AstroNuts, astroants and astronauts, it's all about that space on For Science!
Monday, February 9, 2015, 9:51 AM - In this second episode of For Science!, we focus on astronauts and space - with a visit to an amazing kids science club, a discussion about insect space suits and how long humans have lived in space.
Kids in Space (almost!)
Starting in 2010, father-son team Ray and Brett Bielecki transformed their suburban basement into the home-base of the AstroNuts Kids Space Club. Every year, a dozen or so elementary school kids, ages 9-13, gather there once a month, to learn about 'everything space' from educators, scientists and astronauts - past, present and future.
Brett and Ray Bielecki (back row, right) and the AstroNuts pose with Ukrainian astronaut Yaroslav "Yarko" Pustovyi. Photo by Kent Hunter. Used with permission.
Their latest meeting, at the end of January, featured guest speaker Ukrainian astronaut Yaroslav "Yarko" Pustovyi, who discussed the Collaborative Ukrainian Experiment he conducted with fellow astronaut Leonid Konstantinovich, who flew on the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1998. Author and science workshop presenter Stan Taylor taught the kids about aerodynamics while they built wooden planes, and then they were treated to a remote visit by Abigail Harrison, aka Astronaut Abby, the 17-year-old Michigan girl who is on the path to becoming one of the first humans to set foot on Mars.
Alongside the educational portion of each meeting, the kids get to interact with the incredible environment the Bielecki team has created - Spaceship Mercury Two (SSM-2) - which, according to their website is "constructed completely of recycled materials or materials headed for landfill...space junk!"
Not even taking into account the 'Mission Control' area or the impressive workshop they've put together, Spaceship Mercury Two takes up the vast majority of their basement space, and even the images and videos taken of it do not truly do it justice. This isn't just a playground, though. The spaceship becomes a learning tool later in the year, to help teach the kids skills like teamwork and attention to detail, as they run through drills to 'launch' the ship into orbit.
The invention of the scanning electron microscope was a huge boon to science, as researchers could now peer down into the amazing nanoscopic scale. However, there's one big limitation for these machines - whatever you're scanning with it must be in a 100 per cent vacuum. This is due to the electrons in the scanning beam being so much smaller than the size of any molecule of gas in the air (nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, etc) that the beam would be scattered and become useless if air were in the scanning chamber.
Thus nothing living can be put under one of these powerful microscopes, and that puts a huge limitation on what we can learn from them.
However, a team of Japanese researchers has found a solution, taken directly from how we humans conduct ourselves in a hard vacuum. They designed an insect-sized space suit, which they call a nanosuit.
This new invention wraps a living subject in a thin membrane that protects the subject from the hard vacuum while still allowing the scanning beam to pass through unimpeded.
Over 14 years of continuous human habitation
During his State of NASA speech last week, NASA administrator Charles Bolden mentioned many aspects of the agency's efforts and missions, but one sticks out among the others.
The International Space Station has seen continuous human habitation since November 2, 2000, when American astronaut Bill Shepherd and Russian cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei K. Krikalev took up residence as the station's Expedition 1.
Expedition 42 currently inhabits the station, with a six-member crew, conducting over 200 different science experiments. One of the coolest experiments conducted so far - setting fires in space, to study how flames burn in a zero-g environment, which may actually help us design more efficient engines for use here on the ground. Although in the video, there's reference to 'jellyfish swimming in space', the actual jellyfish experiment was conducted on the space shuttle Columbia in 1991, well before the space station was put into orbit. However, what we have learned from that experiment - that crystals (which jellyfish use to tell 'up' from 'down') grow differently in space - many more crystal growth experiments have been inspired, including several on the ISS (one of which was just recently sent there by a team of students from British Columbia!).
KEEP COMING BACK More on the weird, wonderful and sometimes wacky side of science and technology will be presented in next week's episode of For Science!