Amazing

Kjell N. Lindgren (M.D.)
NASA Astronaut

Lindgren is described by Scott Kelly in his book Endurance, as being “religious but tolerant and respectful of other people’s beliefs.”

I’ve so far been unable to find out anything about his religious beliefs, but it seems they must have been expressed in some way for Kelly to make that observation.

 

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Lindgren in “the cupola”, a seven windowed observation module looking down on earth.

ISS Expeditions 44/45

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Political Push: Back to the Moon

As someone who grew up during the height of the 1960s “space race”, I’m excited by the thought of a return to the moon. In particular the plan for the first woman to set foot on the lunar surface. The woman who will get the honour will be among NASA’s dozen or so currently active female astronauts, so to a degree I can say that she won’t be unknown to me.  .

My excitement about a proposed return to the moon is significantly tempered by some reservations. I’m not surprised that some of those concerns have also been expressed by someone with far more understanding and knowledge of the matter than myself.

Australian astronaut warns of future risk of deaths in space race

Andy Thomas, Australia’s most accomplished astronaut, who is in the country from the US to mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, has expressed severe concerns about the new international space race.

Dr Thomas, the first Australian to walk in space and who lived on the Mir space station for five months, says politics is driving the US to have men back on the moon by 2024, which risks a repeat of past spectacular tragedies.

“The very big risk that I see NASA is facing is that it is under incredible pressure from the administration, the White House, to bring the human return to the moon way earlier than perhaps the engineering should demand,” he said.

“The 2024 date is driven by politics, not by the engineering and that’s a very dangerous thing to do because you can’t change engineering to suit politics. You can change politics to suit engineering.

“We run the risk of killing further astronauts if we have unrealistic schedule pressure”.

I think the following political rhetoric shows that Thomas’s concerns aren’t without foundation.

US Vice-President Mike Pence in March this year said if NASA couldn’t put astronauts on the moon by 2024, “we need to change the organisation, not the mission”.

https://www.smh.com.au/national/australian-astronaut-warns-of-future-risk-of-deaths-in-space-race-20190715-p527d8.html

Mike Pence’s message in that video is clear. A space program that for years has been International in nature, with co-operation between many countries associated with the International Space Station – that for a decade has relied entirely on Russian transport of astronauts between earth and the ISS, and participants from Europe, Canada, Japan, Russia as well as the USA, is soon to be cast aside for American glory.

Just as the United States was first to reach the moon in the 20th Century, so too will we be the first nation to return astronauts to the moon in the 21st Century.

It is the policy of this administration and the United States of America to return American astronauts to the moon within the next five years.

Let me be clear. The first woman and next man on the moon will both be American astronauts, launched by American rockets from American soil

Such nationalistic, backward thinking, cold war era jingoism can only be detrimental to a space program that for the past decade has NEEDED international co-operation. Since the end of the shuttle program, the US has been incapable of putting its own astronauts into space and had to rely on Russian help to do it.

The rush to the moon, presented with clear nationalistic ambition has the potential to end the American manned space program. Such an outcome is potentially only one tragedy away, particularly with super-hyped expectations being raised, mainly for political rather than scientific or technological reasons.

This fast-tracked moon landing program now becomes the priority, bypassing the previous plan for the Gateway,  a type of lunar space station (see illustration below), with international input and co-operation, from which possible future moon landings could be conducted in a more practical and sustainable way.

It seems instead that a risk-laden rush is now being conducted in the hope of achieving an historic moon landing within a possible (probable?) second term Trump presidency.

 

gateway_configuration_concept_5march2019_final.jpg

 

62 Years Ago Today: Rick Douglas Husband (July 12, 1957 – February 1, 2003)

Another space programme related anniversary. The birth of Rick Husband.

High Calling by Evelyn Husband with Donna Vanliere

high callingOn February 1st 2003, space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry, killing all seven crew members. Rick Husband was the commander of the mission.

Evelyn Husband and their children, were waiting for Rick’s return at the Kennedy Space Centre, and it became clear that something was wrong when the clock counting down to the shuttle’s return, passed zero and started to count upwards.

Evelyn wrote High Calling only months after she lost her husband.
It is the story of Rick’s desire to become an astronaut, the difficulties he faced trying to be accepted into NASA’s space program, and the Christian faith motivating him, no matter what the career outcomes.

