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posted by LaminatorX on Sunday December 28 2014, @07:33AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the Blue-Danube dept.

Spaceflight has faded from American consciousness even as our performance in space has reached a new level of accomplishment. In the past decade, America has become a truly, permanently spacefaring nation. All day, every day, half a dozen men and women, including two Americans, are living and working in orbit, and have been since November 2000. Charles Fishman has a long, detailed article about life aboard the ISS in The Atlantic that is well worth the read where you are sure to learn something you didn't already know about earth's permanent outpost in space. Some excerpts:

The International Space Station is a vast outpost, its scale inspiring awe even in the astronauts who have constructed it. From the edge of one solar panel to the edge of the opposite one, the station stretches the length of a football field, including the end zones. The station weighs nearly 1 million pounds, and its solar arrays cover more than an acre. It’s as big inside as a six-bedroom house, more than 10 times the size of a space shuttle’s interior. Astronauts regularly volunteer how spacious it feels. It’s so big that during the early years of three-person crews, the astronauts would often go whole workdays without bumping into one another, except at mealtimes.

On the station, the ordinary becomes peculiar. The exercise bike for the American astronauts has no handlebars. It also has no seat. With no gravity, it’s just as easy to pedal furiously, feet strapped in, without either. You can watch a movie while you pedal by floating a laptop anywhere you want. But station residents have to be careful about staying in one place too long. Without gravity to help circulate air, the carbon dioxide you exhale has a tendency to form an invisible cloud around your head. You can end up with what astronauts call a carbon-dioxide headache.

Even by the low estimates, it costs $350,000 an hour to keep the station flying, which makes astronauts’ time an exceptionally expensive resource—and explains their relentless scheduling: Today’s astronauts typically start work by 7:30 in the morning, Greenwich Mean Time, and stop at 7 o’clock in the evening. They are supposed to have the weekends off, but Saturday is devoted to cleaning the station—vital, but no more fun in orbit than housecleaning down here—and some work inevitably sneaks into Sunday.

Life in space is so complicated that a lot of logistics have to be off-loaded to the ground if astronauts are to actually do anything substantive. Just building the schedule for the astronauts in orbit on the U.S. side of the station requires a full-time team of 50 staffers.

Almost anyone you talk with about the value of the Space Station eventually starts talking about Mars. When they do, it’s clear that we don’t yet have a very grown-up space program. The folks we send to space still don’t have any real autonomy, because no one was imagining having to “practice” autonomy when the station was designed and built. On a trip to Mars, the distances are so great that a single voice or e‑mail exchange would involve a 30-minute round-trip. That one change, among the thousand others that going to Mars would require, would alter the whole dynamic of life in space. The astronauts would have to handle things themselves.

That could be the real value of the Space Station—to shift NASA’s human exploration program from entirely Earth-controlled to more astronaut-directed, more autonomous. This is not a high priority now; it would be inconvenient, inefficient. But the station’s value could be magnified greatly were NASA to develop a real ethic, and a real plan, for letting the people on the mission assume more responsibility for shaping and controlling it. If we have any greater ambitions for human exploration in space, that’s as important as the technical challenges. Problems of fitness and food supply are solvable. The real question is what autonomy for space travelers would look like—and how Houston can best support it. Autonomy will not only shape the psychology and planning of the mission; it will shape the design of the spacecraft itself.

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  • (Score: 2) by wonkey_monkey on Sunday December 28 2014, @09:38AM

    by wonkey_monkey (279) on Sunday December 28 2014, @09:38AM (#129664) Homepage

    In the past decade, America has become a truly, permanently spacefaring nation.

    I don't know about anyone else, but for me "faring" has connotations of going somewhere.

    --
    systemd is Roko's Basilisk
    • (Score: 2) by Jeremiah Cornelius on Sunday December 28 2014, @05:29PM

      by Jeremiah Cornelius (2785) on Sunday December 28 2014, @05:29PM (#129733) Journal

      Well, If this ISIS mission is so hot for America, why do we hear such awful things about them on the news?

      --
      You're betting on the pantomime horse...
  • (Score: 2) by Gravis on Sunday December 28 2014, @01:42PM

    by Gravis (4596) on Sunday December 28 2014, @01:42PM (#129689)

    the ISS is far from a permanent output. it hasn't even been two decades and there is already a plan to decommission it in 2020. saying it's permanent is like saying you'll never go hungry right after you've eaten a meal.

