Space tourist takes ‘working holiday’ in orbit

US entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari is getting her ‘space legs’ as she spends her third day on the International Space Station (ISS). But rather than simply relaxing on her multi-million dollar vacation, she has been doing some office work from orbit.

The journey into space was somewhat difficult for Ansari. “I have to say the trip up here was not fun for me,” she said during an orbital press conference on Friday. “I did suffer a lot of the usual symptoms of being in orbit, like back pain, headache and motion sickness.”

“But the favorite moment, as I suspected, was the first time I was able to see Earth for the first time and see it so beautiful, peaceful, [against a] dark background. It was a moment I will never forget,” Ansari says.

Since her arrival at the station on Wednesday, she has shot video, snapped pictures and updated her blog. But she has also been checking email and making phone calls to the company she co-founded – Prodea Systems of Plano, Texas, US.

The company specialises in digital home technology and officially launched on 17 September. Ansari is expected to demonstrate their technology in space.

Orbital experiments

“I’m keeping up to date with what’s going on in our office and the progress everyone’s making so they’re sending me status reports,” Ansari says. “Of course, I’m trying to make the most of the eight days I’m up here and not work too hard.”

She is also conducting experiments for the European Space Agency. She will help ESA learn more about the effects of space radiation and bacteria on astronauts and onboard equipment and the effect of weightlessness on human blood cell formation and the development of back pain.

Ansari is the fourth tourist to visit the ISS and the first female tourist. She follows American Dennis Tito, South African Mark Shuttleworth and American Gregory Olsen.

She was actually the back-up tourist for this spaceflight. Japanese businessman Daisuke Enomoto was originally supposed to make the journey, but he was taken off the flight after doctors discovered he had an undisclosed medical condition.

Ansari rode a Russian Soyuz to the ISS, accompanied by US commander Michael Lopez-Alegria and Russian flight engineer Mikhail Tyurin, who will spend three months on the station.

Repair work

On 28 September, Ansari and outgoing Russian commander Pavel Vinogradov and US flight engineer Jeff Williams will return in an older Soyuz spacecraft that has been docked to the station for six months.

Tyurin and Vinogradov will spend Saturday replacing a portion of Russia’s Elektron oxygen generation unit, which is suspected of overheating on Monday before the Soyuz arrived.

A small amount of what appeared to be potassium hydroxide leaked out of the Elektron during this incident, prompting the three-man crew to activate emergency procedures such as shutting down the station’s ventilation system and donning goggles and gloves (see Toxic spill on the International Space Station).

The repaired Elektron could be turned on as soon as Sunday. The crew is using back-up supplies of oxygen while the Elektron is turned off.


No Moon, no life on Earth, suggests theory

Without the Moon, there would have been no life on Earth. Four billion years ago, when life began, the Moon orbited much closer to us than it does now, causing massive tides to ebb and flow every few hours. These tides caused dramatic fluctuations in salinity around coastlines which could have driven the evolution of early DNA-like biomolecules. This hypothesis, which is the work of Richard Lathe, a molecular biologist at Pieta Research in Edinburgh, UK, also suggests that life could not have begun on Mars. According to one theory for the origin of life, self-replicating molecules such as DNA or RNA emerged when small precursor molecules in the primordial “soup” polymerised into long strands. These strands served as templates for more precursor molecules to attach along the templates, creating double-stranded polymers similar to DNA. But the whole theory fails without some way of breaking apart the double strands to keep the process going, says Lathe. It would take some external force to dissociate the two strands, he says. Doubling up As an analogy, he points to PCR, the technique used to amplify DNA in the lab. DNA is cycled between two temperatures in the presence of appropriate enzymes. At the lower temperature of about 50 °C, single DNA strands act as templates for synthesising complementary strands. At the higher temperature of about 100 °C, the double strands break apart, doubling the number of molecules. Lower the temperature, and the synthesis starts again. Using this process, a single DNA molecule can be converted into a trillion identical copies in just 40 cycles. Lathe believes that thanks to the Moon, something similar happened during Earth’s early years. Most researchers agree that the Moon formed five billion years ago from debris blasted off Earth in a giant impact. A billion years later when life is thought to have arisen, the Moon was still much closer to us than it is now. That, plus the Earth’s much more rapid rotation, led to tidal cycles every two to six hours, with tides extending several hundred kilometres inland, says Lathe. Coastal areas therefore saw dramatic cyclical changes in salinity, and Lathe believes this led to repeated association and dissociation of double-stranded molecules similar to DNA. When the massive tides rolled in, the salt concentration was very low. Double-stranded DNA breaks apart under such conditions because electrically charged phosphate groups on each strand repel each other. But when the tides went out, precursor molecules and precipitated salt would have been present in high concentrations. This would have encouraged double-stranded molecules to form, since high salt concentrations neutralise DNA’s phosphate charges, allowing strands to stick together. Unrelenting cycles These unrelenting saline cycles would have amplified molecules such as DNA in a process similar to PCR, says Lathe. “The tidal force is absolutely important, because it provides the energy for association and dissociation [of polymers].” Many researchers do not believe DNA and RNA were the first replicating molecules. Graham Cairns-Smith of the University of Glasgow, UK, thinks much simpler “genetic” material formed first, from the crystallisation of clay minerals. But he says Lathe’s idea deserves attention. “Whatever the replicating entities were that started the evolutionary process, it would be significant that they lived in an environment in which the conditions were changing.” If the theory is right, life could not have evolved on Mars, says Lathe. Phobos, the larger of Mars’s two Moons, is so small that the tidal forces it generates are just one per cent of those generated by our Moon. “Even if there was water on Mars, life could not have evolved there because these polymers could not have replicated,” he says.