Rick Husband seems to have been a well-liked team leader of a very close-knit crew. Their bond strengthened by the extra time together caused by launch date delays. Husband’s STS-107 mission was leap-frogged by several other missions, their launch finally coming after STS-113.

The flight had added significance with the first Israeli astronaut being part of the crew, increasing security concerns prior to launch.

It’s a challenging book on many levels, that I found potentially raised questions about God, faith in Him, and the value of prayer.

“Why (or how) could God allow such a thing to happen to a crew headed by a devoted Christian?” Considering the outcome, what’s the point of praying for safety and success during a presumed “God given” task?

Are those two questions based upon wrong assumptions about the nature of a person’s faith (in God’s eyes rather than our own), and the reality of God’s will (as it actually is rather than our perception of it?)

Are the potential doubts at the heart of questions like those merely an expression of a lack of appreciation that God’s ways are not our ways? Maybe, what seems like a tragedy and a failure to man is in reality God’s way of moving towards eternal outcomes about which we know nothing and therefore currently can’t appreciate.

Rick Husband faced life with a favoured bible reference  in mind.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”  (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Trusting Him would include being careful not to draw glib and presumptuous conclusions that lead to unwise judgements.  To me that seems to be the message of the book of Job, and it seems relevant to this situation. After incredible suffering, and enduring the theological opinions of well-meaning, but ill-informed friends, Job is addressed by God who highlights the limits of man’s understanding.

Who is this who darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
Now prepare yourself like a man;
I will question you, and you shall answer Me

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements?
Surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?

To what were its foundations fastened?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together,
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?   (Job 39: 2-7) (See Job 38-41 for full discourse)

Rick Husband and Mike Anderson, friends, crewmates on Columbia mission STS- 107 and brothers in Jesus.

Richard_Husband,_NASA_photo_portrait_in_orange_suit800px-Michael_P__Anderson

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Mission patch.

The central element of the patch is the microgravity symbol, µg, flowing into the rays of the astronaut symbol.
The sunrise is representative of the numerous experiments that are the dawn of a new era for continued microgravity research on the International Space Station and beyond.
The constellation Columba (the dove) was chosen to symbolise peace on Earth and the Space Shuttle Columbia. The seven stars also represent the mission crewmembers and honour the original Mercury astronauts who paved the way to make research in space possible.
The Israeli flag is adjacent to the name of the payload specialist who is the first person from that country to fly on the Space Shuttle.

(adapted from here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STS-107#/media/File:STS-107_Flight_Insignia.svg )

 

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How many astronauts does it take to change a light bulb?

 

Gloria and I have been following the International Space Station and its crew for the past few months, after seeing it pass overhead back in February.

Since then we’ve subscribed to NASA’s Spot the Station, receiving email advices about when it will be visible from our town. We have seen it many times now, most recently last night. We were hoping for another viewing this evening, but it seems like it will be too cloudy.

The crew inhabiting the station throughout our observation period has come to the end of their mission and will be returning to earth in a couple of days.

In the following video, Anne McClain, one of the three imminent returnees demonstrates the answer to the question “how many astronauts does it take to change a lightbulb?@

Life Beyond Earth

One of the aims of the Mars mission mentioned in my previous post, is to seek out evidence of some kind of life on Mars.
Last year I posted thoughts about the implications of the search for life beyond earth.

https://onesimusfiles.wordpress.com/2018/07/27/life-on-mars/

Within the comments section after that article I noted that any search for life elsewhere in space has already, most likely, been compromised by the many space craft and associated vehicles that mankind has already sent out there.

Can it be guaranteed that on all of that space-borne equipment not a single element of biological contamination has taken place? That every mission sent from various nations hasn’t transported a viable population of bacteria to the planets that were being explored?

No it can’t be guaranteed.

surevyor 3.jpgIn fact life has already been found on the moon, by the Apollo 12 mission. They retrieved equipment from the Surveyor 3 spacecraft that had previously landed on the moon. Upon that equipment they reportedly found biological contamination, the common bacterium Streptococcus mitis, possibly deposited by a technician sneezing on it during its preparation for launch.
Later assertions have been made that the contamination was caused during or after the return to earth – but could that be a case of attempting to convince the public that the stable door had remained securely closed, and that the bacterial horse had not actually bolted?