    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Sunday December 28 2014, @06:59PM

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Sunday December 28 2014, @06:59PM (#129752) Journal

      it hasn't even been two decades and there is already a plan to decommission it in 2020.

      With slight modification, it could be a plan to decommission the ISS in 2030 or 2040 or 2050, etc. Personally, I think they should have never launched it in the first place, but the only things that will take it down will be either a sufficiently bad mishap, US or Russia pulling out maybe, or a deliberate decision to decommission it. That decision hasn't happened yet.

      Further. no human building is permanent, though some can last a really long time. No one is keeping NASA from putting up more space stations to replace the ISS except the overall lack of interest in such space activities.

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by FunkyLich on Sunday December 28 2014, @02:33PM

    by FunkyLich (4689) on Sunday December 28 2014, @02:33PM (#129699)

    I am very supportive for promoting the ISS, Solar System exploration, studying Space, understanding more and more phenomena and making possible for humanity to go to far places where it has never even dreamed of going in the past.

    But I think that this is happening a bit of late. All this should have started back in the '90, since when I read about the ISS in Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine, with the then-future ISS on its cover. I wish the promotion continued since back then.
    Not only is this happening late, but the read also made me sigh and shake my head in many places. Like some others have pointed out in the comments above the out of place usage of expression like "spacefaring America" (!!) and "Earth's permanent outpost", I somehow found it unacceptable - almost revolting - the feeling of treating everyone as if they are Americans. Lengths measured in feet? Weights in lbs and pounds? Surfaces measured in acres? Why should I be familiar with a six bedroom house in order to get an idea of how big the ISS is? The football field... which kind of foot-ball?
      Give me meters, kilograms, litres, centigrades, square meters, meters per second or kilometers per hour, kilograms per cubic metre, Pascals, and so on... Actually make these the default measure units and write the imperial units in parentheses for those too lazy (or too proud) to standardize. If the article wants to teach and promote, the first thing is a robust an easy and easy scientific framework, to both remember and calculate.

    It is not needed to always teach big. But even the small things, teach them proper ffs.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 28 2014, @02:44PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 28 2014, @02:44PM (#129703)

      I somehow found it unacceptable - almost revolting - the feeling of treating everyone as if they are Americans. Lengths measured in feet? Weights in lbs and pounds? Surfaces measured in acres? Why should I be familiar with a six bedroom house in order to get an idea of how big the ISS is? The football field... which kind of foot-ball?
          Give me meters, kilograms, litres, centigrades, square meters, meters per second or kilometers per hour, kilograms per cubic metre, Pascals, and so on... Actually make these the default measure units and write the imperial units in parentheses for those too lazy (or too proud) to standardize.

      Dude we report it any way we like, after all It's not like it's an international space station... oh wait!

    • (Score: 2) by Jeremiah Cornelius on Sunday December 28 2014, @05:33PM

      by Jeremiah Cornelius (2785) on Sunday December 28 2014, @05:33PM (#129735) Journal

      When the Imperial Centre of Planet America gives utterance, the correct response for Europeans is to nod in assent. For Africans, Asians and etc., it is merely required to die.

      --
      You're betting on the pantomime horse...
    • (Score: 2) by tathra on Sunday December 28 2014, @07:13PM

      by tathra (3367) on Sunday December 28 2014, @07:13PM (#129754)

      But I think that this is happening a bit of late. All this should have started back in the '90, since when I read about the ISS in Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine, with the then-future ISS on its cover. I wish the promotion continued since back then.

      the ISS is the critical-but-boring part of becoming a space-faring nation. its right there, unlike say the moon which is a 3 day trip, so it lets us learn everything we need to know before we try to permanently set up in space. things like how no gravity affects how fires burn, how plants grow, etc, its crucial that we learn everything we can before just jumping in to the deep end head-first.

      i think autonomy should wait until we set up a moon base, which should be the next step. a moon base is sufficiently far that its great practice for autonomy over a full-length trip to another planet, but not so far that we can't rush help there in the event of some catastrophic event.

      one of the important things we've learned from the ISS is just how critical gravity is to maintaining human health; more than a month starts causing serious skeletal degradation, so we may not even be able to set up permanently in space until we solve that; centrifugal force is a temporary solution, but its almost necessary to have redundancies built in in case it stops spinning for whatever reason, and its not something we're easily able to use on planetary bodies if we set up on one with significantly lower gravity, like the moon, or heck even mars at ~1/3 gravity is likely enough that increasing gravitational effect, to readjust their bodies to earth gravity over the trip, would be required to return to earth from mars.

