From The Editors Science

International Space Station (ISS) Has Come of Age – Celebrates 20th Anniversary

The International Space Station – the pride and joy of five partnering space agencies, including NASA (USA), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe), and CSA (Canada) – is celebrating its twentieth anniversary today.
Here’s how it all began.

On this twentieth day of November in 1998, a Russian Proton rocket blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carrying in its payload fairing a control module named ‘Zarya’ – the first component of the International Space Station (ISS).

Thus began the piece by piece assembly of the ISS, culminating with the installation of the final planned module in 2011.

Unity, a passive NASA module, became the second cog in the ISS wheel, joining Zarya on Dec 4, 1998, having been launched aboard Space Shuttle flight STS-88.

Ever since the first resident crew arrived on the ISS in Nov 2000, the space station has never been left unmanned, with rotating teams of astronauts from different countries occupying the space station at any given time.

The three-member team of Expedition 1, including American astronaut and former Navy SEAL Bill Shepherd and Russian cosmonauts Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko, reached the ISS aboard the Soyuz TM-31 spacecraft.

They would go on to spend the next 136 days of their lives on the space station before returning back to Earth on a Space Shuttle in March 2001.

Twenty years on, what started off as a Russian-built piece of equipment has grown into a six-bedroom orbital lab in the sky, with two bathrooms, a gym, and a 360-degree observatory module called Cupola to go with it, not to mention the array of equipment and state-of-the art gadgetry.

With its crew of up to six astronauts, this lab in the sky travels at a speed of 17,227 miles per hour (27,724 kilometers per hour), completing one Earth orbit in 93 minutes, which adds up to nearly 16 orbits per day.

Cupola: The International Space Station’s 360-degree observatory module (Credit: NASA)
Cupola: The International Space Station’s 360-degree observatory module (Credit: NASA)

ESA astronaut and test pilot Tim Peake, who spent more than six months on the space station between Dec 2015 and June 2016, took to Twitter to wish the ISS a “Happy Birthday,” calling it “an incredible feat of engineering, a marvel of international cooperation and nearly 3000 scientific investigations completed.”

“The space station to me and the way we have put that program together with our international partners is absolutely the best example of how we can peacefully, successfully do complicated things,” retired NASA astronaut Nicole Stott told CNET’s Eric Mack earlier this year.

Scott has held a number of key positions in NASA and has been part of several important missions, including STS-128, Expedition 20, Expedition 21, STS-129, and STS-133 – to highlight a few of her achievements – among many – in a long and distinguished career spanning nearly three decades.

How ISS has benefited Humanity

In addition to serving science as an orbital space laboratory, Earth observatory, and as a platform for decades of scientific studies and research, all of which will potentially serve mankind in the long run, the International Space Station has also made some immediate contributions.

The healthcare sector has benefited tremendously from robotics originally designed and developed for the ISS, especially in the treatment of breast cancer.

For example, telerobotic technology – originally developed for robotics on the ISS – is being put to good use by Dr. Mehran Anvari, chief executive officer at the Centre for Surgical Invention and Innovation (CSii).

Dr. Anvari has developed a robotic procedure to provide MRI guided breast biopsies to women in remote areas.

According to Dr. Anvari only about 40 percent of women requiring MRI screening actually undergo the procedure.

“Part of the reason why women were not undertaking MRI screening was because of lack of access to the best radiologists locally,” says Dr. Anvari.

“Some women have to drive very long distance, like seven or eight hours, in snowstorm during the winter, sometimes risking their lives just to get their MRI breast biopsies,” says Dr. Nathalie Duchesne of Université Laval (Laval University) in Quebec, Canada.

To address issues like these, Dr. Anvari got in touch with MDA – a Canadian company that develops all robotic systems currently in use on the International Space Station.

MDA developed a system called IGAR (Image Guided Automated Robot), which is a teleoperated robot capable of performing biopsies under MRI guidance.

