by the unlimited amount of people who wish to move forward in space exploration.

Designing the most efficient duo of locomotive and carriages is the job of space actors.

Get in the train and choose the next destination yourself!

Because we are all Born For Space!

Have you always dreamed of being an astronaut? Maybe this will change your mind

Living in a state of eternal freefall may be the greatest adventure of all time but being an astronaut may not always be as fun as it looks! An endless amount of somersaults and never having to walk between rooms may sound like pure happiness but what else does living in microgravity affect?

Space Sickness

More than half of astronauts experience Space Adaptation Syndrome (SAS) commonly referred to as space sickness. SAS is a result of the human body suffering from spatial disorientation due to the transition into weightlessness. The vestibular system in the inner ear becomes confused by the lack of gravity, and the lack of a defined up and down. The effects can vary from mild nausea and discomfort to vomiting and intense headaches. On the positive side, if you don’t get it the first time you go to space, you probably won’t ever experience it on future trips.

An astronaut vomit in his helmet - Credits unknown

An astronaut vomited in his helmet – Credits unknown

90 minute days

On the ISS you experience a full rotation of the Earth every 90mins meaning that astronauts on board experience a sunrise or sunset every 45mins. Having 16 day-night cycles in a 24 hour period destroys circadian rhythms and therefore many astronauts report difficulty sleeping. To help reduce astronauts experiencing space lag they operate on a 24 hour cycle using Greenwich Mean Time.

Puffy Face/Chicken Leg Syndrome

Puffy face and skinny leg syndrome is also something that is experienced when living in space. This is a result of fluid changes in the body, especially within the first couple of days of entering the microgravity environment. On Earth the heart has to pump blood against gravity, to get blood to the upper half of your body it must work harder. In space there is no gravity to pull fluids down, they remain in the upper half of the body causing puffy face and skinny leg syndrome until the body readjusts.

Microgravity causes an astronaut's body to change while in space. Credit: NASA

Microgravity causes an astronaut’s body to change while in space. Credit: NASA

Reduced Snoring

Although it is possible to snore in space and there are recordings of astronauts to prove it, comparisons to their snoring patterns on Earth have demonstrated that snoring is significantly reduced in space.

Cosmic Ray Flashes

Astronauts have reported experiencing blinding flashes of light in their eyes whilst in space. These are even experienced when their eyes are shut. These flashes are actually the astronauts seeing cosmic rays (high energy subatomic particles) passing through their eyes.

Vision Changes

Space will also change the shape of your eye. The optic nerve and the back of the eye swell which causes it to change shape. Vision changes experienced by astronauts spending a significant period of time in space have been shown to not be temporary. There is currently not a great understanding as to why these vision changes occur and more investigation needs to occur.

Using the Advanced Diagnostic Ultrasound in Microgravity (ADUM) protocols, ISS Expedition Commander Leroy Chiao performs an ultrasound examination of the eye on Flight Engineer Salizhan Sharipov - Credits: NASA

Using the Advanced Diagnostic Ultrasound in Microgravity (ADUM) protocols, ISS Expedition Commander Leroy Chiao performs an ultrasound examination of the eye on Flight Engineer Salizhan Sharipov – Credits: NASA

No crying allowed

You cannot cry in space. Although your eyes are physically capable of producing tears, there is no way for them to fall. Crying therefore consists of a ball of water building around your eye until you wipe it away!

Taste Bud Changes

Your eyes are not the only things that change in space, your taste buds change as well. Astronauts have reported that eating in space is similar to eating when you have a head cold, in that your sense of taste is dulled considerably. As a consequence astronauts commonly prefer spicy food to help .

Various examples of encapsulated space food. Image Credit: NASA/Johnson Space Flight Center

Various examples of encapsulated space food. Image Credit: NASA/Johnson Space Flight Center

Spine Growth

Gravity is no longer pressing down on your skeleton so you’ll grow taller in space! Due to their vertebrae stretching out Astronauts experience growth of up to 7.6cm (3 inches) in long duration spaceflight. Unfortunately it can’t stay like that forever and when returning to Earth most astronauts return to their regular height within 10 days.

 Loss of muscle mass and bone density are two problems which are significant among long term space missions. On long term missions to the ISS astronauts have experienced an average loss of bone density of more than 1% bone mass per month. Ensuring that their diet is rich in calcium as well as vitamin d is one of the main countermeasures to help ensure astronaut bone health. Drugs commonly used for osteoporosis on Earth are also used to help reduce loss of bone mass.