    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Sunday December 28 2014, @07:47PM

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Sunday December 28 2014, @07:47PM (#129764) Journal
      As you note, the story was written for a US-centric audience. That is the majority of the Atlantic's audience by an amazing coincidence. They don't do SI.
    • (Score: -1, Offtopic) by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 29 2014, @02:37AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 29 2014, @02:37AM (#129841)

      Metric is not superior to imperial. And your eurotrash statement of "for those too lazy (or too proud) to standardize. " applies as much to you as us. Yes they should be listed as both. But the European metric system is just that, another system without any superiority except to another loser European, so fuck off.
      So sick of Europeans who think they are better than everyone else.

      • (Score: 2, Funny) by FunkyLich on Monday December 29 2014, @03:39AM

        by FunkyLich (4689) on Monday December 29 2014, @03:39AM (#129857)

        I am certain that in some language on this world, the one you have studied as a foreign language just like I have done with english, the words "better" and "easier" are one and the same. Unfortunately, in the language called Ameri^H^H^H^H^HEnglish and a few other European languages I know of, this is not the case.
        But of course, for a genius like you there should be no trouble calculating mentally how heavy will be a box of paint (lbs) needed to paint a wall with a known area (square feet) when you know the paint on the wall will be half a millimeter thick. Your marvelous brain has the coefficients needed for the divisions and multiplications readily available in your excellent memory and you scold the so much worse conversions using the useless powers of ten.

        I salute you, dweller of the spacefaring nation, even though I risk being tagged a troll.

        • (Score: 2) by hubie on Monday December 29 2014, @11:16PM

          by hubie (1068) on Monday December 29 2014, @11:16PM (#130066) Journal

          the words "better" and "easier" are one and the same

          I would actually be quite surprised if there were any languages in the world where those two words were one and the same. Often the "easier" solution is chosen as the "better" solution, but only because it is easier, not necessarily better. Rounding and approximating equations make them easier, but if you are trying to calculate with precision, they would not be better.

          In the specific case of informally describing the size of the space station, the better and easier solution is to use non-standard units like football fields. Who cares what kind of football field you're talking about? On the scale of a human, they are all basically the same. FIFA doesn't even specify a specific size for a field. Their minimum length is just under the length of an American football field, and their maximum length is just under the length of a Canadian football field. Saying it is the size of a football field immediately fixes a picture in people's heads, unlike if you said it was 5000 square meters. Actually, in this specific case I would argue the best unit to have used would have been an acre, because one acre is about the size of a football field.

          But of course, for a genius like you there should be no trouble calculating mentally how heavy will be a box of paint (lbs) needed to paint a wall with a known area (square feet) when you know the paint on the wall will be half a millimeter thick. Your marvelous brain has the coefficients needed for the divisions and multiplications readily available in your excellent memory and you scold the so much worse conversions using the useless powers of ten.

          I'm not sure you picked the best example to support your point. On a non-commercial scale, at least, one purchases paint volumetrically, not by weight. In the US, paint comes in standard cans (gallons or pints), and one is usually given a loose estimate for the area (in square feet) that it would cover (I would wager determined empirically with a roller instead of via calculation). I don't know why one would calculate the weight of the paint they need for a job. I suppose if one wanted to paint the space station, one would want to know the weight of the paint to launch, but then they'd need to calculate the actual surface area they're going to paint and not use the maximum footprint area. Your point seems to be that calculations are easier to do because you're just moving decimal places around, but you're not any easier with your example. You're still using a calculator anyway, and you still need to know and multiply by the density of the paint to calculate the weight.

          The AC's point is correct: there is no superior system of units. The best system of units to use are those that make sense for what you are doing. In fact, that is where all these different units came from in the first place. If you're doing international trade, your best units to use are metric because it is the standard used units, which is exactly what US companies do. Likewise if you're working in the sciences. I don't cook based upon how many milliliters of eggs I need, I use the more convenient whole number units of eggs. If you're giving a talk to a general audience and you're trying to describe very large or small anything (area, volume, speed, etc.), then you use units that are natural to the magnitude of what you're trying to describe (in other words, you don't use units where you have to start piling up the exponents after it), and ideally you're using units that people can instantly relate to, like football fields. If you're really worrying about what kind of football field you're talking about, or whether it is an English or African swallow, than you are probably missing the point of what the speaker is trying to tell you.

          for those too lazy (or too proud) to standardize.