Basically, it allows radiologists to supervise MRI breast biopsies remotely, thereby eliminating the need for patients to travel to another city or a distant hospital to get access to specialists.

Another ISS technology that has found its way into our lives is a water-testing system, which on Earth comes in the form of a mobile app called mWater for testing water purity.

NASA says: “This handy tool, based in part on International Space Station technology, provides a global resource available for free download as an app or usable via the Web browser version of the app on most smartphones.

“Governments, health workers and the public all can make use of mWater to record and share water test results.

“During the first year of the beta release of mWater, more than 1,000 users downloaded it and mapped several thousand water sources.”

Imagery captured by the space station’s HDEV ( High Definition Earth Viewing) cameras help in natural disaster management.

Some Twitter reactions on the International Space Station’s 20th year in space.

From The Editors Technology

The Elon Musk Mission to Colonize Mars

The inspirational and eloquent maxim:

To boldly go where no man has gone before

from the world famous and highly acclaimed Television series ‘Star Trek of the sixties, the brainchild of visionary producer Gene Roddenberry which was later turned into full-length feature films, drew massive inspiration and fan following which seems to be rising to this very day.

The success of the Star Trek movies and series created a sensation so much so that fans of the movies formed their own group called ‘Ttrekkies’ and every year a Star Trek convention is held in the USA.

Space, referred to as the “last frontier’ with its inherent mysteries has always fascinated man and right from the early sixties with the advancement of technology there has been a Race for Space so to speak.

The Americans competed with the Russians and it was the vision of President John. F. Kennedy that The USA would put a man on the moon before the end of the sixties.
True to his prophecy, Apollo 11 landed on the moon on July 20th, 1969 and Neil Armstrong was the first man to set foot on the surface of the moon with the famous chant ‘One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’ .

Space travel and exploration are exorbitantly expensive, so much as that in the early sixties and seventies, only The USA and the former Soviet Union were engaged in this field.

Over time other countries like India, China, The European Space agency all started sending rockets into space for weather data, communication and television satellites, Topography etc.

It is only after the turn of the millennium that the private sector has become involved in space travel and exploration for although the commercial benefits may be high the cost of launching a spaceship into deep space is absolutely staggering .

It takes vision, daring, creativity , an adventurous spirit and the boldness of rising to the challenge to venture into such celestial pursuits.Two people worthy of being singled out in the context of commercial space travel space need special mention here as both are visionaries with a dynamic and charismatic disposition, true leaders in their respective enterprises.

The first is Sir Richard Branson, CEO, and Chairman of the Virgin group of companies comprising 400 company with his latest venture Virgin Galactic. As the name suggests Virgin Galactic is a commercial enterprise opening up space travel to all those interested and able to pick the price tag. Although It has not kicked off yet, intrepid travelers have already started forming a beeline to book space for travel in the future.

However, a sad aspect of the Branson’s venture has been the fatal crash of one of its prototype the VSS Enterprise, a Virgin Galactic Scaled Composite Model 339 Spaceship Two experimental spaceflight test vehicle, which suffered a catastrophic in-flight breakup and crashed in the Mojave desert in California, USA.

Investigations revealed that it was an error of the copilot who unlocked the tail of the spacecraft in mid-flight causing the crash. The co-pilot Michael Alsbury died in the crash. This was a major setback for Branson as the accident cast a shadow of doubt on space tourism. However, the British entrepreneur has not lost heart and the project has not been aborted the space ship rebuilt with a savvy new design and innovative features are attracting large bookings.

The other dynamic and visionary entrepreneur can best be described as a genius and highly successful businessman who at the relatively young age of 45 has set up billion dollar companies, Tesla Motors and SpaceX, the first mass producing electric cars, the roadster, model S and model X and the other SpaceX, a spaceship company transporting in cargo payload. The man is Elon Musk, a South African born, Canadian. American for whom it so seems that the Sky is not even the limit.

