Tag: Futura42

I’m a plumber by profession

If I had some more free time – oh how I wish…! – if I had more free time and I had finished my home construction, landscaped the garden and my children were grown-up and no longer require my parenting, then I could finally read up on game theory. Or maybe learn to play the guitar, or drum. I might investigate what is happening in the field of electron microscopy – maybe even do a little more sports? Sitting on the sofa and try hard to not do anything might be an option too.
Columbus module. Credits: ESA/NASA

Columbus module. Credits: ESA/NASA

In all likelihood I would run out of time due to sheer recreational stress… The situation on the Space Station is comparable these days: Three of the astronauts on the International Space Station have had their return to Earth delayed so we unexpectedly had additional crew time for them. This does not mean that Samantha and company were finally able to fully enjoy the great view of the Earth, because here at the control centre we have a long wish list of things that we want done. We recently moved to Node 3 the Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM), which was designed as a transport container for the Space Shuttle and left attached to Node 2 after the end of the Shuttle era. This move offers extra storage space so that Node 2 has an extra docking port for future visiting vehicles. We also finally exchanged the old-style video tape recorder in Columbus for a modern hard disk recorder. Water valve fixing Samantha faced exchanging a water valve, which had not been functioning as expected for some time now on Friday: we put the extensive activities on her timeline and it kept her busy. Samantha had to start work the day before by reconfiguring the Columbus module as the water valve is hidden behind panels next to the hatch and blocked by an experiment rack. So Samantha first had prepare the “Express rack 3” to tilt it away to enable access to the valve. Many cables and pipes had to be removed for power, nitrogen, as well as the venting and vacuum lines, video connections and data lines.
Anna Pateraki on the STRATOS console supporting the work from ground. Credits: DLR

Anna Pateraki on the STRATOS console supporting the work from ground. Credits: DLR

On Friday, Samantha had to tilt the rack forward into the cabin, which was easy to do in weightlessness. She now had access to the area where the water valves are in Columbus and could remove the Nomex cover. We were now looking into Columbus’s innards. Columbus needs to be actively cooled as some hardware produces heat which is removed by water. In addition the air of the module must be cooled: air conditioning in space! Lastly humidity is an issue, astronauts sweat like everyone else and the water in the air must be kept within limits. Condensation would be a serious problem, especially in areas where electrical current is present. Therefore we use our cooling-water system to force condensation in a special device that cools the air and dehumidifies it before sending the collected water to the American recycling system. Columbus has two water pumps to do all this and various mechanisms to adjust the temperature of the water coupled with two heat exchangers that transfer absorbed heat to the outer ammonia cooling circuit, from where the heat is radiated into space. Of course that requires a lot of valves, for water shutoff, mixing or bypassing, and today Samantha was looking to replace the cleverly-named “Water-On-Off Valve 6” which we call WOOV6. Naturally the Columbus Control Centre made sure no more water flowed through that valve – in addition we allowed it to warm slightly: we didn’t want to ask the Italian astronaut to put on winter gloves for this operation. With the Express Rack 3 tilted, normal air circulation was disrupted – meaning the smoke detectors could not monitor all areas of the module and the astronauts had to be “prime for smoke detection”.
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield also did some do-it-yourself in Columbus. Credits: NASA

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield also did some do-it-yourself in Columbus. Credits: NASA

With these prerequisites Samantha was “go” to start the 28-page procedure to replace the valve. For the next four hours the astronaut acted as Do-It-Yourselfer: she inspected the new WOOV, set up her workplace, investigated the old WOOV and took pictures of it, unplugged it in order: electric connections, water pipes – and eventually started to pull it out. Once installed she put in the new valve, insulated it and turned it on… In between there was a brief but hectic moment when Sam informed us that one of the quick-release fasteners was leaking. Water floating about the cabin is always something that we do not appreciate at all. We quickly got the situation under control though and she mopped up the spilled water. It was already evening in Europe before we could finally switch on the new valve for the first time from ground control. We let out a sigh of relief together with the engineers in Turin and Bremen – to misquote Galileo Galilei: “And yet it moves!” Well done – summer is here and it is important that cooling systems work… 😉

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Samantha overtakes Sunita as holder of longest spaceflight for women

Sunita Williams during spacewalk. Credits: NASA

Sunita Williams during spacewalk. Credits: NASA

Since Saturday 6 June at around 16:21 CET (14:21 GMT) ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti holds the record for the longest single mission for a woman. NASA astronaut Sunita Williams previously held that record with 195 days after Expedition 33 on the International Space Station. Sunita remains the record-holder for number of spacewalks done by a woman (seven), including the most time spend on spacewalks in total for a woman at 50 hours, 40 minutes. Samantha’s Futura mission was extended after a problem with a Progress supply ferry. She already broke the record of longest single mission for an ESA astronaut last week.

