Astronotes: May 2 - May 15, 2004

May 14

Intelligent Clothing for Astronauts

If you're going out, say, stepping onto Mars, dress smartly.

That's the view of the Institute of Electronics at Tampere University of Technology (TUT) in Finland. They are weaving a story called the StarTiger2 project - ideas for 'intelligent' clothing for astronauts, capable of checking their health while they work in free space and on other worlds.

StarTiger is an acronym for 'Space Technology Advancements by Resourceful, Targeted and Innovative Groups of Experts and Researchers'

The goal of StarTiger2 is to develop a 'smart' prototype suit, containing a physiological monitoring system, explains Eike Kircher, head of the European Space Agency's (ESA) Basic Technology Research Program.

The STAR-suit will combine a number of advanced technologies: physiological measurements; sensor, communication and packaging technologies; flexible printed circuit boards and Liquid Crystal Display materials; fabric materials and embedded electronics.

A smart clothing suit, for example, would be ideal for ESA's long-term space plans that call for human space missions beyond low Earth orbit. The astronautical apparel would be needed to monitor the status and location of astronauts carrying out extra-vehicular activities on Mars.

-- Leonard David

May 13

NASA Mars Rover Scientist Takes the Field

NASA researcher David DesMarais will take the pitcher's mound Thursday, after helping the space agency knock two Mars rovers out of their Earthly ballpark and into red planet's backyard.

DesMarais will throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the May 13 contest between the San Francisco Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies at SBC Park in San Francisco, California, where he is being honored for his role in the success of NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) mission currently exploring the red planet.

Based at NASA'a Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, DesMarais heads the rovers' long-term mission planning team, helping to plan the day-to-day operations for the twin MER rovers Spirit and Opportunity. He helps coordinate activities between the rovers and a Mars orbiter, and also investigates how liquid water has influenced rocks and soils at the two rover sites, Gusev Crater and Meridiani Planum.

"We are very proud that Dr. David DesMarais, a distinguished Ames scientist, is making such an important contribution to the success of the MER mission," said G. Scott Hubbard, director of the Ames center. "Of course, if Dave were throwing the ceremonial first pitch at a Martian baseball game, he'd be able to throw the ball about 60% farther because of Mars' less dense gravity."

The baseball game is scheduled to begin at 12:35 p.m. PDT, and is part of NextFest Day at SBC Park. Sponsored by WIRED and GE, NextFest is a public exhibit of cutting-edge new technologies at Fort Mason in San Francisco and opens to the public on May 15.

-- Staff

May 12

Pop-Top: Coke Can Goes GPS

Talk about your "can do" spirit. The sky's the limit for Coca-Cola this summer.

As part of the soft drink firm's Unexpected Summer ad campaign, specially designed Coke cans feature a Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite transponder and cell phone.

Winners who find one of these cans press a button to activate it, volunteer to participate and then have the grand prize delivered to them wherever they are.

Between May 17th and July 12th, more than 100 GPS cans of Coca-Cola will be available across the U.S. in specially marked 12, 18, 20, or 24-packs of Coca-Cola (classic, caffeine free Coke, cherry Coke and Vanilla Coke).

A winning U.S. Coke connoisseur could snag an all-new 2005 Chevy Equinox, home entertainment system, cash, or any number of additional grand prizes.

"It's a consumer promotion for the 21st century," explains Coca-Cola.

-- Leonard David

May 11

Mini-Moonsat Network to be Studied

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center is looking at the feasibility of putting around the Moon a mini-satellite communications and navigation network.

Goddard intends to issue a sole-source Request for Proposal to Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) to look into a "Lunar Microsat Com-Nav Network".

APL is to study use of micro-satellites placed around the Moon, deployed in multiple steps over a period of time. The small satellites would be hurled toward their lunar target from secondary launch into geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO). Also to be considered is use of fuel-saving weak stability boundaries to nudge the Moon satellite network into place.

Such a network, once on location, would ostensibly help guide robotic and human landing craft down to precise spots on the Moon. Additionally, the mini-Moonsats would pump up the volume of lunar information relayed back to Earth.