by Anil Ananthaswamy

A Day in Life of The Moon



by Jane Houston                                   * moon animation created by Ed Stephan                                                                                                                                                                               used by permission

Fasten your seat belt. You’re going on a guided tour of a lunar day. We’ll describe what lunar features can be seen during the phases of the moon. Use this diary all year to sketch the moon each day, while observing the seas or plains, mountains, impact craters and shadows on the moon. You’ll be surprised at some of the familiar geology you’ll see on our rocky neighbor.

     New Moon Phase Day 1 – 6 “Rises at dawn, sets at dusk” New moon means the instant when the moon is visible in its conjunction with the Sun. This is the starting point of the lunation or period of the Moon’s cycle around the sky. Day 1 is very difficult to observe. On day 2, the “sea” of crises, Mare Crisium becomes visible. The old word “sea” has been replaced by the more descriptive and geologically correct”plain”. To the south is Petavius, a large crater with a central peak of over 8000 feet. Day 3 brings Mare Fecunditatis, south of Mare Crisium, into view. On day 4, Crisium and Mare Fecunditatis are fully visible, and the walled plain Janssen is visible. On day 5, Theophilus and Cyrillus make a nice pair of craters. The crater Maurolycus, with a central peak like Theophilus, appears on day 6. The moon is now approaching first quarter. The terminator (boundary between the sunlit and dark parts of the moon) is now at the center of the moon’s disk.     First Quarter Phase Day 7 – 13 “Rises at noon, sets at midnight” The crater Hipparchus is at its visible best near the terminator on day 7 as is the mountain Piton, with its prominent peak at the terminator tonight. Look for two craters within Hipparchus. Day 8 brings into view the rugged Appenine mountains, and to the north the oval walled plain Plato. With binoculars or telescopes, find the “Straight Wall”, a lunar fault line. Tycho and Copernicus are on the terminator on day 9, and so is Clavius, the large walled plain south of Tycho. On day 10 look for the Jura Mountains and the Sinus Iridum (the bay of rainbows), a hooklike curved mountainous point on the edge of Mare Imbrium. This is one of my favorite objects on the moon to observe and sketch. On day 11 observe the lunar plains. On day 12, look at Gassendi, a large crater. As full moon approaches, look back over the objects you observed each night and see how different they look.

     Full Moon Phase Day 14 – 21 “Rises at dusk, sets at dawn” Look at the ray system tonight. The brightly illuminated moon washes out all other observing projects so you might as well enjoy the moon tonight. The rays of Tycho are the best! Day 15 brings sunset to Crisium, 2 weeks after we first viewed its sunrise. Watch the shadows cast on the walls of the plains including our darkened Mare Crisium, and craters on day 16 through 18. Day 19 is the best day to view the “Sea” of Tranquility, famous as the landing site of Apollo 11. See the next page for exciting details about locating the lunarlanding sites. Day 20 brings the terminator to another of my favorite observing and sketching sites, the three craters Theophilus, Catharina and Cyrillus. Mountains are the highlight of day 21. The Apennines, and the large craters Kepler, Copernicus and Tycho are beautiful at lunar sunset. The last quarter moon has arrived.

     Last Quarter Moon day 22 -27 “Rises at midnight, sets at noon” Dedication is required to complete the viewing of the lunar cycle. Mare Imbruim and Copernicus are darkening tonight, day 23. On day 24 through 27, most observers are sleeping when the moon is visible. Use binoculars to observe earthshine over the surface of the moon. These are the days (or rather nights) to turn your eyes, binoculars or telescopes to other wonders of the night sky: planets, comets, meteor showers and galaxies. Then, say good-night to our close neighbor, and with a sense of wonder and accomplishment, have a good sleep!

