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Hitting the Books: Why women make better astronauts – Engadget

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Kate Greene knows better than most what it’s like to live on Mars. As a member of NASA’s inaugural 2013 HI-SEAS project, she spent four months in a simulated Martian environment on Hawaii’s Mauna Loa. In Once Upon a Time I Lived on Mars, Greene examines humanity’s yearning for space travel through the lens of her own experience and explores, not just the cold, technical capabilities needed to get us to Mars, but also the human element that will allow us to thrive on the Red Planet once we get there. In the excerpt below, Greene posits what NASA might look like today had the agency not gotten its start as an elite boy’s club.

St Martin’s Press

From ONCE UPON A TIME I LIVED ON MARS by Kate Greene. Copyright © 2020 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.


On February 2, 1960, Look magazine ran a cover story that asked “Should a Girl Be First in Space?” It was a sensational headline representing an audacious idea at the time. And, as we all know, the proposal fell short. In 1961, NASA sent Alan Shepard above the stratosphere, followed by dozens of other American spacemen over the next two decades. Only in 1983 did Sally Ride become America’s first woman to launch. A certain kind of person might be compelled to ask, why would anyone think a woman should be the first to space, anyway? And to this person I would say, expert medical opinion, for starters.

Women have fewer heart attacks than men, and in the 1950s and ’60s, scientists speculated that their reproductive systems were more protected from radiation from space than men’s because they are on the inside. What’s more, psychological studies suggested that women cope better than men in isolation and when deprived of sensory inputs. But there was another, possibly more compelling reason that women might outshine men as potential astronauts: basic economics. Thanks to their size, women are, on average, cheaper to launch and fly than men for the simple fact that they need less food.

I verified this firsthand. During the mission, part of my job was to collect and manage the crew’s sleep data. One device used to track sleep was a sensor armband, which, in addition to sleep data and activity logging, also estimated daily and weekly calorie expenditure.

Every week, sitting at the table where we ate our meals, I’d dump the sensor data into my computer. While I didn’t know which numbers belonged to which subject, due to anonymity requirements, I could see each subject’s F or M. Over time I noticed a trend. Sian, Yajaira, and I consistently used fewer than half the calories of Angelo, Simon, and Oleg. Fewer than half!

Consider the numbers. During one week in particular, the most metabolically active male burned an average of 3,450 calories per day while the least metabolically active female went through 1,475. Overall, it was rare for a woman on the crew to use 2,000 calories and common for male crewmembers to exceed 3,000.

We were all exercising roughly the same amount—at least forty-five minutes a day for five consecutive days as per our exercise protocol, most of us ardent followers of Tony Horton’s P90X workouts—but our metabolic furnaces were calibrated in radically different ways.

Another observation: at mealtime, Sian, Yajaira, and I took smaller portions than Angelo, Simon, and Oleg, all three of whom often went back for seconds. I also remember that one of the guys complained how hard it was to maintain his weight, despite the piles of food he was eating. It all got me thinking about economics and gravity.

Astronauts’ calorie requirements matter when planning a mission. The more food a person needs to maintain their weight on a long space journey, the more food should be launched with them. The more food launched, the heavier the payload. The heavier the payload, the more fuel required to blast it into orbit and beyond. Further, the more fuel required, the heavier the whole rocket becomes which, in turn, requires more fuel to launch. This means every pound counts on the way to space. A conundrum, but a predictable one, thanks to math. The “rocket equation” was first derived by a British mathematician in 1813, and later independently discovered again— and applied to hypothetical space travel—by the Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in 1903. It’s the equation that guides all decisions around how heavy payloads, and even rockets themselves, can be.

A mission to Mars crewed only with women would, on average, require less than half the food mass of a mission crewed only with men. But in any scenario, the more women you fly, the less food you need. You save mass, fuel, and money.

When I mentioned my proposal at dinner one night, one of my male crewmates grumpily dismissed it. I figured I was onto something. 

Our selection for HI-SEAS and the supplies we brought into that dome, including food, had nothing to do with the rocket equation. And of course the question of female astronaut suitability had long been answered. This meant that we were chosen, more or less, in the same way all NASA astronauts are chosen. Fundamentally, they must have the same baseline: be a documented U.S. citizen with at least a bachelor’s degree in science, math, or engineering and have worked at least three years in their field or have flown at least one thousand hours as a jet pilot.