-- Leonard David

May 9

Last Call for Shrimp!

If you're craving for a crustacean, get ready to eat thanks to NASA's Mars rovers.

At participating eateries of the Long John Silver's quick service seafood chain you can claim your free "Giant Shrimp" in celebration of Mars rover evidence that "a body of gently flowing saltwater" once existed on the red planet.

On Monday, May 10, between the hours of 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., customers can stop by any participating Long John Silver's restaurant and enjoy a Giant Shrimp.

There is a "catch" of the day: Just one piece per customer.

Long John Silver's President Steve Davis has advised NASA: "The rovers have been extremely busy since they arrived on Mars - they've had 'plenty of things on their plate.' Now, with the discovery of ocean water, America can add one more thing to its plate - free Giant Shrimp."

Every person in the U.S. will have an opportunity to obtain one free Giant Shrimp at participating Long John Silver's restaurants in the United States, while supplies last. Customers can use the store locator at to find their nearest Long John Silver's locations.

-- Leonard David

May 7

Finally! Astronauts Get Tricorders! (Kinda)

Finally, the inner-geek in all of us can go out and buy something astronauts actually use in space. And it's an off-the-shelf product no less!

On Thursday, May 6, HP announced that their handy, dandy iPAQ Pocket PC was being used by the Expedition 9 crew aboard the International Space Station Soyuz 8 space craft.

For anyone who has ever dreamed of owning a Star Trek -like Tricorder, this is very cool. The handheld computers run a truncated version of Microsoft Windows, and will be used by astronaut Edward M. (Mike) Fincke and cosmonaut Gennady I. Padalka as mobile productivity tools to record daily crew procedures, write personal memos and check e-mail and calendars.

Ground support at NASA's Johnson Space Center and Russia's Star City Space Center will use the iPAQ Pocket PCs during the training process and to evaluate new applications for future flight crews to use.

This isn't the iPAQs first foray into space exploration, though it's the device's first time in orbit. The iPAQ is also being used on the TrailBlazer, a lunar probe developed by the company TransOrbital in La Jolla, California. The moon probe will use the device, which contains a 400-megahertz processor and 128 megabytes of random access memory (RAM), to communicate with ground controllers. The spacecraft is schedule for a Fall, 2004 launch on a Dnepr launch vehicle.

-- Staff

May 6

X Prize Gets a New Name

The X Prize competition has been rechristened the Ansari X Prize to reflect a multimillion-dollar contribution from entrepreneurs Anousheh and Amir Ansari.

The X Prize is a space race among 26 teams from seven different countries to build and fly their own three-person spaceship 62 miles (100 kilometers) above Earth, then repeat the flight with the same vehicle within two weeks. The first team to make both flights before Jan. 1, 2005 wins a purse of $10 million.

"As a child I looked at the stars and dreamed of being able to travel in to space," said Anousheh Ansari in a statement. "As an adult, I understand that the only way this dream will become a reality is with the participation of private industry and the creative passion of smart entrepreneurs."

Originally from Iran, the Ansaris are avid space enthusiasts who have had a lifelong interest in space exploration. Anousheh and her brother-in-law Amir co-founded the venture capital firm Prodea, Inc. as well as telecom technologies, inc. (tti). Their Ansari X Prize donation marked the 43rd anniversary of the historic Freedom 7 spaceflight of the late Alan Shepard, who became the first American to reach space on May 6, 1961.

In addition to the Ansari sponsorship, the Ansari X Prize is also supported by the Champ Car Wold Series.

-- Staff

May 5

Aura Aims for Ozone Patrol

NASA's Aura spacecraft is the latest in the space agency's Earth Observing System (EOS) series. The 22.5-foot-tall, 3.25-ton satellite has been delivered to Vandenberg Air Force Base, California - one step closer to a projected mid-June liftoff courtesy of a Delta 2 booster.

Aura's four state-of-the-art instruments will study the dynamics of chemistry occurring in the atmosphere. The spacecraft will provide data to help scientists better understand the Earth ozone, air quality and climate change. The satellite should clear the air of guesswork.

