The Other Half of the Sky

Future of Space Travel May
Belong to Female Astronauts

Some two years ago, NASA was looking for a few good astronauts. It found a few good women. In fact, four out of the newest batch of eight space-bound Americans are female, truly a record. Unlike most professions, being an astronaut accurately reflects our demographics.
They may all thank their lucky stars to Valentina Tereshkova, a Russian who became the first woman in orbit 50 years ago last Sunday. As if on cue, Wang Yaping, China’s second female astronaut, has returned to Earth yesterday, after 15 days in space with two others.
Valentina’s launch, two years after Yuri Gagarin’s historical flight, was a second stunning win for the Soviet Union in the early years of the space race. After Godspeed John Glenn, in 1962, it’d take two decades for Sally Ride to, well, ride the Space Shuttle and become the first American female to get there.
As it goes, June seems to be a special time for women in space. Apart from Wang, Liu Yang, China’s first female astronaut, went aloft last year on the 16th, the same day as Valentina‘s, while Sally, who passed away last July, boarded the shuttle 30 years ago, on the 18th.

Perhaps mirroring the times, their trips were radically different. Valentina‘s type of orbit is now routinely done by unmanned rockets. Sally rode the no-longer active Shuttle Program, and Wang’s flight is part of China’s ambitious plan to build its own space lab.
Thus, even though our bets are still heavily stacked in the new crop of female astronauts and scientists who may help lift us all to a consistent new program of space exploration, the odds are still against women in space: of 534 space travelers, so far only 57 have been female. So much for demographics.
But let’s not restrict our imagination just yet. When it comes to exploring the physical universe, there’s practically everything to be done. Assuming that we don’t self implode without even trying, within a century we may as well be traveling if not through the stars, then at least among near planets in and outside the Solar System.
It may all start with a quick landing on an asteroid. Then another trip to the Moon, this time not on gossamer wings. A few additional extravagant dreams, and that long haul to Mars, the one-way ticket reserved for a very special breed of not yet born humans, and who, most likely, won’t return to Earth either.
And who’s not to say that on that very open-ended journey, someone may become the first space mother? It’s likely – and even preferable – that nationality won’t be relevant then. Or race. Or, to a certain extent, age. Gender, though, will. And there’s just one that’s been trained on this particular task for 100,000-plus years.

Just the time-frame we need to get used to think, if we’re to vanquish war, climate change, pollution, over population, diminishing natural resources, and, wny not? greed. As a matter of fact, if we do get at least a few of those right, there won’t be really any limits to what we’ll be able to do. Including having a birth in outer space.
Read Also:
* The Red Chronicles
* Sorry, Not a Winner
* Out There

Meanwhile, Up There

Six Astronauts from Three Nations
Flying High Above Us at 17,300Mph

How easy it is for us to forget. In the time you’ll spend reading this post, Commander Dan Burbank, Anton Shkaplerov, Anatoly Ivanishin, André Kuipers, Oleg Kononenko and Don Pettit, will zip by over us a few times, busy tending to the 30th astronaut expedition to the International Space Station.
Since we’ve started the week marking the 50 years last Monday of John Glenn‘s historical flight circling the Earth aboard the Friendship 7, it’s only fitting to take a few minutes today to think about the current crew of six working 24/7 to keep his legacy, and our stardust dreams, alive.
We do forget about them, sometimes, so focused we must be on our own ant-like business of being alive. But, as flight engineer Don Pettit wrote this week, “when earthlings can see us, we cannot see them. The glare from the full sun effectively turns our windows into mirrors that return our own ghostly reflection.”
Pettit, from Oregon, along with Turkumenian Konokenko and Dutch Kuipers, arrived at the ISS two days before Christmas. Burbank, from Connecticut, was already there, and so was Russians Shkaplerov, who turned 40 last Monday too, and Ivanishin, all brought aloft on board two Soyuz rockets.
They should all be back to Earth for Easter. But make no mistake, these guys are the text-book combination of super-athletes and rocket scientists: if there’s anything humanly possible to do to avert disaster, they’re perfectly capable of doing, with honors, as most of everything they’ve done in life has been.
Up there, though, they’re but a speck of dust, racing among 500,000 other objects of different sizes, all capable of ending their adventurous lives in the time it takes us to complete this sentence. From up there, they can’t expect to get help from any of the seven billion who mostly ignore them.
That’s why this Saturday, out of the blue, we thought we should try to spot them crossing over our heads, as silently as the other heavenly bodies around them. Except that theirs carries some of our own shine and hearts. The ISS is fair game to be wished upon too, just like any other shooting star.
You can follow them on Tweeter, read their blogs or find out more about their mission. You can also talk to your friends or children about them. Or just keep them on your mind, as you go about your daily chores, usual aggravations and small miracles.
Click on the two pictures that illustrate this post for the videos that will help you picture yourself up there, watching us from above, as Pettit says, without really seeing us, but the planet as a whole, as it wakes up and goes dark several times a day.
Here’s to you, ISS and the only star in the vast wide universe to carry six beings just like us. Take good care of them.

Out There

Cheat Sheet & New Skills
for Prospective Astronauts

It’s been a disheartening time to be an astronaut. What, with the Space Shuttle out of commission for good, the profession that defined the term ‘rocket scientist’ may be up for a rough patch ahead.
As of right now, if you’re scheduled to fly, your seat will be on that old, cranky, and slightly terrifying Russian Soyuz rocket. No other ship is quite ready to take you aloft.
And yet, you may still need to learn some new skills. As millions of people have already been doing in these past three or four years, you may as well brush off your resume.
After all, just last month NASA announced that it has some openings for astronauts, although it’s not clear to anyone why exactly it’s hiring, since there’s simply no U.S. rocket to fly or speak of.
Whether it’s for hitching a hike on another country’s rocket, or there’s something we don’t know about being developed, you may as well be prepared.
NASA has a series of specifications to be met by prospective candidates, but even if they qualify, it’s not guaranteed that anyone Continue reading