These requirements might make sense to you. It’s a technical job. Potential astronauts should have proven their rationality and ability to handle the rigors of a machine dominated environment. This kind of educational prerequisite is a shorthand that says yes they can. But I’ve often wondered about all the people who might have made very fine astronauts—car mechanics, inventors, oil-rig workers, sculptors, clergy, EMTs, truck drivers, novelists, designers, plumbers, philosophers—who never got a chance. What would the history of spaceflight have looked like if it wasn’t just formally educated scientists, engineers, and pilots invited to the party?

In any case, I was qualified, but barely. My undergraduate degree is in chemistry, and I have a master’s degree in physics. And though I never worked as a physicist after graduate school—I went straight to science journalism—I did take three years to complete my master’s rather than the usual two because, as a chemistry major, I needed to make up some undergraduate physics courses. I don’t know if the HI-SEAS selection committee considered journalism as relevant experience in addition to my three years in graduate school.

In 2015, NASA put out a call for astronauts, and I thought I might as well give it one last shot. I didn’t make it past the first round. It made me wonder if the agency or, more specifically, the algorithm programmed by those at the agency to sort through the 18,300 applications, a flood three times the size of the previous hiring round in 2011, operates with a fairly narrow definition of professional astronaut experience so that a journalist—even one with a background in science and time on “Mars”—would always be a no-go.

The group that came out the other end of NASA’s hiring process two years later was made up of five women and seven men. Most had flight time, many in some branch of the military. Some were scientists, some were doctors, all seemed to be firing on all cylinders and had been for much of their young lives. Reading through their bios, what I read was ambition, and a lot of it. And it wasn’t the usual American kind, either, that ambition for money. After all, the most financially hungry among us rarely go into science. Fewer still join the military. It’s a different kind of ambition that propels people to NASA, something to do with glory, maybe, or perhaps a sense of something to prove, though I’m sure it’s different for everyone. And while NASA pulls from the military, and the military often pulls from particular segments of the country’s population, I couldn’t help but think, looking at those bios, of James Baldwin’s observation that ambition isn’t equally distributed in America. In addressing his nephew in The Fire Next Time, Baldwin writes, “You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity.” This was what it was to be black and born in Harlem, Baldwin writes in 1962. This sentiment, and the rightful anger behind it, also may apply to many other nonwhite Americans in other cities and rural towns today, to those born in poverty, to those who lack documentation. There are so many excellent people in this country, living now and throughout history, who have had their ambitions blunted before they could even get started, who have been told that they are not what America is looking for. What of the almost-astronauts or those who never even thought to give it a try? What might they have contributed to humanity’s grand space endeavor? How might they have shaped it differently, for everyone?

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A new study finds that an iceberg may not have sunk the Titanic – Aviation Analysis Wing

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<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="From Popular Mechanics” data-reactid=”32″>From famous mechanics

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Just when we think we know everything there is to know about the Titanic—unsinkable ship, giant iceberg, "I’m the king of the world," etc.—along comes fascinating new research that raises big questions about what really transpired on the fateful night of April 14, 1912. Did a weather fluke from space actually cause the Titanic to sink?
” data-reactid=”37″>Just knowing when we think we know everything here TitanicUnsinkable ships, giant icebergs, “I am the king of the world,” etc. – come with interesting new discoveries that raise big questions about what really happened on the terrible night of April 14, 1912. The weather effect from space is really the reason Titanic Drowning?

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="🚢 You love badass ships. So do we. Let’s nerd out over them together.” data-reactid=”38″>🚢 You like ugly planes. so do we. Let’s get them together.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The new study's key finding is that the northern hemisphere was in the grips of a “moderate to severe” magnetic storm that night, which could have altered the Titanic’s navigational readings, affecting both its planned course and the information the crew shared about their location during SOS signals.” data-reactid=”43″>The main finding of the new study is that the northern hemisphere was subjected to a “moderate to severe” magnetic storm that night, which could have caused a change. TitanicNavigational readings affect its planned course And The crew shared their location during SOS signals.

The idea is very simple. The sun, which is powered by an atomic dynamo that burns millions of degrees, is bathed in sunlight. These, in turn, are punctuated by the size of the Earth by gigantic or larger explosives: solar flares.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="“In a matter of just a few minutes they heat material to many millions of degrees and release as much energy as a billion megatons of TNT,” NASA explains. These flares are often caused by magnetic changes or crashes, and their explosions cause magnetic ripples through the solar system.” data-reactid=”45″>“In a few minutes, they heat the material to millions of degrees and generate one billion megatons of TNT.” NASA explains that once the release is released. ”These flares are often caused by magnetic changes or collapses, and their explosions cause magnetic waves through the solar system.

