What Does It Take To Be An Astronaut?

Ever gazed up longingly at the night sky and wondered if you'd be an astronaut when you grew up? With the future of human settlement being studied in outer space planets like Mars, let's have a look at how one can qualify as an astronaut.

Ever gazed up longingly at the night sky and wondered if you’d be an astronaut when you grew up? With the future of human settlement being studied in outer space planets like Mars, let’s have a look at how one can qualify as an astronaut.

Crux of the Matter

Types of Astronauts

  1. Commander/Pilot astronauts – who serve both as space shuttle commanders and pilots. They are responsible for crew safety and mission success.
  2.  Mission Specialist – in charge of coordinating shuttle operations and supervising crew activity.
  3. Payload Specialists – have specialized on board duties and satisfy unique requirements specific to the mission.

How To Qualify As A Pilot Astronaut?

  • At least 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time in a jet aircraft. 
  • Healthy – normal blood pressure, 20/20 vision and 158 – 191 cm height.
  • No age restrictions- astronauts selected are between 26 – 46 years old.

What’s An Astronaut Class?
NASA has selected 22 “classes” of astronauts since the first group chosen in 1959 for the Mercury program – first human spaceflight program of US.

One such class was called “The Scientists,” and included Harrison J. Schmitt – the only geologist to walk on moon during Apollo 17.

What Does Training Look Like?

  • 2 years of basic training starts with classroom learning about the ISS and spaceflight. 
  • They also become qualified scuba divers and do military water survival training.
  • They learn Russian, are exposed to high and low atmospheric pressures and “vomit comet”. 

What’s a Vomit Comet?
Also called a reduced-gravity aircraft, it provides brief near-weightless environments for training astronauts, conducting research and making gravity-free movie shots.

Training in Virtual Reality?
The current setup uses a head mounted VR display, bungee rope and a swing attached to the astronaut’s body. Research is going on to simulate a complete microgravity environment as a formal training tool.

  • Astronauts fielded by Russia or the Soviet Union are typically known as Cosmonauts. The word is derived from Russian “kosmos”, meaning “universe”.
  • Until 2002, astronauts were sponsored and trained exclusively by governments, either by the military or by civilian space agencies. With the suborbital flight of the privately funded SpaceShipOne in 2004, a new category of astronaut was created: the commercial astronaut.
  • Charles David “Charlie” Walker is an American engineer who flew on three Space Shuttle missions in 1984 and 1985 as a Payload Specialist for the McDonnell Douglas Corporation. He is the first non-government individual to fly in space. 

Heard About This Alloy That Has A Memory?

Heard About This Alloy That Has A Memory?

From dental implants and surgical tools to underwired bras and eyeglass frames, shape memory alloys are used everywhere. One of them is nitinol. Let’s understand how this alloy cannot forget its shape and its future possibilities.

Crux of the Matter

Nitinol, A Shape Shifter?
A metal alloy made of nickel and titanium, Nitinol is majorly used in braces, as it can bend itself according to the patient’s tooth formation.

To “train” a nitinol paper clip, it is heated till it reaches the desired shape, and splashed with cold water. Then, it is bent out of shape and subjected to the same heat source.

What Bends And What Cannot?

  • Plasticity: When materials bend and permanently changes into a new shape. 
  • Elasticity: When materials change shape on the application of force but return back to the original shape when that force is removed. 

What Is Shape Memory?
When materials can be “programmed” to remember their original shape, just by heating. The internal structure of the solid material changes back and forth between 2 different crystalline forms. But the molecules keep rearranging themselves in a reversible way.

One Way Memory
When the material remembers only one shapes, at any temperature.

Two Way Memory
When the material remembers 2 different shapes: one at low temperatures, and one at high temperature.

Future Possibilities

  • Self-unfolding robots that activate when current is passed through their shape memory parts.
  • Self-Healing Airplane Wing – A plastic airplane fuselage that absorbs the kinetic energy from an incoming bullet, converts it into heat and seals the damage. 

Shaping Our Future To Mars
Currently, a NASA rover on the Moon has metal wheels that can flex around rocky obstacles. Then they reshape back to their original form! 

Other Strange Metals

  • Ruthenium: It is the metal that can burn forever. Apparently, it is behind the never-ending fires called Yanartas in Southern Turkey (over 2500 years).
  • Gallium: Beats like a heart.

  • The word Nitinol is derived from its composition and its place of discovery: ‘Nickel, Titanium and Naval Ordnance Laboratory‘. William J. Buehler, along with Frederick Wang, discovered its properties during research at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory in 1959.
  • Shape-memory coupling is a system for connecting pipes using shape-memory alloys. It was first produced in the late 1960s or early 1970s by the Raychem Corporation under the trade name CryoFit.
  • Eyeglass frames made from titanium-containing shape-memory alloy (SMAs) are marketed under the trademarks TITANflex. These frames are usually made out of shape-memory alloys which allows the frames to undergo large deformation under stress, yet regain their intended shape once the metal is unloaded again.

Blockchain Transaction Tested By JP Morgan In Space

Blockchain Transaction Tested By JP Morgan In Space

JP Morgan recently tested a blockchain transaction in space, using Danish space firm GomSpace’s satellites. But what is blockchain transfer? How will this help in peer-to-peer satellite marketplace opportunities?

Crux of the Matter

What’s Special About This?
It is the world’s first bank-led tokenized value transfer in space. It was executed with the help of a blockchain network.

How Did This Take Place?
The transaction happened between 2 GOMX-4 satellites in the low Earth orbit (LEO). This made it a ‘decentralised’ approach i.e  where dependency on a single server point, like on the earth, is not necessary.

Future Scope
There is a possibility of a peer-to-peer satellite marketplace. This allows satellite data transfers against payment, as private companies prepare to launch their own constellations.

What Is Blockchain?
It is a structure that stores transactional records or blocks of public data, in several databases or the “chain.” 

What Is A Ledger?
The network connected through peer-to-peer nodes forms a digital ledger i.e it contains replicated and shared digital data, geographically spread across multiple sites. 

How Does This Make It Secure?
Every transaction in this ledger is authorized by the digital signature of the owner. This authenticates the transaction and prevents any meddling.

What About Mining?
It is the  process of adding transactional details to the present digital/public ledger. So it validates every step while operating bitcoins or other cryptocurrencies.

Read in detail about blockchain: What Is Blockchain And Blockchain-Powered Driving License?

  • Cryptographer David Chaum first proposed a blockchain-like protocol in his 1982 dissertation “Computer Systems Established, Maintained, and Trusted by Mutually Suspicious Groups.” Further work on a cryptographically secured chain of blocks was described in 1991 by Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta. They wanted to implement a system where document timestamps could not be tampered with.
  • Blocks hold batches of valid transactions that are hashed and encoded into a Merkle tree. Each block includes the cryptographic hash of the prior block in the blockchain, linking the two. The linked blocks form a chain. This iterative process confirms the integrity of the previous block, all the way back to the initial block, which is known as the genesis block.
  • The block time is the average time it takes for the network to generate one extra block in the blockchain. Some blockchains create a new block as frequently as every five seconds. In cryptocurrency, this is practically when the transaction takes place, so a shorter block time means faster transactions.

From Pizza To Golden Record: Things Sent To Space

29-year-old cancer survivor, Hayley Arceneaux is set to become the youngest American to go to space in the SpaceX Inspiration4, world’s first all-commercial astronaut mission to Earth’s orbit. Meanwhile, let’s have a look at some of the strange things, like the golden record, that have been sent to space till now.

Crux of the Matter

Laika The Dog
In 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first-ever living animal into orbit: a dog named Laika.

Pizza Delivery By Pizza Hut
Delivered to the ISS in 2001, Salami, extra salt and spices were added to the pizza to tingle cosmonauts’ taste buds depleted in microgravity.

Dinosaur Remains
The 1985 mission, Spacelab, carried parts of the dinosaur, Maiasaura peeblesorum.

Luke Skywalker’s Light Saber
This was part of the 1983 Star Wars film “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi”. It was flown into space and baoo.c,in 2007.

The Golden Record
2 phonograph records were sent on board 1977 Voyager spacecraft. They contained sounds and images about Earth for any extraterrestrials that may see them.

Bhagavad Gita and PM Modi’s Photo
Both were sent aboard ISPO’s PSLV C51/ Amazonia-1 mission, launched in Feb 2021.

Sports Car By Tesla
The Falcon Heavy space rocket carried it in 2018. It then became an artificial satellite of the Sun.

New Findings Of Chandra X-Ray Observatory

New Findings Of Chandra X-Ray Observatory

In 2020, astronomers added a new member to a family of exotic objects, i.e the discovery of a magnetar. NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory has made new observations, stating that the magnetar also acts as a pulsar. But what’s a pulsar? A magnetar? Well, let’s demystify this space jargon!

Crux of the Matter

What Is The Chandra X-ray Observatory?
Called one of the great observatories like Hubble telescope, it is a space telescope launched aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1999, during STS-93 by NASA. It is sensitive to X-ray sources 100x fainter than any previous X-ray telescope, enabled by the high angular resolution of its mirrors. 

Known as the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF) previously, it was later renamed after the Nobel Prize-winning Indian-American astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar.

What Is A Magnetar?
It is a star which is made up of tightly packed neutrons, formed from the collapsed core of a massive star during a supernova.

How Is It Different From Other Stars?
Also called a magnetic star, it has the most powerful magnetic field in the universe. For context, Earth’s magnetic field is 1 Gauss, a refrigerator magnet is 100 Gauss while a magnetar measures a million billion Gauss! This intensity heats the surface to 18 million° F.

How Was The Latest One Detected?
Using NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Telescope in 2020. Dubbed as J1818.0-1607, it is the youngest (500 years old) and 31st known magnetar, out of the 3,000 known neutron stars.

How Is This Age Estimation Done?
Based on how quickly the rotation rate is slowing and the assumption that it was born spinning much faster. This one spins faster than any previously known magnetar, rotating once every 1.4 seconds.

What Did Chandra Find Out Then?
It gave astronomers the first high-resolution view of the magnetar, revealing a point source where it was located, 21,000 light-years from Earth and how it gives off radio waves.

Only 5 magnetars have been recorded like this, making them 0.2% of the known neutron star population. Moreover, J1818.0-1607 is also converting energy more efficiently from its decreasing rate of a spin into X-rays, and this efficiency matches the range of pulsars.

What Does This Mean?
The magnetar has properties similar to a “rotation-powered pulsar,” a neutron star which gives off beams of radiation, detected as repeating pulses of emission as it rotates and slows down.

  • NASA’s series of Great Observatories satellites are four large, powerful space-based astronomical telescopes launched between 1990 and 2003. They were built with different technology to examine specific wavelength/energy regions of the electromagnetic spectrum: gamma rays, X-rays, visible and ultraviolet light, and infrared light.
  • Edwin Powell Hubble was an American astronomer. He played a crucial role in establishing the fields of extragalactic astronomy and observational cosmology. The Hubble telescope is named after him.
  • Riccardo Giacconi was an Italian-American Nobel Prize-winning astrophysicist who laid down the foundations of X-ray astronomy. In 1976 the Chandra X-ray Observatory was proposed to NASA by Riccardo Giacconi.