citizen astronaut Anousheh Ansari aboard the International Space Station

Anousheh Ansari, one of the first citizen astronauts to visit the International Space Station, will speak in Houston this Friday (6 February 2015).

Her lecture, Dare to Dream: Travels of a Private Space Explorer, is part of the Houston Spaceport Frontier Lecture series

The talk will be held at Rice University in the McMurtry Auditorium, Duncan Hall at 4:00 PM. Admission is free. Event parking is $1 in the Greenbriar Lot.

Written by Astro1 on February 3rd, 2015 , Citizen Exploration, Events

President John F. Kennedy at Rice University

Let’s forget that throw-away line about going into space just “because it is hard.”

Kennedy himself did not believe that. He had other reasons (political reasons) for wanting to do Project Apollo.

Many things are hard. Building a life-size replica of the Eiffel Tower out of spaghetti would be hard, but you won’t find millions of people who want to do that. There are millions of people who want to go into space, however. Why?

There is no single answer to that question. There are as many reasons for going into space as there are people who want to go. We don’t need politicians to tell us why we want to go into space, any more than we need politicians to tell us why we want to go to Disneyland, Las Vegas, or Yellowstone National Park.

Written by Astro1 on January 12th, 2015 , Space Exploration (General), Space Policy and Management

Astrophobia is the fear of outer space. It can take many forms, from a fear of the stars to a fear of space travel.

One example of the later is actress Jessica Chastain, who starred in the movie Interstellar. When Hollywood Reporter asked Interstellar cast members if they would personally like to go into space, Chastain was the only one who said no — quite emphatically.

Yet, NASA chose Chastain to narrate this new advertisement for its Orion program.

Based on official plans, Orion will carry only four astronauts into space, once every two years — the lowest flight rate since Project Mercury. It would appear that NASA, like Chastain, has a fear of flying in space [very often].

Written by Astro1 on December 30th, 2014 , Space Exploration (General)

The FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA-AST) has released version 1.0 of its Recommended Practices for Human Space Flight Occupant Safety.

The recommendations cover the safety of flight crew and spaceflight participants and include the design, manufacturing, and operations of suborbital and orbital launch and reentry vehicles. The recommendations assume that any orbital vehicle will stay in orbit for a maximum of 2 weeks and return to Earth in under 24 hours if necessary. Orbital rendezvous and docking, flights longer than 2 weeks, EVA, and flights beyond Earth orbit may be addressed in future versions.

To develop the recommendations FAA-AST reviewed existing standards, including those of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety. The FAA was guided primarily by NASA requirements for the Commercial Crew Program.

The goal is to ensure that occupant safety is considered throughout the lifecycle of a spaceflight system and that occupants are not exposed to avoidable risks. The document does not aim to establish a single level of risk for commercial human spaceflight. The FAA believes that such a standard might inadvertently limit innovation. Given the variety of commercial spaceflight activities that are likely to take place in the future, with differing destinations, purposes, and architectures, the FAA believes that differing levels of risk acceptance may be appropriate.

The document establishes level of care for occupants, for flight crew performing safety-critical operations, and for emergency situations.

The document does not include any medical criteria that would limit who should fly in space as a spaceflight participant. Medical consultation is recommended to inform spaceflight participants of risks and ensure they will not be a danger to other occupants, but FAA believes spaceflight participants should be free to make their own decisions about individual risk.

The current document focuses on avoiding injuries or fatalities, rather than long-term health effects. For that reason, exposure to ionizing-radiation is not included.

The complete recommendations can be downloaded here.

Written by Astro1 on September 16th, 2014 , Citizen Exploration, Space Medicine and Safety

James Cameron’s Deep Sea Challenge 3D documentary opens in theaters on Friday, 8 August.

The documentary tells the story of Cameron’s voyage to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest spot on Earth.

One little-known fact about Cameron’s Deep Challenge project is that two filmmakers died in a helicopter accident during the production — another indicator of the hazards of working at sea. This is comparable to the three astronauts who died during the Apollo program.

Rumor says that James Cameron is one of two citizen explorers who have agreed to pay Space Adventures $150 million apiece for a circumlunar flight on a Russian Soyuz, becoming the first humans to visit the Moon since Apollo 17.

Space Adventures lunar expedition vehicle fires engines on its way to the Moon

Written by Astro1 on August 2nd, 2014 , Citizen Exploration, Oceanography

The British Interplanetary Society is presenting “The Contested Future of Space Tourism,” a lecture by Mark Johnson, a graduate student in Science and Technology Studies at the University of York.