It instinctively suggests that the hottest thing in the solar system experiences a lot of responses to rotating and changing magnetic fields. Earth is a successful habitat for living organisms, in part because humans have a protective magnetic field that represents an enormous amount of solar radiation and cosmic air that would throw us to the surface of a lifeless Mars-like planet. .

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="This magnetic field also shifts and changes over time, especially as the magnetic poles move around Earth’s surface. Both animals and humans have learned to rely on the magnetic poles, in the form of manmade devices like compasses as well as animals’ sense for migration and navigation. Compasses, like clocks, must be adjusted to the correct units—like accounting for magnetic north as it moves around in a normal way.” data-reactid=”47″>This magnetic field changes and changes over time, especially as the magnetic poles revolve around the Earth’s surface. Animals and humans have learned to rely on magnetic poles, in the form of man-made devices such as compasses. Animal knowledge for migration and navigation. Compasses, like hours, should be set to the correct units, for example Calculate magnetic answers It turns out in a natural way.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="It’s here that we rejoin the Titanic. Paper author Mila Zinkova has published four previous papers about the Titanic in the journal RMetS Weather, exploring a theory that mirages or other visual distortions played a part in the sinking. Now, Zinkova is using weather and space data to explore a different theory.” data-reactid=”48″>From here we reconnect Titanic. The newspaper is owned by author Mila Zinkova, which has published about four previous papers Titanic In the magazine RMetS Weather, Investigated the theory that mirrors or other visual disturbances played a role in the sinking. Now, Zinkova is using weather and space data to explore a different theory.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="If a solar flare is severe enough, marked on that historic night by the telltale Aurora Borealis, it can skew the Earth’s magnetic field and wreak havoc with magnetic instruments like compasses. Even today, solar flares interfere with the electrical grid and space traffic, and truly precious file backups may be kept in protective Faraday cages.” data-reactid=”49″>If a solar flare is so intense that it was marked by what is called Aurora borealis on that historic night, it could encircle the Earth’s magnetic field and wreak havoc with magnetic devices like the compass. Even today, solar flares disrupt the power grid and space traffic, and truly valuable backups. Safety can be maintained in a Faraday cage.

Image credit: Paramount – Twentieth Century Focus

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Zinkova posits that the impact on compasses affected the coordinates reported in distress signals. “The Titanic’s Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall worked out the ship’s SOS position. Boxhall’s position was around 13 nautical miles (24 km) off their real position,” Zinkova writes.” data-reactid=”70″>Genkova writes that the impact on the compass affected the coordinates contained in the signs of the crisis. “The Titanic A fourth officer, Joseph Backshall, worked in the ship’s SOS condition. The Paxhall site was about 13 nautical kilometers (24 kilometers) from its original location, Zenkova wrote.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="But the rescue ship Carpathia likely had the same wrong information. “The compasses of the Carpathia could have been under the influence of the geomagnetic storm for 5.5 hours, before and after she received the Titanic’s SOS, and until she reached the lifeboats,” Zinkova continues. “Therefore, a possible combined compass error could have been one of the factors that contributed to the successful rescue of the Titanic survivors.”” data-reactid=”71″>But the rescue plane Carpathia Perhaps this was wrong information. The Carpathian Compasses could be under the influence of a geomagnetic storm for 5.5 hours before and after. TitanicIt has SOS, and even hitting lifeboats, “Zinkova continues.” Therefore, a potential compound compass error may be one of the contributing factors to the successful rescue of survivors of the Titanic. “

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="This also points to how localized the solar flare phenomenon was. Ships in a certain radius received scrambled radio calls or missed them altogether. Back on land or even outside of the affected radius, everything seemed normal except when trying to contact or be contacted by the Titanic and other ships near it.” data-reactid=”72″>It also indicates how the solar flare is localized. Ships caught in a certain area. Receive radio calls or miss them altogether. Returning to the ground or outside the affected area, everything seemed normal except upon contact or attempt Titanic And other ships nearby.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="You Might Also Like” data-reactid=”73″>You may also like

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“Galaxy-Sized Big Bang” –Largest Black Holes in Observable Universe May Be Source of Dark Matter (Weekend Feat – The Daily Galaxy –Great Discoveries Channel

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"Stupendous" -- Largest Black Holes in the Observable Universe May Be Source of Dark Matter

Albert Einstein described black holes as “the most perfect macroscopic objects there are in the universe: the only elements in their construction are our concepts of space and time,” which has inspired astrophysicists to question how big these paradoxical objects, these “Gates of Hell” might become?