          I wonder which it is then, is the EU and the rest of the world too lazy or too proud to have switched to decimal time? This whole modulo-60 and modulo-24 is a real pain to work with. If you have to do everything modulo 60 or 24 or 12 or 7, you might as well just be using hogsheads, imperial pints and royal feet.

  • (Score: 1) by Mr. Slippery on Sunday December 28 2014, @07:29PM

    by Mr. Slippery (2812) on Sunday December 28 2014, @07:29PM (#129758) Homepage

    "In the past decade, America has become a truly, permanently spacefaring nation."

    A nation with no capacity to put humans into orbit is ipso facto not a spacefaring nation.

    And as others have pointed out, there's nothing "permanent" about the ISS. It was built largely as a political maneuver to keep former USSR engineers and scientists occupied; as the political situation changes, it's highly possible that this motivation will fade. With little useful science being done (and preparing for a hypothetical manned mission to Mars, an enormous waste of blood and treasure, is not useful science), it's quite possible that no Americans will be onboard the ISS in 10 or 20 years.

    Sure, there's useful work to be done in orbit. Maybe enough enough to justify an ongoing presence, maybe not. But there's nothing "permanent" about any of it. The U.S.'s status as a true spacefaring nation turned out to be temporary -- it may return, but then it may go away again.

  • (Score: 1) by Buck Feta on Sunday December 28 2014, @07:49PM

    by Buck Feta (958) on Sunday December 28 2014, @07:49PM (#129766) Journal

    > their relentless scheduling

    So basically a similar schedule to any of us who work hard at a career, only they get to be weightless while doing it.

    --
    - fractious political commentary goes here -
  • (Score: 1) by khallow on Sunday December 28 2014, @08:33PM

    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Sunday December 28 2014, @08:33PM (#129781) Journal

    That could be the real value of the Space Station—to shift NASA’s human exploration program from entirely Earth-controlled to more astronaut-directed, more autonomous. This is not a high priority now; it would be inconvenient, inefficient. But the station’s value could be magnified greatly were NASA to develop a real ethic, and a real plan, for letting the people on the mission assume more responsibility for shaping and controlling it. If we have any greater ambitions for human exploration in space, that’s as important as the technical challenges. Problems of fitness and food supply are solvable. The real question is what autonomy for space travelers would look like—and how Houston can best support it. Autonomy will not only shape the psychology and planning of the mission; it will shape the design of the spacecraft itself.

    Does this story describe a NASA that could do that? They employ 50 people to tell three or so people (the US half of the crew) what to do. Once again a "worthwhile reason" turns out to be imaginary with respect to the ISS.

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Magic Oddball on Sunday December 28 2014, @10:23PM

    by Magic Oddball (3847) on Sunday December 28 2014, @10:23PM (#129797) Journal

    Almost anyone you talk with about the value of the Space Station eventually starts talking about Mars.

    Now, yes. When I was a kid in the 80s & 90s, however, when people talked about NASA, going into space, or the ISS, it was in terms of all the awesome scientific achievements they might bring about for those of us on Earth by doing experiments on the ISS that couldn't be done otherwise.

    The idea of Mars as a destination or as otherwise more important than other planets was a quaint relic from Mars-focused early science fiction [wikipedia.org] — something amusingly naive that past generations believed in. The current Mars & manned-mission craze is basically a nostalgic retro-revival of it, rather than a matter of detached, impartial science, as the focus on 'action-adventure' type scenarios like the proposed reality show. Either way, I wish we'd move past it and get back to appreciating the more serious/intellectual "boring" science that makes a real difference regardless of where it takes place, like we did in my youth.

  • (Score: 2) by wonkey_monkey on Monday December 29 2014, @10:14AM

    by wonkey_monkey (279) on Monday December 29 2014, @10:14AM (#129910) Homepage

    if (headline contains 'Surprising') click_bait_score++;
    if (headline contains 'Reason') click_bait_score++;
    if (headline contains 'Surprising Reason') click_bait_score*=2;

    --
    systemd is Roko's Basilisk