Unfortunately, the program misrepresents what citizen space exploration (or “space tourism”) is about. The announcement states:

“Space tourism”, “personal spaceflight” and “citizen space exploration” have also been suggested as alternative rubrics, each of which evokes a different form of this future. Irrespective of terminology, this trend denotes space travel for recreational or leisure purposes, rather than scientific, exploratory, communication or military purposes.

According to the World Tourism Organization, tourism is “traveling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes [emphasis added].”

If tourism were limited to leisure and recreation, business tourism would be an oxymoron, rather than a lucrative industry.

Unfortunately, some people have taken to using “space tourism” in a much more restrictive sense, to indicate what they believe to be frivolous activities, in contrast to “real” exploration. That’s why we strongly prefer the term “citizen space exploration.”

Citizen space exploration refers to any space exploration that is undertaken by private citizens, rather than government employees or their agents. Some citizen space exploration may be undertaken for recreation or leisure purposes, but by no means all.

Citizen space explorers such as Richard Garriott and Greg Olsen have performed scientific experiments aboard the International Space Station and have been honored by the Explorers Club. Anousheh Ansari blogged from ISS. To say their expeditions were not for scientific, exploratory, or communication purposes is clearly wrong.

Citizens in Space exists to promote citizen science in space. We were the first customer to sign up for flights on the XCOR Lynx spacecraft. We are collaborating with both citizen scientists and professional researchers to fly a variety of experiments. We have already been involved in the ground-based testing of biomedical devices which may be used by future space travelers.

We are hardly alone. The Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference is attended by hundreds of scientists and engineers who are planning similar experiments. We expect that interest in suborbital experiments will grow in the future.

If the British Interplanetary Society wants to “contest” the future of citizen space exploration, it should do so on the basis of fact, not misinformation or misunderstanding.

Written by Astro1 on April 24th, 2014 , Citizen Exploration

A proposed architecture for a mission to the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos, with a possible launch date of 2021.

This concept, from the Saskasawa International Center for Space Architecture at the University of Houston, requires the development of a nuclear thermal rocket, which would be difficult (perhaps impossible) under the current political climate.

Even if the political problem could be solved, it’s unlikely that anyone would commit to using such a rocket for a manned mission without at least one long-term in-space test. These factors (and the lack of NASA funding for true deep-space hardware) make the proposed 2021 launch date highly unlikely. The basic concept, however, does appear to be technically sound.

If this is viewed as a one-shot mission, it could be accomplished with conventional chemical rockets and a few more launches, which would still cost less than nuclear-thermal rocket development.

Written by Astro1 on March 3rd, 2014 , Space Exploration (General)

Exposure to microgravity has been shown to weaken astronauts’ immune systems and increase the activity if harmful microorganisms. The news from space medicine is not all bad, however. New research suggests that thyroid cancer cells enter a less aggressive state under the influence of microgravity. By understanding the genetic and cellular changes that occur in space, scientists may be able to develop new cancer treatments for use on Earth.

Differential Gene Expression Profile and Altered Cytokine Secretion of Thyroid Cancer Cells in Space” was published in the February issue of The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

Daniela Gabriele Grimm, MD, from the Department of Biomedicine at Aarhus University in Denmark, said, “Research in space or under simulated microgravity using ground-based facilities helps us in many ways to understand the complex processes of life and this study is the first step toward the understanding of the mechanisms of cancer growth inhibition in microgravity. Ultimately, we hope to find new cellular targets, leading to the development of new anti-cancer drugs which might help to treat those tumors that prove to be non-responsive to the currently employed agents.”

Grimm and colleagues from Denmark and Germany used the Science in Microgravity Box facility aboard the Chinese Shenzhou-8, which was launched on October 31, 2011. Cell feeding was performed automatically on day 5 of the mission and automated cell fixation was conducted on day 10. An onboard centrifuge was used for inflight control cultures.

On the ground, additional cells were tested using a random-positioning machine, which aims to simulate microgravity by rotating a sample around two axes.

Cells were studied for gene expression and secretion profiles, using modern molecular biological techniques such as whole genome microarrays and multi-analyte profiling. Results suggest that the expression of genes that indicate high malignancy were down-regulated in microgravity.

