Tag Archives: Space

I’m Spacey

Space Shuttle Atlantis transported by a Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), 1998 (NASA)

My father, who was an aeronautical engineer and executive for the Boeing Company, was an enthusiast for any machine that flew, and I inherited some of that passion.  Few could match my Dad’s love affair with wings!

Twenty years ago, when my father was working on a multi-year Boeing project near Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, my family and I toured the flight center. Astronauts trained there.  While we were touring the training area during a space shuttle mission, we heard mission control in Huntsville interacting with the astronauts on the space shuttle. History in action!  For three decades and 135 missions, the space shuttle carried cargo and crew into orbit. Now, sadly the Space Shuttle is history.

If you want to experience a little of what it was like to pilot the Space Shuttle, click on Space Shuttle cockpit. Use your mouse to move around the cockpit and to see the upper flight deck. Drag your cursor for horizontal or vertical viewing or use your scroll wheel to zoom in and out.

The technicians talking to the astronauts while we were touring Marshall were part of the Huntsville Operations Support Center (HOSC), a facility that supported Space Shuttle launch, payload and experiment activities at the Kennedy Space Center, International Space Station launch and experiment operations. The HOSC also monitors rocket launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station when a Marshall Center payload is on board.

This is a space shuttle model situated in the rocket park at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The photo was taken in October 2005 by Michael Fallows.

When we toured the Marshall Space Flight Center, my father showed me a blueprint of the ISS, which had not yet been built. Now that the space shuttle program has been ended, American astronauts have to hitch a ride to get to the ISS, and there have been difficulties with failed launches lately.  Here’s a link to a story on the latest problems. Russia to delay space mission due to technical problems.  Here’s a story from last year about whether U.S. astronauts can continue to stay on the ISSS.  Astronauts May Have to Abandon Space Station

I watched the launches of  Endeavour and Atlantis this past year, remembering how we all gathered in my grade school cafeteria to watch the first space flights on a tiny television.  When Endeavor launched in May 2011, my deaf cat sped into the living room and sat down in front of the television, watching until the shuttle was well into the sky. It was eerie, as he never does that, not even to watch Animal Planet.  When Atlantis was launched in July 2011, I was in an airport. Everyone stood around the televisions, engrossed in the spectacle. How easily we were taking airplane travel for granted, and now with sadness perhaps we were all realizing how we had taken space flight for granted.

Here’s a launch schedule, obviously tentative.  Launch schedule to the ISS.

NASA’s International Space Station website.   About the International Space Station.

Marshall Space Flight’s Center role in the Shuttle and its future role in space flight.

About the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center.

We also toured the nearby U.S. Space & Rocket Center and Space Camp (formerly U.S. Space Camp) in Huntsville, which are operated by the Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission.  Here’s the Space camp website.

We saw a Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird,”  a rare and cool sight!


Filed under Airplanes and Aerospace

Monarch Butterflies in Space

KU Professor to help send monarchs into space


The Wichita Eagle

(published in Kansas City Star on Nov. 16, 2009)

LAWRENCE, Kan. – (By Ron Sylvester) Chip Taylor is used to people giving him strange looks.

As director of Monarch Watch and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Kansas, Taylor has placed radio tags on butterflies and tracked them across pastures and plains.

Sending monarchs to space is not that far-out an idea to him.

Three of Taylor’s monarch caterpillars are set to blast off to the International Space Station on Monday aboard the space shuttle Atlantis.

Why send butterflies to space?

To study the effects of gravity.

And yes, the thought of sending butterflies to space has drawn some quizzical looks.

But Taylor is used to that in his field.

“We got strange looks last summer when I was working with National Geographic and we radio tagged a butterfly,” Taylor said. “We have to go knock on somebody’s door and say ‘Can we go look for our radio-tagged butterfly? We think it landed in your pasture.’ I mean, you talk about having strange looks.”

Studying insects helps us learn how the world around us works, Taylor said, and how it affects our lives.

“The nature of what we do is to find out what life is all about,” Taylor said. “When you’re doing that sort of thing you’re up close and personal with all these insects, and that’s something people aren’t comfortable with.”

About 600 individuals and schools will be able to watch the caterpillars develop as they orbit in the space station, about 220 miles outside the earth’s atmosphere.

The schools will receive their own caterpillars in a small rearing station similar to that in the space station.

Students will watch those in their classrooms develop and compare them to how the caterpillars grow in space. Researchers hope they’ll turn into butterflies sometime after Thanksgiving.

The object, Taylor said, is to see how gravity, or the near-zero gravity in the space station, affects the insects. These will be the first of their species to travel in space.

“It is so gravity oriented,” Taylor said. “None of the insects they’ve taken up into space have had a particularly strong gravity orientation. The monarchs do. They’re going to be in a nearly weightless environment. It could pose all sorts of different problems for them.”

That will tell scientists more about movement and how life functions, said Steve Hawley, Kansas professor of physics and astronomy and an astronaut on five shuttle missions.

“The more we learn about how physiology works in space whether it’s human physiology or insect physiology or plant physiology the more we’ll be able to use that information on the ground to understand fundamentally how biological systems work,” Hawley said in a statement from the university.

Monarch Watch is working on the project with the BioServe Space Technologies program at the University of Colorado.

Stefanie Countryman, business development manager with BioServe, said their program created habitat and stringent requirements for the butterflies in space.

But they had no food.

Taylor and his Kansas program developed an artificial food for the caterpillars. That’s how they’ll eat in space.

Since April, Taylor has been perfecting the artificial diet.

“That’s what’s making this all possible,” Taylor said.

A study guide being sent to the schools explains that monarch caterpillars walk with 16 legs and spin silk to attach themselves to surfaces.

“What will happen when they lose their grip?” the guide asks, referring to the force of gravity on liftoff or the weightlessness of space.

How the caterpillars are able to react could teach astronauts how to move better in space, the study guide says.

“You win if they succeed, you win if they fail, because you learn something,” Taylor said. “You learn what their limitations are when they fail. You learn how they adjust if they succeed.”

People will be able to follow the experiment through photos, videos and other information at the program’s Web site: http://www.monarchwatch.org/space.

Information from: The Wichita Eagle, http://www.kansas.com


Filed under Biology, Butterflies, Entomology, Insects, Life, Natural History, Nature, Science, Technology, University of Kansas