If you are not an aerospace enthusiast I guess that probably you have questioned once or twice the motives and the benefits for society from space exploration. Luckily, with the widespread use mobile technology the GPS quickly comes now to mind when such questions arise.
I just stumbled upon the latest outreach campaign from NASA and I wanted to share some of its features here.
Let’s go first to aviation. See in the tweet below the different contributions that NASA has made to commercial aviation and which today enable your cheap, safe, reliable, on-time flights in holidays:
The series covers, among others, water purification technologies or tooling used in neurosurgery developed from robotic arms at the ISS. Here I wanted to share a video on how the Vessel-ID System has contributed to make navigation around the oceans safer, as ships emit an Automatic Identification System (AIS) signal very much like airplanes do with air traffic control. The signal is received by the European Space Agency (ESA) Columbus module at the ISS and then sent to a centre in Norway which continuously evaluates them.
See in the video below how this technology works and has contributed make navigation safer and safe lives:
Rio Tinto is a river flowing through the South of Spain opening to the Atlantic ocean at Huelva. I had wanted to visit it since long time ago. It is not just any river: it is especially acidic (pH2), it has a high content in heavy metals and as its name points out, it is red (“tinto”), due the iron dissolved in the water.
The Rio Tinto area has been a mining site since ancient times, and it is there that the British mining company, bearing that name, was founded in 1873, when some international investors bought the site to the Spanish government. The mining activity grew so much that at some time it was reported as the biggest mining site in the world (especially for copper).
The influence of the operation in the area reached every corner of life:
The ancient village of Minas de Rio Tinto was brought down in order to exploit the underground below it and had to be displaced.
A huge train system (over 300km of rails), only second to the national state train system, was built to bring metals to the port of Huelva.
The British colony formed by the company workers and managers brought by the owners introduced all kinds of changes in the society: from religion to the introduction of several sports (football, tennis, polo, criquet…).
The Mediterranean forest in the area was completely destroyed. Today, the a forest of pine trees, more resistant to the acidic conditions has been planted.
At first, several dozens of children were employed (about 50 under age 10!), salaries would be paid out in coupons to exchange for food from the company, work conditions were deplorable. Years later, partly due to the pressure of organized unions led the company to improve the standards of workers and to provide several social benefits. A major cornerstone was the strike that occurred in the first days of February of 1.888 which ended in the killing of over hundred demonstrators (“Año de los Tiros“).
In 1.955 the Spanish State bought back a majority stake of the operation to the Rio Tinto Company Ltd., which was kept ongoing for some decades, but today is closed.
Today, Rio Tinto has a very different interest, as it serves scientists from NASA to study the bacteria living in the extreme conditions of the river. This helps them in studying the plausibility of life in Mars under similar conditions.
The landscape is unique, striking. We took several pictures of it and I share some of them below:
The village has a wonderful mining museum, a train tour through the mining complex (11km route and back) along the river, a small mine can be visited (entering 200m into it) and a typical British house of the time is also open for tourism. It is a very interesting tour for a day (different packages starting from 10€; just ~60 km from Seville).
We also recorded some 5 videos along the train tour. See the first one here (you may find the rest at my Youtube channel):
I already wrote that my childhood dream job was to be an astronaut and that led to pursuing aerospace studies. In the same post I recalled a small toy of the Challenger Space Shuttle and how this toy contributed to that dream. Well, this post is just an homage paid to the Space Shuttle, or officially the NASA Space Transportation System, STS.
The last mission of the STS is scheduled for next Friday, July 8th. When the Atlantis is supposed to make the last lift-off for the mission STS-135 which, after 12 days, will end the 30 years of Shuttle flights.
During our last visit to the USA, Luca and I had the chance to see one of the Space Shuttle vehicles at the National Air & Space Museum (NASM). The vehicle at display there is the Enterprise.
I already mentioned in that post there that the Enterprise is the only vehicle of the fleet which never went to outer space. It was used for training purposes, to let the astronauts train the gliding descend they would have to make once the vehicle re-entered in the atmosphere. Thus, some parts of that vehicle are dummies.
The Enterprise hasn’t got the same thermal protection tiles since it wouldn’t need them, however its surface replicates the tiles with some kind of rubber ones so the flow of air around them would be the same as in the other vehicles. Another difference is in the engines at the back. The 3 engines that the Shuttle has at the back are its orbital maneuvering system, which allow it to adjust its orbit (they’re not atmospheric engines to propel the Shuttle in its flight back to Florida). Again, since the Enterprise would never go to outer space it wouldn’t need to adjust its orbit and the engines it has are just dummies to provide the same distribution of weight and forms in the vehicle.
I also mentioned in the previous post about the visit to NASM that the vehicle was going to be named Constitution until a public campaign achieved its goal of naming it Enterprise after the spaceship featured in Star Trek.
Find below some pictures of the Enterprise at NASM:
The Economist features this week 3 articles about the Space Shuttle program. I found parts of them very critic of the costs of the program, but nevertheless they give a somewhat complete picture of the history of the Space Shuttle and what may lay ahead for space exploration.
The different Shuttle vehicles (and other related materials) will be distributed among several museums and educational institutions. The Enterprise will leave the NASM and will go to the USS Intrepid in NYC while the Discovery will be hosted at NASM. You may find other locations in this article.
Finally, NASA just unveiled last Friday a wonderful documentary (80 minutes) about the history of the program: its launch, the vast engineering undertaking, the first mission, the Challenger and Columbia accidents, the improvements that the accidents brought, etc. To close the circle, the documentary is narrated by William Shatner, an actor of Worldly fame as he featured James T. Kirk, captain of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek. See a small trailer of the video:
PD: In the full length video, in the images shown of the mission STS-95 which brought John Glenn back to Space at age 77, appears Pedro Duque a Spanish astronaut that coincidentally was my teacher at the aerospace engineering school.