Muscle atrophy is also experienced by astronauts due to the lack of gravity. Muscle mass loss is significant among long stay astronauts due to the lack of need to use muscles to perform tasks in space. Although they are not needed in space, when astronauts return to earth they are not capable of standing or walking due to the amount of muscle they have lost. Loaded exercise for a minimum of two hours a day in space is the primary method to reduce muscle mass loss along with a nutritious diet.

Lost limbs

The proprioceptive system becomes a little confused in the microgravity environment. The proprioceptive system is the system of nerves which helps us interpret where our limbs are without having to look around to see them. Gravity pulling down on our joints and muscles is a contributor to how the system interprets where our bodies are. As a result astronauts often ‘lose’ their arms and legs in space.

You might miss your bathroom

Since if you had a tap or a sink in space water would just fly around everywhere, there is no such thing as a shower. Therefore even if you’re in space for six months or longer the only method you have of cleaning yourself is a nice refreshing sponge bath! Imagine having to exercise for 2 hours a day and not being able to have a shower afterwards! It’s not like you can open a window to let some fresh air in either, so one of the first things astronauts comment on when they enter the ISS is that it does not smell like nice flowers and perfume…

Russian bathroom on-board ISS - AP press

Russian bathroom on-board ISS – Credits : AP press


Object Dropping

Upon returning to Earth a problem that is frequently reported by astronauts is dropping of objects and being perplexed when they smash. Even after short stays on orbit it appears to be an easy habit to develop that if you let an object go it will just stay as it is. Some astronauts have even admitted to experiencing this after being back on Earth for months.

Living in space is definitely very different to living on earth and as a fairly new species to outer space we still have a lot to learn about how to effectively live in such an environment, which we will…

Because we are all Born For Space!

Are space elevators realistic?

In 1895, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the grandfather of astronautics, proposed for the first time the concept of space elevator. Since that time, there was considerable skepticism towards this concept. However in December 2013, the International Academy of Astronautics “Concludes Space Elevators Seem Feasible” as described in the book “Space Elevators: An Assessment of the Technological Feasibility and the Way Forward”.

Will we ever see an astronaut exploring space launched by a space elevator?

Alternative launching system

A space elevator is a mass transport system to reach space. The concept consists of a very long cable attached near the equator of the planet and extended into space beyond geostationary orbit. Most current concepts are proposed for Earth implementation but it could take place on another planet. This alternative to large rockets would be an asset for space exploration.

In 2003, Dr. Bradley C. Edwards established guidelines for the construction in his book “The Space Elevator: A Revolutionary Earth-to-Space Transportation System”. Most of designs include four basic elements:

  • Anchor station: an anchor that could be on mobile a platform in the ocean or static on the top of a mountain. The location will be preferably near the equator in order to benefit of natural Earth velocity.
  • Ribbon: it has to support a colossal tension which varies with the altitude and a large weight (its own weight and the climber). It is a guide for the climber.
  • Climber: in that case, the cable doesn’t pull the cabin, it must climb by itself. It could carry payloads and crew to space for Earth orbit or for further space destinations. A good velocity is 200 km/h which means a 180 hours (<8 days) trip to geosynchronous orbit (36 000km).
  •  Counterweight: it could be a space rock or a specific station. Earth’s rotation creates upward centrifugal force on the counterweight. Cargo carried from the surface would allowed to be launched into interplanetary space thanks to the considerable velocity gained relatively to the Earth.
Space elevtor mechanics - Credits: unkwon

Space elevtor mechanics – Credits: unknown

Once the expensive job of building the elevator is completed, an indefinite number of loads can be transported into orbit at reduced cost.

This machine could carry payload and human into space, up to geostationary orbit and beyond. The ascension would be less stressful for the human body, safer and cheaper on a routine basis. It is a nice opportunity to make space more accessible to a larger amount of people.

The cost of a space elevator

In his book Leaving Earth (2013), Andrew Rader provides some numbers about big building projects:

“Other notable megaprojects in this price range include (2013 dollars): the Manhattan project ($26 billion), the English Channel tunnel ($17 billion), the Boston “Big Dig” tunnel system ($15 billion), the Arabian canal ($11 billion), the John F. Kennedy airport expansion ($10 billion), the Yucca mountain nuclear waste depository ($9 billion), and the Atlanta-Jackson airport expansion ($9 billion).”

Current estimations start from US$6 to US$20 billion for building one space elevator from Earth’s equator to geostationary orbit. This prices includes: in orbit construction, ribbon, power beaming stations, climbers, anchor station, tracking facilities, insurance, testing and contingency. This budget fits into the range of similar super structures and should provide some revenue.

