SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

Car-park cosmonauts come back to Earth
Shaun Walker
Six men will emerge, bleary-eyed, from a "spaceship" in northern Moscow, to see daylight and the real world for the first time since they were locked away in the mock-up craft on a roasting hot day in June last year.
Voyage to Mars: The risks

Prof Yash Pal

Prof Yash Pal

THIS UNIVERSE
Do lunar eclipses occur every month? Why or why not?
PROF YASH PAL
Lunar and Solar eclipses are the events that take place when the Earth, the Moon and the Sun play a hide and seek game with each other. More accurately, a lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth's shadow falls on a bright full Moon. For this, the alignment of the Sun, the Earth and the Moon has to be very accurate. Just demanding a full Moon day is not enough.

Trends
Russian craft delivers supplies to space station
Dutch psychologist admits he made up research data
China denies it is behind hacking of US satellites
China completes first space docking test

 

 


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Car-park cosmonauts come back to Earth
Shaun Walker

Six men will emerge, bleary-eyed, from a "spaceship" in northern Moscow, to see daylight and the real world for the first time since they were locked away in the mock-up craft on a roasting hot day in June last year.

The multinational crew of "terranauts" has spent the past 17 months simulating a manned space mission to Mars, in a stationary experiment designed to test the physical and psychological effects of a journey to the Red Planet.

In the experiment, run by a Russian research centre in co-operation with the European Space Agency, six carefully selected volunteers were locked in a model spacecraft for 520 days.

The all-male crew of six come from a variety of backgrounds, with three Russians joined by one Earth-bound astronaut each from Italy, France and China. "I would say the guys have a very positive mood," Mark Belanovsky, the project's deputy director, told AFP yesterday. "They know that they have done something really big."

During the final stretch of the experiment, the crew are experiencing a "spiral trajectory towards the Earth's field of gravity". But the experiment has not been able to simulate the weightlessness that would accompany a real mission to Mars.

There has been plenty of scoffing at the project, given its Earth-bound nature, but the organisers insist that the experiments will really help in the planning of a future manned visit to Mars, which realistically is still at least 20 years away. For 17 months, the participants have had their brains and bodies monitored, performed tests, and had no contact with anyone else.

They emerged from the spaceship only briefly, in the middle of the mission, to take an incredibly modest step for mankind, and walk around a small sandy area meant to represent the surface of Mars. They have only been able to eat special astronaut food, and computer-based communication with the mission's "control room" has been subject to a delay.

There were fears when the experiment started that, faced with such a long time together in such a confined space, tension or even physical fights could break out. A previous, shorter experiment had to be halted after a female Canadian participant said she was forcibly kissed by one of the Russian male participants and a fist fight broke out among the crew.

Organisers said that this experiment had been made male-only to reduce tension. As the mission entered the home straight in August, there was a brief period of flared tempers, but this was swiftly overcome, say the participants. A recent video from inside the capsule shows the crew, all apparently in good spirits, discussing which experiments they have enjoyed the most and which the least during their long stint inside.

This will not quite be the end of the ordeal for the six. Now they will be put in quarantine for four days, when they will undergo intensive medical tests and psychological evaluation. They can speak to the media and be reunited with their families, but remain in Moscow for a further month for tests.

The Independent

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Voyage to Mars: The risks

Bones: Real space travellers experience a loss of calcium and phosphorus as the Earth's gravitational pull is removed. It is believed that as much as 3.2 per cent of the body's bone calcium and phosphorus are excreted in urine and faeces during space flight.

Radiation exposure: Unlike, the "car-park cosmonauts", real space travellers are exposed to space radiation, which is normally shielded from Earth. Exposure to high levels of radiation increases the risk of cancer and other diseases.

Immune system: The immune system is also adversely affected by prolonged periods in space. Gravity is thought to change the shape of red blood cells, and eventually to lead to a loss of plasma and red blood mass.

Muscle wastage: Even experimental astronauts share the complaint about muscle wastage through lack of exercise.

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THIS UNIVERSE
Do lunar eclipses occur every month? Why or why not?
PROF YASH PAL

Lunar and Solar eclipses are the events that take place when the Earth, the Moon and the Sun play a hide and seek game with each other. More accurately, a lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth's shadow falls on a bright full Moon. For this, the alignment of the Sun, the Earth and the Moon has to be very accurate. Just demanding a full Moon day is not enough. Such an accurate alignment does not occur on every full Moon day because the orbits of the Moon around the Earth and of the Earth around the Sun are not in the same plane. These two planes are tilted by about 5 degrees with respect to each other.

Similar is the reason why we do not see the spectacle of a solar eclipse on every New Moon day.

Readers wanting to ask Prof Yash Pal a question can e-mail him at palyash.pal@gmail.com

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Trends

Russian craft delivers supplies to space station

MOSCOW: An unmanned Russian spacecraft delivered supplies to astronauts in orbit Wednesday after the crash of the previous cargo flight left the three-man crew on the International Space Station with dwindling rations. The loss of the Progress cargo flight on August 24 grounded all launches of Russia's workhorse Soyuz rocket over safety concerns and forced staffing levels to be cut on the space station.

Dutch psychologist admits he made up research data

LONDON: A Dutch psychologist has admitted making up data and faking research over many years in studies which were then published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Diederik Stapel, a psychologist working at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, said he had "failed as a scientist" and was ashamed of what he had done, but had been driven to falsifying research by constant pressure to perform.

China denies it is behind hacking of US satellites

BEIJING: Beijing on Monday denied a US commission's claim that China may have been responsible for hacking incidents on US environment-monitoring satellites, saying that the committee had "ulterior motives" in writing such a draft report. At least two U.S. environment-monitoring satellites were interfered with four or more times in 2007 and 2008 via a ground station in Norway, and China's military is a prime suspect, according to the draft report to Congress.

China completes first space docking test

BEIJING: China successfully carried out its first docking exercise on Thursday between two unmanned spacecraft, a key test of the rising power's plans to secure a long-term manned foothold in space. The Shenzhou 8 spacecraft joined the Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) 1 module about 340 km (211 miles) above Earth, in a maneuver carried live on state television.

Reuters


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