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.

History of Delhi City – India

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Edwin Lutyens, the world famous architect, would have neverset his mind on designing New Delhi and the famed Connaught Place shopping centre in the heart of India’s capital, had it not been for the glorious past that it could boast of. The British Empire had termed India as the land” where the sun never sets” and to add flavour to this phrase Lutyen called his creation as the “Rome of Hindoostan”.

Lutyen perhaps could have drawn inspiration from the Persian inscription on the ceiling of the Diwan-e-Khas (Hall of Nobles) at the glorious Red Fort which says” If there be a paradise on Earth; it is this, oh it is this, oh it is this”. The couplet was rendered into such beautiful verse by the noted poet, Firdaus, in the court of the Mughal Emperor, Shahjahan. What could have made him weave such a magical extract must surely have been the trance and magnetism that the city of Delhi had for the lovers of good things.

As much as it can boast of its chequered present, Delhi has an equally if not better past.history of delhi.GIF                (4862 bytes) The ancient history of Delhi manifested in the landmarks and memorials still stands testimony to the present history. The times when the epic Mahabharata was written refers to Delhi as Indraprastha and was supposed to have been founded by the Pandavas in as early as 1450 B.C. whose remains have been excavated within the ramparts of the Old Fort (Purana Qila) .

The Gupta and the Maurya dynasties, around 320 A.D. when India was known as the Golden Bird, were mesmerised by the elegant vistas of Delhi and made their presence felt for a long time while ruling from Indraprastha. This was followed by the Muslim Kings in the latter half of the 12th century and then by the slave Kings and the Khaljis who ruled for over a century and built a new capital Siri, in 1302 A.D. where today stands the imposing Siri Fort area and the Asian Games Village. After the Khaljis came the Tughlaks in the early 15th century who gave an additional impetus to the building activity in Indraprastha with the shaping of the Tughlakabad Fort built by Ghyias-ud-din Tughlak. This was not the end of the new revival initiated by the Tughlaks and was followed by the setting up of the cities of Jahanpanah( asylum of the world) and Firozabad (Kotla Ferozeshah) by the successors of Ghyias-ud-din.

The first Mughal conqueror and emperor , Babar, had a liking for Agra where he set up his capital, although his son, Humayun, returned to Delhi and built the Purana Qila as his fort and seat of governance. Then came the Suri dynasty wherein Sher Shah Suri opted yet again for Dilli as the capital which he built in 1542 A.D. And it had its epicentre as the very same Purana Qila. For the first time then the capital got its name Dilli, though some historians say that the brain behind giving this name was Raja Dillu who was supposed to have ruled in this area as far back as 100 B.C. Although the next Mughal emperor, Akbar, preferred to shift to Agra and Fathepur Sikri, his son, derived an affable penchant for Delhi and began work on building the historic Red Fort (Lal Qila) in 1638 A.D. Much before all this during the 11th century A.D., a Hindu King, Anangpal is said to have built the first city, Lal Kot and much after the Lodi dynasty was said to have been credited with the setting up of the sixth of the seven cities in the form of the Lodi tombs.

The seven cities, each with a unique characteristic of its own were Lal Kot, Siri, Tughlakabad, the ruined fortress east of the imposing Qutab Minar. history of                    delhi.GIF (4862 bytes)Tughlakabad was said to have become a ghost city 15 years after it was built following a supposed curse from the Sufi saint, Azam-ud-din. The other cities were Jahanpanah, Ferozeshah Kotla, Lodi Tombs and the Purana Qila.

In 1911, the British asked Lutyens to give a new meaning to city development which is reflected in the architectural designs and sophistication that buildings in New Delhi like Parliament House, Rashtrapati Bhavan, India Gate, Connaught Place and various administrative buildings like the South and North blocks along the breathtaking view available from Raj Path.

Modern Delhi has something for everyone and that is amply reflected in the cosmopolitan culture that nurtures festivals of all faiths and religions, places of worship. You can take a stroll at your own leisurely pace, or a jog or a run and move faster than the common man. This is also reflected in the market places, the dhabas and restaurants or the gorgeous five-star hotels. Theatre, drama and entertainment of all sorts including the best of discotheques are all there. Delhi is one city from where you can branch off to any corner of the country either by a well-connected system of railways or by road and air. The rest is for you to explore.

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History as it happened

1400 BC Indraprastha
1000 BC Raja Dhilu founded ‘Dilli’ according to Legend
900 AD Tomars
1151 AD Chauhan captures Delhi
1191 AD Mohammad Ghur captures Delhi
1200 AD First storey of Qutub Minar built
1305 AD Hauz Khas built
1323 AD Tughlaqubad built
1354 AD Ferozabad built
1388 AD Begampuri Masjid built
1489 AD Moth Ki Masjid built
1517 AD Tomb of Sikander Lodi built
1538 AD Din Panah (Purana Quilla)
1565 AD Humayun’s Tomb built
1648 AD Capital shifted to Shahjahanabad
1724 AD Jantar Mantar built
1803 AD British take over Delhi
1857 AD Seige of Delhi
1877 AD Durbar in Delhi
1911 AD Corononation Durbar in Delhi
1931 AD New Delhi inagurated
1947 AD India becomes independent
1950 AD Delhi made the Capital of Republic
1962 AD Master plan for Delhi drawn up
1985 AD National Capital region demarcated
1992 AD Delhi becomes a State
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