Currently, the cost for sending a cargo to the geostationary orbit with a thermal rocket is around US$20 000/kg and the cost to send a cargo with a space elevator would be around US$250/kg (Edwards). Most of the price covers the power supply, the maintenance and the operating. It is not crazy to imagine a return on investment within 10 years.

The challenge

Space elevator - Crédits: unkwon

Space elevator – Crédits: unknown

Currently, there are many technologic challenges to build a space elevator. It might be difficult to see such a structure in a near future. Scientists and engineers should fix some remaining problems:

  • The construction of the ribbon: currently, there is not any existing material with a sufficient high tensile strength and with low density capable to comply with the structure requirements yet.
  • Prevent the swing: the ribbon and the climber will undergo some swing generated by the gravitational effect from the Moon and the Sun. It will also suffer from the Coriolis Effect (problem also evocated in the article about artificial gravity).
  • Risk of collision: that will have an impact on the air traffic. Plus, there is a risk of impact with a space object (satellites, debris, meteorites, …)
  • Environmental damage: the system will suffer from corrosion and radiation.

All those problems will jeopardize the total integrity of the space elevator. However, many researches are conducted all around the world about those topics. Astronauts will not escape from the Earth’s gravity via a space elevator tomorrow but we prefer to believe that it’s remain possible.

Next big conference about space elevators takes place in Seattle (USA), August 22-24, 2014 – ISEC Space Elevator Conference

Space elevator and fiction

Space elevators are also very popular in fiction. Sci-Fi novels, fairy tails, anime, manga and comics are fond of crazy technologies and often precursors of innovation: Jules Verne and Hergé went to the Moon a long time before the NASA. Star Trek’s TOS communicator has been inspiration for the first handheld mobile phone. It has also a large place in futuristic games like Syndicate Wars, Civilization IV and, Halo. However, it is underrepresented in TV series and movies: Star Trek and Doctor Who save the situation.

Because we are all Born For Space!

Are you keen to live in a lava tube on Mars?

Lava tubes are caves formed by  lava flowing and creating a channel. When the lava flow has ceased and the rock has cooled, a long tunnel is left behind.  Although the presence of lava tubes on Mars has never been proved, their existence is likely.

The pictures below have been taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) tool on-board of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). They demonstrate holes which could be lava tube entrances.

Possible lava tube entrance observed by HiRISE - Diameter 150m - Credits: NASA

Possible lava tube entrance observed by HiRISE        Diameter: 150m – Credits: NASA

Possible lava tube entrance observed by HiRISE - Diameter 150m - Credits: NASA

Possible lava tube entrance observed by HiRISE        Diameter: 35m – Credits: NASA

Why live in a lava tube?

The Martian ground is not the coziest place for establishing a camp with explorers and sensitive materials. Mars has an atmosphere and magnetic field which are not as efficient as the Earth’s to protect humans from the hazardous space environment.  In order to live on Mars, astronauts must carry their own habitats and living equipment from Earth. This requires a large volume and mass on board the spacecraft, reducing the payload capacity for other items.

If you ever have to live on Mars, lava tubes are very nice places which offer:

  •  Protection from radiation: radiation is a big concern regarding astronaut’s health in space (major damage on DNA).  The large layer of rock would protect explorers and materials from solar radiation.
  • Constant temperature: on the surface of Mars the temperature ranges from 20°C to -150°C. This variation of temperature is very challenging for thermal engineers. Lava tubes similar to most caves provide a constant temperature which is more convenient for thermal control. In addition, the camp may benefit from natural heat and so preserve electrical power.
  • Dust protection: dust is a very important problem. It is very intrusive, adhesive, abrasive and contaminant. Dust is harmful for equipment, experiments, and astronaut’s health. It mustn’t be introduced in the habitat.
  • Presence of alien life: lava tubes represent an interesting location to find alien life or evidence of alien life. Minerals present in the lava could be a quality source of nutrients.
  • Scientific activities: caves are excellent records of past environmental conditions. Therefore they are a target area for scientific research.
Possible Mars habitat arranged in a lava tube - Credits: Cater Emmart

Possible Mars habitat arranged in a lava tube – Credits: Cater Emmart

How to choose your lava tube?

First of all, your lava tube must be solid. You don’t want  the roof to collapse while you are sleeping in your  room, or conducting experiments on Martian regolith.  You would probably also prefer to have easy access to your habitat with a natural opening. Some caves could be very comfortable but unfortunately inaccessible from the surface. You may also want to have it near to other valuable Martian point of interests. Finally, you also must check if the place is not already occupied by a tenant, like in the book “The Caves of Mars” by Emil Petaja (1965).

The Caves Of Mars - Emil Pateja (1965)

The Caves Of Mars – Emil Pateja (1965)