No matter how strenuous those assertions may be, it is clear that the possibility of contamination from earth remains a viable possibility.

…despite using plasma (matter composed of electrically charged particles), intense radiation and heat to sterilise the components, and using special “clean rooms” to assemble them, it has proved impossible to construct a microbe-free spacecraft. The heat, cold, vacuum and harsh radiation encountered during spaceflight will kill most of them, but some will probably remain alive long enough to reach the destination. Experiments on the International Space Station have proved that spore-forming bacteria can remain viable in space for at least as long as it takes to get to Mars. [my emphasis in bold – onesimus]  (from https://phys.org/news/2017-06-strict-contamination-hamper-exploration-life.html )

ISS photo.jpg

In last year’s blog post I suggested why the search for life beyond earth is so important to many people.

If life could spontaneously start on earth without the need for Divine involvement then surely it ought to have started elsewhere too.

The more widespread life is out there in the universe, the more it could seem to legitimize the possibility that life doesn’t need a God to create it.

On the flip side – a completely barren universe (apart from earth) would tend to legitimize the Bible account of Creator God. If life can spontaneously come into being, why hasn’t it done so elsewhere? Why earth only?

Therefore scientists with an atheistic bent are desperate to find life elsewhere. It NEEDS to find evidence of widespread universal life.

Maybe there’s a degree of irony in the possibility that mankind’s attempts to find definitive, incontrovertible evidence of extra-terrestrial life is being made impossible by the search itself.

Destination Mars

Gloria and I have our places booked upon the Mars 2020 space craft, due to be launched in July next year. Here is my boarding pass.

Tim BoardingPass_MyNameOnMars2020 EDIT

NASA are launching this new mission to Mars and have invited the public to submit their names to be sent on the Mars 2020 Rover.

The Microdevices Laboratory at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, will use an electron beam to stencil the submitted names onto a silicon chip with lines of text smaller than one-thousandth the width of a human hair (75 nanometers). At that size, more than a million names can be written on a single dime-size chip. The chip (or chips) will ride on the rover under a glass cover.

https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-invites-public-to-submit-names-to-fly-aboard-next-mars-rover

Souvenir boarding passes can be downloaded by everyone who registers.

I’m now considering how to make the best use of my frequent flyer points.

NASA Memories

As someone in primary school when the “space race” started, Astronauts and space travel were part of the excitement of growing up.

I wasn’t aware of most of the early manned NASA missions, but I recall when some of the Apollo missions were brought to class attention by a student teacher.
I’m not sure which mission was the first we followed, but the interest was maintained until the early moon landings starting with Apollo 11.

What I remember most about that first landing, was being in a crowded Catholic Club, where a small black and white TV was surrounded by club patrons as we waited to see man land on the moon for the first time. It must have been a weekend night, and my dad’s cricket team had gathered there for post-match drinks with their families.
From memory the TV coverage wasn’t anything exciting – and I seem to recall that the actual landing was broadcast as a message of text across the screen, telling us that “Eagle has landed”. In a way it was an anticlimax. Where were the pictures?

I don’t recall when I first saw any actual footage of Armstrong and Aldrin stepping onto the moon. I have a feeling it was a long time after the event.

Over the decades my interest in the space program remained, not obsessively enough to follow everything going on, but enough to keep an eye on major developments. I was also interested enough that had the impossible happened, and I’d been given the chance to board a NASA mission, I wouldn’t have hesitated. At the time, I even believed I would have eagerly boarded a shuttle mission the day after the Challenger explosion if I’d been given the opportunity.

Now approaching 60, even the wildest dream of becoming an astronaut has long gone, and my age would be the least of the disqualifying factors.
I’ve recently been listening to a series on NASA podcasts that have included details of Astronaut selection. Apparently, for the latest recruitment intake of 12, they received 18,000 applications. Those finally selected had multiple degrees, and an incredible breadth of extreme life experience. After listening to the podcast I had to wonder how any individual could fit so much into the first decade or two of adult life.

[https://www.nasa.gov/johnson/HWHAP]

Today marks the 49th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 8, crewed by Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, William Anders (Lovell would later go on to greater fame as the commander of the almost disastrous Apollo 13 mission).