He is the man who wears many hats, CEO and CTO of SpaceX, CEO of Tesla Motors, Co-founder and chairman of Solar city and two or three other companies. Musk has tremendous vision and is willing to rise to the challenge for his aim is to change humanity and the world. His goal comprises reducing global warming by producing and consumption of sustainable energy.

Furthermore, he believes in making life multi-planetary by establishing a human colony on the planet Mars. His Company Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, better known as Space X, based in Hawthorne, California , is an aerospace manufacturer and space transport services already exploring and experimenting with technologies to enable them to prepare for the colonization of Mars.

It has already developed the space vehicles Falcon I and Falcon 9 which are designed to be reusable. Its Dragon spacecraft has been used to supply cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). A manned version of Dragon is in development.

Musk believes that his program to colonize Mars will be possible in the next 9 years and his company will put the first man on Mars by 2025. The missions are sure to be hard, risky, dangerous, difficult according to Musk but he seems confident that in the in the pioneer spirit of the people they will get there.

Just as with the establishment of the English colonies, there are people who love that. They want to be the pioneers. Much like some of their ancestors, these brave men and women would embark on a perilous journey to a new world for the good of mankind, a journey with implied risk that suggest they may never return.

The first phases are to involve rovers and science experiments, not men and women. The equipment would be built by SpaceX (and others) and shuttled to the planet in anticipation of the pioneers’ arrival in 2025. The early flights are a proving ground, a way to better understand interplanetary navigation and allow the company to safely land its craft on Mars, before shuttling humans.

Essentially what we’re saying is we’re establishing a cargo route to Mars. It’s a regular cargo route. You can count on it. It’s going happen every 26 months. Like a train leaving the station. And if scientists around the world know that they can count on that, and it’s going to be inexpensive, relatively speaking compared to anything in the past, then they will plan accordingly and come up with a lot of great experiments.

In decades past, these missions would have fallen on NASA and congress, which makes it even more impressive that Musk and his privately-held company are leading the charge.The move is an audacious one by a company that lacks the resources of a government agency and is receiving only minimal support. NASA, for its part, has previously said it would provide technical — but not financial — support for Musk’s 2018 mission.

Whether it is an obsession or sheer inspiration Musk seems bent on proving himself. If things go according to plan, we should be able to — we should be able to — launch people in 2024, with the arrival in 2025,” Musk is believed to have said. This is indeed a grand plan for up to now we have just seen life in Mars in movies. If musk can pull it off and Mars can be really colonized in 30 to 40 years time his company will have done a great service to humanity as the Earth’s resources are drying up especially water and with burgeoning population in billions many will aspire to become Martians.

Musk has missed some self-imposed deadlines before. But he said that he intends to send SpaceX’s Dragon Version 2 spacecraft to Mars in 2018. SpaceX has entered into an agreement with NASA for a Dragon mission to Mars, set to take place as early as 2018. Known as “Red Dragon”, the variant of the Dragon 2 spacecraft will be launched by the Falcon Heavy rocket, ahead of a soft landing on the surface of Mars. The mission is also part of an agreement with NASA to gain further data on Mars landings.

Red Dragon was always seen as the first step towards that eventual goal. SpaceX’s announcement pointed to the completion of the main phase of an agreement with NASA, likely via a Space Act Agreement (SAA), to work together on a mission to Mars.

Elon Musk, has great plans for posterity and can rightly be called a great visionary and had visionaries and academics like Gene Rodenberry, Jules Verne, Einstein, Newton and many others been alive today they would have lauded Musk for his intrepid and entrepreneurial skills.

Elon Musk has the funds, the resources, and the manpower to realize his dreams and with the support of the US government, he has everything at his disposal to invade Mars and set up colonies of earthlings.

Musk has many more years to go and with his visionary thinking and foresight and with time who knows what greater achievements he will make. Godspeed to him.