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The return of the fruit flies

When my Boss told me a few months ago to “Go and interview them,” I could not believe it. “Are you serious?” I replied. “You want me to interview those…” But she had already looked away, bored. Go and interview them: that is all I had to do. Who was I supposed to interview? The umpteenth interview with an astronaut? Samantha Cristoforetti? A flight controller at Columbus-Control Centre? An interview with Stefano Polato or Filippo Ongaro? Nah. No, the Boss had asked me to interview those tiny, pretentious, horrible fruit flies. “Soon they will be the real stars of space,” she said as I left. She was right. Perhaps that is why she is the Boss. As I am a serious reporter and I deliver to the Boss and here is the full transcript our interview: Houston, 07/01/2014 Why the silence and the sceptical look? Dear fruit flies, the interviewer should be the one to ask the first question, not you. Don’t you think? Yes but you have been staring at us for the last fifteen minutes. Don’t you think we do have something better to do seeing as we only live for a couple of weeks? With all due respect, I expected to interview someone a bit more … A bit more…? A bit more … with all due respect …. a little more important, more intellectually stimulating.… Look, let’s start with the questions please, we only have five minutes before our interview with the BBC, CNN and Rai news. We do hope they sent someone a bit brighter. Listen … the first question I prepared, I do not know if you will like it … So here goes …  my question is the following… Go, come on, hurry up! So: you are just fruit flies, little limp creatures, and as your name implies, rather insignificant. You buzz around fruit, you leave larvae behind, and you ruin the fruit for the rest of us. As far as I know only mosquitoes are worse than you. So I ask myself: why would anyone want you on the Space Station? We definitely set off on the wrong foot here! For a start, we have already participated in various missions on NASA’s Space Shuttles and our scientific name is Drosophila melanogaster. What’s your name? Stefano Sandrelli … There you go, just appreciate the difference! Drosophila melanogaster: sounds a bit better, right? A tad more noble, n’est-ce pas?. And if you were not so ignorant, you would know that for years we provide invaluable knowledge to the humans that study us. In fact, we are very renowned fruit flies in research and considered a “model organism”. And what does a “model organism” mean? It means that we are easy to breed, we reproduce in larger quantities than rabbits, our DNA has been known for over 20 years, we have only four pairs of chromosomes and, as if that is not enough, our genetic code is similar to human’s, especially with regard to the transmission of diseases. Approximately 77% of the genes carrying diseases in humans have an analogue in our genome: Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and so on. fruit flies for twitterThen it means you are useless since we already know about these diseases in humans, what is your purpose? Look, try switching on your brain, please. Scientists know about the genetic diseases of humans, but it is difficult to study the genetic transmission of a disease as it spans the lifetime of a human being, around 70-80 years. We  reproduce very fast: our life spans a couple of your weeks and each female lays around 600 eggs. Get where we are going? Our genome is transmitted in real-time, “live” in front of scientists eyes, to many descendants. From your reaction it seems as though you still do not get it, do you? But how many are going to space? We start with a little more than 100. It is the mechanism of genetic transmission that interests scientists, understand? And we show it to them, generation after generation. But why on the International Space Station? Because there is no gravity up there. And gravity could be an important part of genetic transmission. Our scientists have created a beautiful experiment! Tell me more … how does it work? The Fruit Lab System has three components: a small housing compartment in which we launch. A second compartment is where we live and get fed and where our larvae are extracted. What do the astronauts do with your larvae? Do they eat them? Are you fresh food? What??? Where do you come from? The larvae are stored in a refrigerator called MELFI where our offspring are preserved and brought back to Earth for further study. There is a third housing compartment, where we can fly freely, assuming we are not affected by weightlessness too much. Here scientists mounted a camera to watch us 24 hours a day. A sort of Big Brother for fruit flies. A number of us live in weightlessness while others live in a small centrifuge to simulate Earth’s gravity. The larvae we produce are frozen, brought back to earth and studied. Are you really convinced that something interesting for mankind may come out of this? Of course, this is what we aim for and the scientists whom we are trying to help. We have been helping humans to understand how their bodies function for over a century!   If you want to educate yourself, we have a dedicated blog on this experiment: https://www.nasa.gov/ames/research/space-biosciences/fruit-fly-lab-ffl-01-engineers-blog/#.VMDVsCzhino And Samantha Cristoforetti talked about it in her blog entry: https://plus.google.com/+SamanthaCristoforetti/posts/PGvbX97yTee Featuring in the cover image: The habitat for astro fruit flies created especially for studies in microgravity. Credits: NASA-Dominic Hart

Stefano Sandrelli

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Welcome to our very own Milliways

“Yes sir”, said the waiter… “This is Milliways, the Restaurant at the end of the Universe.”

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is one of the most extraordinary ventures in the history of catering. It has been built on the fragmented remains of… it will be built on the fragmented… that is to say it will have been built by this time, and indeed has been … It is built on the fragmented remains of an eventually ruined planet which is (wioll haven be) enclosed in a vast time bubble and projected forward in time to the precise moment of the End of the Universe..

So far, things do sound a bit strange compared to restaurants on Earth. But in the meantime Zaphod, Trillian and Ford have arrived at theirtable…

A large dairy animal approached Zaphod Beeblebrox’s table… “Good evening” it lowed and sat back on heavily on its haunches “I am the main dish of the day (…) I’ve been exercising it and eating plenty of grain, so there’s a lot of good meat there.”

crew eatingWhat the characters in the Hitchhikers Guide of the Galaxy are experiencing in the book is not a common experience for earthlings: when we sit at our table at a restaurant the dish of the day certainly does not come to greet us!