Questions arise when Amateur Astronomers are out with their telescopes sharing the universe with the public. Here is a recent question and the answer, which took me a while to find.
Q: Do you know where Mount Marilyn is on the moon? (Mount Marilyn is the feature mentioned in the movie Apollo 13. It is fictional, but represents a real lunar feature.)
Mount Marilyn is on the southeastern edge of the Sea of Tranquility, near the crater Secchi, as mentioned in the Apollo 13 book. Most lunar maps don’t show Secchi, but do show Taruntius to the upper northeast of this little crater. The Apollo 11 landing site on the lower western edge of the sea and the landing site of Apollo 17 at the top of the sea form a triangle with Secchi. Mount Marilyn is the mountainous feature to the right of Secchi.


     Have you ever been asked “Can you see where men landed on the moon”? Even with a small telescope, you can pinpoint some of the landing areas. I will describe how to “crater hop” to the sites below. A detailed moon map will help.

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  • Apollo 11 Find the crater Julius Caesar to the left of the Sea of Tranquility (Mare Tranquillitatis). Below and to the right are two unnamed craters joined to look like the number 8. Directly south are the twin craters Ritter and Sabine. Apollo 11 is about 3 Sabine sized crater widths to the right of Sabine. Three tiny craters above the site are named Aldrin, Collins and Armstrong after the Apollo 11 astronauts. The best days to look is about 5 or 6 days after the new moon or 4 or 5 days after the full moon.

  • Apollo 12 landed in Mare Insularum, about two crater widths southeast of the crater Lansburg.

  • Apollo 14 landed north of Fra Mauro, a ringed plain that sits at the boundary between Mare Insularum and Mare Cognitum. The best time to see this this plain is at the waxing gibbous or waning crescent phase (Days. 7-13 and 22-27) described above.

  • Apollo 15 Find the crater Archimedes to the left of the Appenine mountains. Between the crater and the mountains is a feature called Hadley Rille. When this area is in shadow, on day 20 or 21, you will see the undulating rilles. This rille is just west of the Apollo 15 landing site. To Astronauts Dave Scott and Jim Irwin, this was a very steep climb on their exploration of the lunar surface.

  • Apollo 16 landed in the Descartes highland. Look one crater width north of Descartes to find the site.

  • Apollo 17 Find the eastern shore of Mare Serenitatis. The site of Apollo 17 lies between the craters Littrow and Mons Argaeus in the Taurus-Littrow Valley.

There were 4 Apollo orbital test missions, 2 around the earth and 2 around the moon before the first moon landing with Apollo 11 on July 16th, 1969. There have been 18 men who went to the moon on the Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17 missions, but none of them saw the full moon and full earth as depicted in the “Apollo 13” movie. We see a full moon when the Earth is between the sun and the moon. The lit side of the Earth will not be visible on the moon.

A True Friends – Socrates

A True Friend – Socrates In ancient Greece, Socrates was reputed to hold knowledge in high esteem. One day one fellow met the great philosopher and said, “Do you know what I just heard about your friend?”. “Hold on a minute,” Socrates replied. “Before telling me anything I’d like you to pass a little test. It’s called the Triple Filter Test.”. “Triple filter?”. “That’s right,” Socrates continued. “Before you talk to me about my friend, it might be a good idea to take a moment and filter what you’re going to say. That’s why I call it the triple filter test. The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?” “No,” the man said, “actually I just heard about it and…”. “All right,” said Socrates. “So you don’t know if it’s true or not. Now let’s try the second filter, the filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my friend something good?” . “No, on the contrary…”. “So,” Socrates continued, “you want to tell me something bad about him, but you’re not certain it’s true. You may still pass the test though, because there’s one filter left: the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my friend going to be useful to me?” “No, not really.” “Well,” concluded Socrates, “if what you want to tell me is neither true nor good nor even useful, why tell it to me at all?” Lesson: Well we can always participate in loose talks to curb our boredom. But when it comes to you friends its not worth it. Always avoid talking behind the back about your near and dear friends.

A Young – Nice Story

    A young Programmer and his Project Manager board a train headed through
   the mountains on its way to Wichita. They can find no place to sit
   except for two seats right across the aisle from a young woman and her
   grandmother. After a while, it is obvious that the young woman and the
   young programmer are interested in each other, because they are giving
   each other looks. Soon the train passes into a tunnel and it is pitch
   black. There is a sound of a kiss followed by the sound of a slap.
    When the train emerges from the tunnel, the four sit there without
   saying a word. The grandmother is thinking to herself, “It was very
   brash for that young man to kiss my granddaughter, but I’m glad she
   slapped him.”

    The Project manager is sitting there thinking, “I didn’t know the young
   tech was brave enough to kiss the girl, but I sure wish she hadn’t
   missed him when she slapped me!”

    The young woman was sitting and thinking, “I’m glad the guy kissed me,
   but I wish my grandmother had not slapped him!”

    The young programmer sat there with a satisfied smile on his face. He
   thought to himself, “Life is good. How often does a guy have the chance
   to kiss a beautiful girl and slap his Project manager all at the same