“We are just at the beginning of a new field of medicine that studies the effects of microgravity on cell and molecular pathology,” said Gerald Weissmann, MD, editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal. “Space flight affects our bodies, both for good and bad. We’ve known that microgravity can cause some microorganisms to become more virulent and that prolonged microgravity has negative effects on the human body. Now, we learn that it’s not all bad news. What we learn from cells in space should help us understand and treat malignant tumors on the ground.”

Written by Astro1 on January 30th, 2014 , Space Medicine and Safety

This summer, we invited Popular Science editor-in-chief Jacob Ward to join us for the current phase of our citizen-astronaut training. The resulting story, Trials and Tribulations of Space School, appears in the January issue of Popular Science, which is on the newsstands now.

“Until this point, space, the final frontier, existed almost as an abstraction for most of us,” Jacob writes. “Now it is within reach. The democratization of space has arrived.”

The story is also available online here.

Written by Astro1 on December 18th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration, Citizens in Space

Citizen astronaut Richard Garriott (son of Skylab astronaut Owen Garriott) gave a stirring talk at the South By SouthWest music, film, and digital media festival last year. The talk is now available on YouTube.

Written by Astro1 on November 16th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration

USAF F-22 Raptor

“Unmanned space” guys take note: Unmanned air vehicles are now being escorted by manned fighters.

The Aviationist reports:

Earlier this year… an IRIAF (Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force) F-4 Phantom combat plane attempted to intercept a U.S. MQ-1 drone flying in international airspace off Iran…. After this attempted interception the Pentagon decided to escort the drones involved in ISR (intelligence surveillance reconnaissance) missions with fighter jets (either F-18 Hornets with the CVW 9 embarked on the USS John C. Stennis… or F-22 Raptors like those deployed to Al Dhafra in the UAE.

This is significant to space because UAVs are often cited as proof that human flight crews are becoming obsolete. The military, however, is now realizing that UAVs cannot do every job.

The fact is, many jobs can be more easily accomplished by humans and machines, working together, than by machines alone. This is true in space as well as aviation.

As an interesting side note, the US military once considered having manned spacecraft fly escort for high-value satellites (anti-ASAT missions) during times of crisis.

The DARPA Space Cruiser (also called the High-Performance Spaceplane) was a 1980’s concept for a one-man spacecraft that could be launched by the Space Shuttle or an expendable rocket. Using its own propulsion system or a Centaur upper stage, the Space Cruiser could accomplish a variety of missions in cis-lunar space. Proposed missions included satellite inspection and repair, reconnaissance, space control, and the aforementioned anti-antisatellite missions.

DARPA Space Cruiser

Written by Astro1 on October 27th, 2013 , Military Space, Space Exploration (General), Space History Tags:

Russian New-Generation Advanced Manned Transportation Spacecraft mockup

Russia is in race with NASA’s Orion project to go back to the future.

The S.P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation Energia has released photographs that show a mockup of its “New-Generation Advanced Manned Transportation Spacecraft,” intended to replace the nearly 50-year-old Soyuz capsule with — wait for it — another capsule!

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Written by Astro1 on October 15th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General)

NASA astronaut Frank Borman

USA Today has published a misleading article on what it takes to become an astronaut.

USA Today equates becoming an astronaut with applying to NASA. For anyone planning an astronaut career today, that advice is woefully outdated, like suggesting that anyone who wants to go to America needs to sign up with Columbus. The great majority of astronauts in the next decade will not work for NASA.

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Written by Astro1 on October 7th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration

Soyuz capsule landing

Soyuz TMA-08M suffered a failure during its descent over Kazakhstan on September 11. The capsule’s altitude sensors, which determine timing for retrorocket firing, failed. Fortunately, the rescue crew was able to radio audio cues to the flight crew.

NASA has downplayed the problem, saying “the crew was in no danger.”

“What I can tell you is that the crew doesn’t fly the Soyuz,” Navias said. “They’re passive. This thing about flying blind has to do with their situational awareness of altimeter data based on what appears to have been a sensor issue that prevented them from seeing data onboard.”

Because the astronauts were unable to follow their altitude from readings in the cockpit, recovery crews on the ground kept them updated with information being relayed to them from Russian Mission Control.

NASA spokesman Rob Navias told,
“The crew doesn’t fly the Soyuz. They’re passive. This thing about flying blind has to do with their situational awareness of altimeter data based on what appears to have been a sensor issue that prevented them from seeing data onboard…. the Soyuz performed as it was expected to.”

This is not the first time NASA has downplayed problems with the Soyuz capsule and launcher. NASA seems willing to trust the Russian Space Agency despite multiple problems, while insisting on super-strict Human Rating Standards for US companies such as Boeing and SpaceX.