It sounds impossible… but there is one thing that Douglas Adams and his talking dish got right: plenty of whole- grains and exercise is the key to staying healthy.

It is not science fiction and it is true for all Earthling’s such as Arthur Dent… and even Marvin!

Here at Outpost42 we believe that it does not take much to stay healthy, there are no complicated and obscure rules: what we need to understand is how the food we eat “talks” to our bodies.

And that is why we would like you to start this adventure with us.

So, what are you waiting for, get on board…or better yet get to the dining table! The Futura mission has just started and every week, together we will try to understand how to put the right fuel into our bodies to make them work at their best levels… just like the Soyuz!

Samantha Cristoforetti

Cover photo credits: ESA/NASA 


A mission with the right character

Anton Shkaplerov and Terry Virts: do you recognize them? They are Samantha Cristoforetti’ s fellow mission members.  They were assigned the Soyuz TMA-15M mission that, in late November, will take them to the International Space Station.

Imagine them designing the mission patch for the Soyuz that will take them to space. What do you think they will desing? Here’s a clue: Samantha, Terry and Anton are not just astronauts, but also pilots. Do you have an idea? Here’s another hint: they all wanted to focus on the concept of balance.

Soyuz_TMA-15M_2014At this point, if you are a fan of flight simulators, you might have guessed what it might look like. Here is a third clue. imagine three tennis players inspired by their tennis racket.. Or three cyclists had taken the handlebar as a suggestion. Is it clear? No? Okay, will  tell you: do you know the instrument on an aircraft’s dashboard showing the vehicle’s  attitude during the flight? Yes, the one that tells the pilot the aircraft is pointing in the right direction? It is one of the most important tools for a pilot: the attitude indicator or artificial horizon.

Samantha, Terry and Anton were inspired by just that. As if they are telling us:  we go to space, but we need balance and technology.

Thanks to graphic design of Riccardo Rossi, the horizontal reference lines in the indicator are represented by the Soyuz itself and its solar panels, while the angular scales represent the angles of pitch and roll. The Soyuz corresponds to a roll angle of 15° and 15 is the serial number of this Soyuz TMA and a pitch angle of 51° which corresponds to the inclination of the orbit with respect to the equator.

But that’s not all. As in a medieval bestiary, there are countless other references and symbols. For example, the Sunrise depicts awareness and renewal, while the three stars more evident near the constellations of Auriga and Cassiopeia, represent the spaceflight dreams of the astronauts. As if their dreams had become stars.

Finally, the total number of stars corresponds to the last two digits of the launch year (2014), and – if we include the Sun – the last two digits of the year during which they will return (2015).

Finally, one last significant note. Look at the shadow of the Soyuz. It is not in the form of the Russian capsule but it has the shape of an airplane. In particular, it combines elements of a Russian MiG-29, a US F-16 and an Italian AMX, to underline the inextricable link between aviation and spaceflight.

Stefano Sandrelli

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Freeze dry

At Earth’s surface, escape velocity (the speed needed to leave our planet) is about 11.2 km/s, more than 40 thousand km/h. Many science fiction writers came up with systems could transport personnel and equipment directly from Earth into space without rocket propulsion. Well-known writers such as Arthur C. Clarke and Frank Shätzing have written about the space elevator – whose complex implementation has been an object of study for space agencies. Once built, the economic return of a space elevator would be obvious: reduced transportation costs and the possibility of launching satellites and shuttles simply using centrifugal force. At the moment, to reduce costs we minimise the load carried into orbit.

In the case of space food, a good solution is freeze-drying, which allows us to maintain colour, taste and texture of products that return almost unchanged, after adding water. In particular, Argotec  hose this technique for two reasons. With a shelf-life of over two years at room temperature freeze-dried food can be kept much longer than using simple dehydration techniques. Secondly freeze-drying respects the characteristics of food and nutritional values. Lyophilisation – or freeze drying – is carried out in a vacuum. Foods are frozen quickly at –30, -40 ° C, then pressure is reduced to the point where water in the food sublimates (switching a from solid ice to steam) by heating it to a temperature of 30° C. Stefano Polato, the head of the Space Food Lab at Argotec, explains: “early attempts at freeze-drying

were done to cater for astronauts but this technique is now used on Earth as it holds a number of advantages for big food companies, especially in terms of convenience in storage and healthiness. For Samantha’s products, Argotec has reduced the mass of her bonus food by more than half compared to the initial water content. Several foods can be freeze-dried, for example natural products such as raspberries (link to the post on avamposto42). Other products must be processed before freeze-drying as is often the case for fruits and vegetables. It can be necessary to add sugar or maltodextrin to avoid insoluble lumps that do not rehydrate after adding water. Argotec selected the best natural products, without any additives, for Samantha’s mission.

Antonio Pilello, Argotec

Read more: https://www.argotec.it/argotec/index.php/about_us/spacefood_lab

Behind the scenes