Apollo 8 was the first manned mission to leave earth’s orbit, and its crew were the first men to travel to the moon and back.

 

Entering lunar orbit on Christmas eve, the crew each read parts of the creation account from Genesis 1.

 

Space, the Final Frontier? Or another Babel?

Growing up during the Apollo era of the “space race” I was caught up in the adventure of men leaving this planet and heading for the moon. Even the black and white limits of TV and newspapers didn’t diminish the wonder of it all in my pre-teen eyes.

Like many boys of my era, “astronaut” was added to the desirable things to do when I grew up. But media disinterest when moon landings became almost “common place” not only led to the cancelling of later planned moon missions, it also diminished the appeal of space exploration in my own eyes. Skylab missions (even if I’d heard of them at the time) didn’t have the same excitement as visits to the moon.

But the interest didn’t disappear altogether. I remember my thoughts after the Challenger shuttle disaster: thinking I’d be more than willing to join a shuttle crew to go immediately into space despite what had just happened.

But while the fascination still remains today, I have to ask myself why. What IS the appeal?

It’s definitely not related to the hardware. I’d barely know one end of a rocket from another if one end wasn’t slightly pointy and the other didn’t spew fire. And it’s certainly nothing to do with any adrenaline rush associated with the danger – or the idea of speed and “g” forces stressing my body.

But is there anyone who could NOT be attracted by the opportunity to see the beauty of the earth from “out there” – or by the thought of stepping onto another world, whether moon or planet and being the ultimate tourist? Getting a new perspective of the wonders of creation…

And then I wonder – what does space exploration mean in the IMPORTANT scheme of things? Is there a legitimate goal to be achieved apart from possibly answering a few scientific questions while raising countless more? Is the financial cost worth it or could it be better spent here on earth? Does the exploration beyond earth contribute to a need in mankind?

Or is it an overstepping of boundaries, taking mankind into areas we do not belong? Is it exceeding God’s biblical command to “…be fruitful and multiply; fill the EARTH and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the EARTH…”

Would ambitions in space be exceeding that God given mandate? Or isn’t that even an issue to be considered?

And could entry into space even be the ultimate Tower of Babel reaching into the heavens to make a name for ourselves?

Whatever the answer, the thing I personally take from discoveries made through space exploration, is an even greater appreciation of an incredible creation and more importantly appreciation of the Creator who made it all.

Art and Moon Missions

Neil Armstrong, the first man to step onto the moon has died and because of that the media have done a little nostalgic look back to the event that made him so famous.

The space race was going on during my childhood. When I was most impressionable, one of man’s most impressive ventures was being enacted. The thrill of manned space “exploration” was still untarnished by familiarity. It was heading towards something exciting that had never been done before – then, not long after Armstrong’s foot hit the surface of the moon, the decline began. People started losing interest.

Only two missions later the space race had lost a lot of its public appeal– until an on-board explosion turned into a potential tragedy and brought attention back to men somewhere between the earth and the moon.
However this time the focus was changed. No longer was the challenge to get them to the alien landscape of the moon – it was to get them back to their own planet safely so they could set their footprints upon earth’s surface again.
Until the explosion, the media had shown little interest in Apollo 13.

I remember following those early missions. I remember the excitement of that first moon landing, and the expert observers predicting man would set foot on mars within the next decade. How quickly the decline set in and exposed the over optimism of those predictions. Not only was the mars venture soon ruled out – interest in the moon was lost. The achievement of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins in Apollo 11 became a peak in mankind’s history instead of a genuinely world changing springboard to greater achievements. It remained a reached destination instead of becoming the first step of a greater journey.

Part of the experience of those moon missions was recorded by Alan Bean, “the only artist to have walked on the moon” (http://www.alanbeangallery.com/ ). I now have quite a substantial library of art books, but one of the very first was Bean’s Painting Apollo, illustrating many of his paintings related to the Apollo missions.

When I bought it my interest was more in their depiction of the Apollo missions than in “art”. However I found some of his painting technique fascinating – how he added significance to the texture to the paintings by using the sole imprint of the boots he wore on the moon’s surface, as well as imprints of tools used on the moon. Some works contain traces of moon dust mixed with the paint as well as fragments of artefacts associated with Bean’s Apollo 12 mission.

Here is a brief video outlining some of his surface preparation prior to applying paint: