International Space Station

Editor’s note: In this recurring column, science writer Robert Starr rounds up the previous week’s top science stories. Have a suggestion? Send a tweet to @RobertKStarr, and your link might appear in next week’s Science Buzz.

This past weekend, astronaut Scott Kelly launched into space to join the crew of the International Space Station (ISS). His trip on the ISS will last a year, longer than anyone else has ever spent on the ship. Scott has an identical twin brother, Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut, who will remain on Earth. These factors will allow scientists to study the Kelly brothers and gain a better understanding of how long-term spaceflight affects vision, immune response and even individual genes.

Put another way, this could be the most exciting case of twins in space since Luke and Leia.

As populations grow, civilizations often struggle to come up with the technology to provide sufficient water for survival. A new model developed at Duke University suggests that there’s a lag between an increasing population and the technological breakthroughs that supply it with drinkable water. According to the model, we will experience this struggle firsthand in the coming decades.

Conservation methods currently allow for more efficient water usage, meaning we’re using less water per person than we were a few years ago. However, if the population continues to increase at its current rate, the Duke model predicts that efficiency measures will not keep pace and new strategies may become necessary to prevent water shortages.

Thirsty Thursdays are about to get a whole lot thirstier.

The world record time for marathon running belongs to Dennis Kimetto, who ran the race in just under two hours and three minutes. The Mars record marathon time belongs to the Opportunity rover, which has traveled the 26.2 miles on the red planet in 11 years and two months. That’s not a great time — it’s a pace of about a foot and a half per hour — but considering the rover has outlasted its original three-month mission by more than a decade and is still providing information about a planet some of us hope to one day call home, it’s quite an impressive feat.

If it finds some liquid water on Mars, maybe it’ll attempt a triathlon next.

You might be working too hard in your math class. A new study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology found that the optimal amount of math or science homework per night for adolescents is approximately one hour. In fact, time spent on homework wasn’t the leading predictor of achievement. Instead, the best predictor was prior knowledge, measured by grades in previous classes. This means that the best way to do well in algebra is to make sure you did well in pre-algebra. 

The researchers also found autonomy, or the ability for the student to do homework by oneself, to be highly predictive of success. But since this study did not distinguish between cause and effect, the most an individual can take from it is a tautology: the best way to do well at math or science is to be good at math or science. Still, in isolating the most significant factors, the research might shed light on how to improve our math and science education as a whole.

Print this study out, and show it to your calculus professor next time she assigns a problem set.

Thanks for reading Science Buzz. Check back next Monday for more!

Karen Nyberg shows off her Longhorn socks on her first mission, STS-124, in 2008. It was on this mission that Nyberg became the 50th woman in space (Photo courtesy of NASA).

The 50th woman in space and UT alumna Karen Nyberg is preparing to take off in two months for a six-month mission to the International Space Station

Nyberg will launch for the space station on May 28 with Luca Parmitano of Italy and Fyodor Yurchikhin of Russia for the Expedition 36-37 mission. They will comprise three members of the expedition’s six-member crew. The other three are already on the space station.  

Nyberg studied mechanical engineering as an undergraduate at North Dakota State University and earned her master’s and doctorate degrees from UT in 1996 and 1998, respectively. The resources and faculty available at UT were valuable parts of how her career has taken shape, Nyberg said during a press conference Tuesday at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. 

“I was actually able to work directly with people at NASA while I was in graduate school, and I think that was valuable,” Nyberg said. “I think my advisor at UT was an incredible person and very supportive. I love Austin and I love UT, so it was a great experience.”

During the conference Nyberg talked about her mental and physical preparation for the six-month stay in space and how she will spend her time while she is there. Nyberg said there is no way to truly mentally prepare for this type of journey, but she plans to take trinkets from home as a way to remain close with her husband and son. She also plans to continue several of her hobbies, including sewing and drawing, as leisure activities while aboard the station.

Nyberg said she is considering various forms of social media as a way to share her experiences with those on Earth.

“I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll do Twitter, but I have been using Pinterest for a couple of years and absolutely love it because of my other hobbies,” Nyberg said. “I think it would be neat to add onto that while I’m there, if I can. Definitely we’re going to do as much as we can to share what we’re doing up there with the rest of the world.” 

Nyberg said her previous experience running marathons correlates well to both the physical and mental aspects of taking such a long journey away from her family.

“I think one thing marathons teach you is, invariably, when you’re in the middle of a marathon, somewhere between mile 15 and 25, there comes a point when you just can’t stand it anymore and want to quit really badly,” Nyberg said. “You find a way to power through and at the end you’re so happy you did it.”

Rebekah Sosland, aerospace engineering senior and treasurer for Women In Aerospace for Leadership and Development, said Nyberg is a role model for young women around the world who want to develop their passion for science and engineering.

“Women going into space is an incredible part of history, and I think that having Karen represent that population is really important, especially to young women and girls out there,” Sosland said. “They need to realize that if they love math and science and engineering, they can be a part of it and there’s nothing holding them back from that. The men’s world that it used to be, that’s no longer the case.”

Published on March 20, 2013 as "UT alumna prepare for mission to space station". 

South Texas is the leading candidate for a launch site for the company that sent the world’s first commercial supply ship to the International Space Station.

SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk said he wants to build a spaceport near Brownsville, TX. He said Wednesday he plans to talk to Texas Gov. Rick Perry about incentives and other issues.

SpaceX also is considering sites in Florida and Puerto Rico.

Last month, the SpaceX Dragon delivered 1,000 pounds of provisions to the space station and returned with 1,400 pounds of old equipment.

California-based SpaceX is the first private business to send a cargo ship to the space station. The company hopes to launch another capsule in September.

Musk visited the Dragon at the company’s Texas rocket factory Wednesday.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The International Space Station may provide the setting for a 500-day pretend trip to Mars in another few years.

NASA said Tuesday that consideration is under way to use the space station as a dry run for a simulated trip to and from Mars.

It would be patterned after Russia’s mock flight to Mars that lasted 520 days at a Moscow research center. Six men were involved in that study, which ended late last year. They were locked in a steel capsule.

NASA’s space station program manager Mike Suffredini said before astronauts can fly beyond low-Earth orbit, they’ll have to spend more than six months aloft at a time. That’s the typical stint for space station crews. Five hundred days is more than 16 months.

The human endurance record of 14 months was set by a Russian cosmonaut aboard the Mir space station in the mid-1990s. Only two others — both Russians — have spent as long as a full year in space.

No NASA astronaut has spent more than seven months in space on a single mission.

Suffredini doesn’t expect any such Mars simulation aboard the space station to occur any sooner than two to three years. Physical as well as psychological questions will have to be addressed before anything of that sort is attempted, he said.

Steps are under way, however, for such an effort, and scientists and flight surgeons already are working on it. The goal would be to have all the data in hand so the space station can be used as a Mars test bed before its projected demise in 2020 or thereafter.

Suffredini said he expects the consensus ultimately will be to simulate “at least the first leg of a trip to a distant planet.”

NASA’s future for manned exploration is up in the air as the debate drags on as to where astronauts should head in the decades ahead: the moon, asteroids and/or Mars. The cost promises to be a major factor, along with the development of rocketships big enough to travel so far

MOSCOW — Russia’s space agency says an unmanned cargo ship carrying 2.6 tons of supplies and equipment has lifted off for the International Space Station.

Roskosmos says the Progress M-14M blasted off early Thursday from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan atop a Soyuz-U booster rocket.

The ship is scheduled to dock at the space station early Saturday with a cargo of oxygen, food, scientific equipment and gifts for the crew.

The space station’s six members include three Russians, two Americans and a Dutchman.

The decade-old station is orbiting about 225 miles (360 kilometers) above Earth and consists of 13 modules.

After 30 years, 135 missions and more than 350 astronauts, today is the last day for NASA’s space shuttle program. The space shuttle Atlantis was scheduled to land after press time early this morning at Kennedy Space Center in Cape
Canaveral, Fla.

The shuttle program served many purposes, including taking astronauts to repair the Hubble Space Telescopes and ferrying them to the International Space Station. Until NASA develops a new method for transporting astronauts, the agency will rely on Russian Soyuz capsules and commercial operations to take U.S. crew members between the space station and Earth, according to NASA.

Although the space shuttle program may be ending, the space program is not, said Wallace Fowler, aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics professor and director of the Texas Space Grant Consortium.

“[The space program] is not winding down. The unmanned program is going on,” Fowler said. “The manned program is on hiatus.”

On July 7, one day before Atlantis’ final launch, NASA Chief Charlie Bolden was also optimistic about the future of human spaceflight while announcing an agreement with Sierra Nevada, a commercial spaceflight firm, at Kennedy Space Center.

“The future of human spaceflight is bright,” Bolden told the Associated Press. “You’ll hear me say that over and over and over again.”

NASA will continue sending astronauts to the International Space Station but does not have any planned manned missions to celestial bodies before 2025.

“The first manned missions will probably be to an asteroid, then we will probably go back to the moon,” Fowler said.

“The reason we want to go back to the moon is because they’re finding significant amounts of water there.”
Fowler said the results of space-related research has had practical value for the public, not just for the immediate needs of the space program.

“If you go back and you think about the Apollo program, can you guess what came out of it?” Fowler said. “The microcomputer. The first microcomputer was the Apollo guidance computer. Now we probably all have things on our desks that can do 10 times more than it.”

The end of the shuttle program causes more immediate concerns for some people. Thousands of workers at the Kennedy Space Center are expected to be laid off in the months following Atlantis’ landing with another 800-900 layoffs at Mission Control in Houston, according to CNN and the AP.

“I’d love to have each and every one of you to stand up and take a bow, a round of applause,” shuttle commander Chris Ferguson said to Houston flight controllers Wednesday, the last full mission day, according to the AP

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — As the miles melted between Atlantis and the International Space Station, the emotions grew — in orbit and on the ground.

At Mission Control on Sunday, lead flight director Kwatsi Alibaruho declared “this is it” as he gave the OK for the final docking in space shuttle history. Flashbacks to the shuttle’s very first space station docking — with Russia’s Mir in 1995 — flooded his mind as he viewed the shuttle on the screens. He was a NASA trainee back then.

About 240 miles above the Pacific, the station’s naval bell chimed a salute — one of many landmarks, or rather spacemarks, of this final two-week shuttle mission that are being savored one by one.

“Atlantis arriving,” called out space station astronaut Ronald Garan Jr. “Welcome to the International Space Station for the last time.”

Cries of joy and laughter filled the connected vessels once the hatches swung open and the two crews — 10 space fliers altogether representing three countries — exchanged hugs, handshakes and kisses on the cheek. Cameras floated everywhere, recording every moment of the last-of-its-kind festivities.

Atlantis, carrying a year’s worth of supplies, is being retired after this flight, the last of the 30-year shuttle program.

This was the 46th docking by a space shuttle to a space station.

NASA, meanwhile, continued to bask in the afterglow of Friday’s liftoff. As part of Sunday’s mail to Atlantis, Mission Control sent up a 4-inch image of a shuttle made entirely of exclamation points.

NASA is getting out of the launching-to-orbit business, giving Atlantis, Endeavour and Discovery to museums, so it can start working on human trips to asteroids and Mars. Private U.S. companies will pick up the more mundane job of space station delivery runs and, still several years out, astronaut ferry flights.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden stressed in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union” program Sunday morning that the United States will remain the world leader in space exploration, even after the shuttles stop flying.