Written by Astro1 on October 1st, 2013 , Space Medicine and Safety

Burt Rutan has some reflections on the history of aviation with relevance to space travel:

In 1908 only ten people had flown airplanes. Then… Wilbur Wright flew his airplane in Europe… By 1912 many thousands of pilots were flying hundreds of airplane types in 39 countries. One organization alone (the Aero Club of France) had certified 2,000 pilots and recorded 10,000 passengers. By 1912 the European airplane industry had grown to 45 million dollars (nearly a billion dollars today) and three shops each had delivered more than 500 aircraft.

Compare that to 541 humans, at last count, who have flown in space: a feat that took more than 50 years to accomplish.

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Written by Astro1 on September 18th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration

“The purpose of the space program should be pointed and singleminded: namely, the exploration, by men and women, of the rest of the Universe and the establishment of extraterrestrial colonies.” — Tom Wolfe, 1985

Written by Astro1 on September 17th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General), Space Settlement

Peggy Whitson, the former head of the NASA Astronaut Office, believes NASA’s radiation standards are too restrictive and discriminate against female astronauts.

Whitson expressed her views at a workshop on Ethics Principles and Guidelines for Health Standards for Long-Duration and Exploration-Class Spaceflights, conducted by the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine. The story was reported by

NASA limits astronauts’ lifetime radiation exposure to keep the probability of radiation-induced cancer death below 3%. The limit for NASA astronauts is higher than the limit for terrestrial radiation workers. Women are more susceptible to certain forms of cancer, however, so the limit for female astronauts is lower than the limit for male astronauts. A female astronaut can fly only 45-50% as many missions as a male astronauts, Whitson said.

Many of NASA’s astronauts are already limited by their lifetime radiation exposure. According to Col. Robert Behnken, who replaced Whitson as head of the Astronaut Office, only three of NASA’s 50 astronauts were eligible for the recent one-year mission to ISS, because of radiation limits. A mission to Mars is probably impossible within current radiation limits.

Questions for NASA

Three questions come to mind:

First, is NASA calculating the radiation risk correctly? At present, no one has good data on the biological effects of long-term low-level radiation exposure. Instead, the risks are inferred from data on the effects of short-term, high-level radiation exposure (collected from events such as Hiroshima and Nagasaki). This data is applied to low-level radiation using an extrapolation model known Linear No Threshold (LNT).

The LNT model assumes that a given dose of radiation will have the same effect regardless of the dose rate. It is a highly conservative model, which assumes the body has no way to recover from the effects of gradual, low-level radiation exposure over time. It ignores the usual principles of toxicology and much of what we know about the biological repair mechanisms. There is no scientific evidence to prove the LNT model is correct, but the government has adopted it out of an abundance of caution (the “precautionary principle”).

The LNT model has been criticized many times in the past, but environmentalists and anti-nuclear activists have resisted any attempted change. In space, however, the precautionary principle may cost NASA the chance to go to Mars.

Second, does the 3% fatality limit makes sense? The Shuttle had about a 2% fatal accident rate on each flight, as does Soyuz. Future launch systems may do better, but right now, an astronaut who flies multiple missions has a just of death that is significantly greater than 3%.

Third, is the male-female dichotomy really the best way to classify radiation risks? There’s no doubt that cancer risks differ between men and women, but gender is only one of many variables that affect cancer risks. With the development of modern genomics, we’re reaching the point where it’s possible to determine risks on a personal level based on individual genetic markers. This is part of an emerging field known as personalized medicine, which treats people as individuals rather than broad statistical groups. Inspiration Mars is looking at personalized medicine to help select crew members for its proposed Mars flyby mission. Is NASA doing the same?

These are questions which NASA needs to answer as it plans for future exploration activities.


Written by Astro1 on September 4th, 2013 , Space Medicine and Safety

Red Whittaker is developing robots that can enter and traverse the caves of the Moon.

Written by Astro1 on September 4th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General)

Celebrity astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson doesn’t think much of citizen space exploration. He delivers a three-minute broadside against it in this video by Business Insider.

“Private enterprise will not ever lead a space frontier,” Tyson declares, “not because I don’t want them to, but my read of history tells me they can’t, it’s not possible. Space is dangerous, it’s expensive. There are unquantified risks. Combine all of those under one umbrella; you cannot establish a free-market capitalization of that enterprise….