Data from the satellite's instruments will focus on such timely issues as the effects of increased industrialization in developing nations, large-scale biomass burning, ozone depletion and El Nino conditions.

Northrop Grumman Space Technology, based in Redondo Beach, California built the spacecraft. The EOS Aura satellite, instruments and science investigations are managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Dana Southwood, Northrop Grumman's EOS program manager explains: "Once on-orbit, Aura's instruments will gather the most comprehensive measurements of atmospheric gases ever, including ozone. Aura is the first satellite capable of collecting data that will allow scientists to gauge the concentration and movement of gases in the troposphere -- the region of the Earth's atmosphere some seven to 10 miles above its surface that most affects daily human life."

Aura uses the same spacecraft bus as Aqua, its Northrop Grumman-built fraternal twin that was lofted into Earth orbit in May 2002. The upcoming liftoff of the satellite fulfills part of NASA's commitment to studying the Earth as a global system and represents a key contribution by NASA to the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

-- Leonard David

May 3

Space Inflatable Project Eyed by Bigelow Aerospace

Here's a big idea...meant to get bigger once in space.

An inflatable space structure project is moving forward at Bigelow Aerospace of North Las Vegas, Nevada. Tagged as the Genesis Pathfinder, the hardware is now slated for launch late next year.

Once in Earth orbit, the one-third scale hardware is to produce important data regarding multiple features of a full-scale spacecraft.

The Bigelow Aerospace work is led by entrepreneur Robert Bigelow, owner of Las Vegas-based Budget Suites of America Hotel Chain.

The space firm is keen on spurring private ownership and use of space stations by making habitable space modules affordable for corporate communities. Under several agreements with NASA, Bigelow is drawing upon NASA's TransHab inflatable structures program, although the private company is pioneering its own design.

Bigelow Aerospace confirmed to that the Genesis Pathfinder module would be lofted by a Falcon 5 booster, provided by Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX). That launcher is a derivative of SpaceX's Falcon 1 rocket, now set for maiden flight mid-year.

Bigelow Aerospace has executed a launch agreement with SpaceX and "money has changed hands," said Mike Gold, corporate counsel for the company. No details regarding price or conditions of sale are now available, he added.

The purpose of lofting the Genesis Pathfinder on the Falcon 5 is to embark on an aggressive regime of launching subscale spacecraft demonstrators that will test systems and subsystems in actual on-orbit microgravity environment, Gold said.

-- Leonard David

May 2

Astronaut Hall Inducts Challenger's Scobee

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- Five former space shuttle fliers were inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame on Saturday, including the first American woman to perform a spacewalk, the first black to lead a space mission and the commander of the doomed Challenger.

June Scobee Rodgers accepted the medal on behalf of her late husband, Dick Scobee, who died aboard Challenger in 1986.

"I want to thank you all for honoring Dick Scobee. So many times he's been remembered for how he died. Thank you for remembering how he lived," Rodgers said.

Also honored at the Kennedy Space Center ceremony: Kathryn Sullivan, who in 1984 became America's first female spacewalker; Frederick Gregory, who in 1989 became the first black to serve as a spaceship commander and now is the No. 2 man at NASA; Norman Thagard, who in 1995 became the first American to be launched aboard a Russian spacecraft and to live aboard the Mir station; and Richard Covey, who served as the pilot of the first post-Challenger shuttle flight and as the commander of the 1993 mission to fix the Hubble Space Telescope's blurred vision.

The crowd, which numbered well into the hundreds, included 18 astronauts already enshrined in the Hall of Fame, a few of them moonwalkers. This was the third group of shuttle astronauts to be inducted.

All four of the surviving Mercury Seven astronauts were there: John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra and Gordon Cooper.

"As a young boy in the panhandle of Florida, I used to fight my older brother Dean for the Life magazines when they came in, so I could read about these guys," Covey said, pointing to the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronauts seated to his right. "They were great role models for me."

-- Marcia Dunn, Associated Press

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