“Those that are the kinds of frontiers that the history of governments have undertaken. The first Europeans to the New World were not the Dutch East India Trading Company. It was governments funding government missions. Columbus drew the maps…”

Dr. Tyson needs to read some history books. His knowledge of Christopher Columbus, and exploration in general, seems to be based the myths told in old high-school textbooks. Columbus was not the first European to sail to the New World. Queen Isabella did not hock the crown jewels to finance Columbus. His expedition was funded by Italian bankers.

Furthermore, Columbus’s maps were terrible. He thought the world was about 18,000 miles in circumference. Most educated people believed it was about 24,000 miles. That figure had been known since the time of the ancient Greeks. Columbus did his math wrong. Any educated person could have shown that, but Columbus simply refused to admit he was wrong. He failed in his mission to reach the East Indies, and he would have perished, along with his entire crew, if they hadn’t chanced upon a completely unexpected continent where they could rest and reprovision. What does that story tell us about citizen space exploration?

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Written by Astro1 on September 2nd, 2013 , Citizen Exploration

Stasis pods (habitat) for long-duration space exploration

Spaceworks Engineering is studying a concept that would put astronauts into a deep sleep (hibernation or torpor) for long-duration space missions.

John Bradford of Spaceworks says medical progress is advancing our ability to induce deep sleep states with significantly reduced metabolic rates for humans over extended periods of time. Because astronauts would not be awake and moving around, the habitat volume needed for long missions could be significantly reduced. The slower metabolic rate would reduce life-support requirements as well.

Spaceworks has received a $100,000 Phase I award from the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts to design a torpor-inducing Mars transfer habitat and assess its effect on Mars exploration architectures.

Spaceworks envisions a small, pressurized module docked to a central node/airlock, permitting direct access to the Mars ascent/descent vehicle and Earth entry capsule by the crew. Spaceworks believes the torpor approach can reduce the habitat size to 20 cubic meters and 5-7 metric tons (for a crew of 4-6), compared to 200 cubic meters and 20-50 metric tons for traditionally designs.

Written by Astro1 on August 31st, 2013 , Innovation, Space Exploration (General)

As of January 2013, none of the research submersibles supported by the US government were operational, according to Newsweek. Funding for the NOAA Undersea Research Program (NURP) was zeroed in the Fiscal Year 2013 budget.

In May, however, we saw two homebuilt submersibles at Maker Faire in San Mateo. As government funding for ocean exploration disappears, citizen science may take over. Perhaps this is a portent for the future of space exploration?

maker subs: homemade submersibles at Maker Faire

Written by Astro1 on August 20th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration

Renowned oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle gives this defense of ocean exploration. The space community should also pay attention.

Dr. Earle is the former chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and currently explorer in residence at the National Geographic Society. She has led more than 60 research expeditions and spent over 7,000 hours underwater. Dr. Earle has set women’s depth records in a hard-shell diving suit (1,250 feet) and a submersible (3,300 feet), as well as leading a team of female researchers during an extended underwater stay in the Tektite II habitat in 1970.

No one denies that Sylvia Earle is an explorer.

Yet, there are people in the space community who insist that astronauts (especially citizen astronauts) are not explorers. Ben McGee discussed this in his recent treatise. “Particularly amongst the old guard of space science,” McGee says, “‘exploration’ is reserved for those pushing the frontier in higher orbits, cislunar space, trips to near-Earth asteroids, Mars, and beyond.” In other words, almost no one.

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Written by Astro1 on August 20th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration Tags:

Inspiration Mars capsule, inflatable module, and upper stage

Dennis Tito’s Inspiration Mars flyby mission needs financial assistance from NASA.

“We’re going to have to do it with NASA, and probably a certain amount of government funding,” said Dennis Tito, in a story reported by NASA’s Alan Boyle.

This follows a long pattern of space projects whose promoters start off saying “launch costs are not an issue.” Over time, these projects require more and more government funding, and usually fail when that funding is not forthcoming.

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Written by Astro1 on August 19th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General)

Naomi Murdoch and Thomas-Louis de Lophem in zero gravity alongside the experiment (Credit: A. Le Floc’h, ESA)

An experiment performed on a parabolic flight aboard a microgravity aircraft suggests avalanche hazards that might influence the design of future asteroid missions. This is yet another example of the value of low-cost microgravity platforms (parabolic aircraft and, in the near future, suborbital spacecraft) for orbital and deep-space operations.

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Written by Astro1 on July 6th, 2013 , Space Exploration (General)