A team of scientists now suggest that these behemoths lurking at the centers of galaxies could reach “stupendously large” sizes–where the higher their mass, the greater their power–“they would be like a mini, galaxy-sized Big Bang,” according to Julie Hlavacek-Larrondo, at Université de Montréal, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Observational Astrophysics of Black Holes. These enigmatic objects, as affirmed by quantum theory, could be incredibly complex and concentrate an enormous amount of information inside themselves –the largest hard disk that exists in nature, in two dimensions.

“Stupendously Large Black Holes” (SLABs)

Discovering such gargantuan black holes may shed light on the nature of a significant fraction of the mysterious dark matter. These “stupendously large black holes” (SLABs) in galactic nuclei, exist in theory and may have been seeded by primordial black holes, suggests Florian Kuhnel who holds the Chair on Cosmology at the Arnold Sommerfeld Center for Theoretical Physics. The largest known black hole in the observable universe is powering the quasar TON 618 with a mass of 66 billion solar masses, leading to conjectures that even larger exist either within or beyond the observable universe, and to question if there is any upper limit to their sizes.

Primordial Black Holes –Source of Dark Matter?

Which leads to the speculation that primordial black holes formed during the cosmic Dark Age following the Big Bang, before the formation of the first stars.” It’s been hypothesized that there could be black holes that formed in the very early universe before stars existed at all,” said Savvas Koushiappas, a dark-matter physicist at Brown University, about the possibility that with future gravitational wave experiments, we’ll be able to look back to a time before the formation of the first stars to see if black hole events existed before stars formed in the cosmos, then we’ll know that those black holes are not of stellar origin.

“Fireflies of the Big Bang” –Did Primordial Black Holes Create Dark Matter?

Gravity Wells at Big Bang

These primordial black holes, gravity wells formed just moments after the Big Bang could be an explanation for dark matter. Shortly after the Big Bang, quantum mechanical fluctuations led to the density distribution of matter that we observe today in the expanding universe. Some of those density fluctuations might have been large enough to result in black holes peppered throughout the universe, suggested Koushiappas, coauthor of the 2017 study with Harvard’s Avi Loeb. The study outlined how scientists could use gravitational wave experiments to test the existence of primordial black holes first proposed in the early 1970s by Stephen Hawking and collaborators but have yet to be detected.

“Before the First Stars” –Primordial Black Holes, Gravity Wells Formed Moments After the Big Bang

“Either primordial black holes exist, or the early universe evolved in a way that’s very different from the standard cosmological model. Either would be very important discoveries, say Koushiappas and Loeb. Primordial black holes, suggest Loeb and Koushiappas, fall into a category of entities known as MACHOs, or Massive Compact Halo Objects. Some scientists have proposed that dark matter—the unseen stuff that is thought to comprise most of the mass of the universe—may be made of MACHOs in the form of primordial black holes. A detection of primordial black holes would bolster that idea, while continued non-detection would cast doubt upon it.

“The really exciting thing about primordial black holes is that there are so many mysteries that in principle they could explain,” says Stephen Hawking’s colleague, physicist Bernard Carr. “Not the least of them being the existence of dark matter and dark energy.”

“One exciting possibility is that a population of primordial black holes may have created dark matter in the early universe,” wrote Dan Hooper, head of the theoretical astrophysics group at Fermilab in reply to to an email from Daily Galaxy, asking Hooper what new physics could be revealed by the discovery of these elusive relics. “If these black holes were initially lighter than a million kilograms or so,” Hooper added, “they would have evaporated in the first second after the Big Bang. In the process of this evaporation, they could have created any number of exotic forms of matter and energy, including dark matter.”

The Daily Galaxy, Max Goldberg, via Arxiv.org, New Scientist, Bernard Carr, Primordial Black Holes as Dark Matter, Did Black Holes Exist Before Stars and Primordial Black Holes as Dark Matter

Image credit: Shuttertstock License

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This spacecraft was on the way to Venus when astronomers made a major discovery – msnNOW

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The astronomy community lit up earlier this week with news that hinted at possible signs of life on Venus. Among the most excited about the discovery were researchers at the European Space Agency and the Japanese Space Agency, who just happened to already have spacecraft en route to Earth’s planetary neighbor.



The northern hemisphere of Venus is displayed in this global view of the surface as seen by NASA Magellan spacecraft.


© NASA
The northern hemisphere of Venus is displayed in this global view of the surface as seen by NASA Magellan spacecraft.

A team of researchers using telescopes in Hawaii and Chile announced Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy that they spotted what appeared to be phosphine on Venus. Phosphine is a noxious gas that on Earth is only associated with living organisms.

MORE: NASA is soliciting help from commercial companies to get moon samples

While there were many caveats in linking the discovery directly to proof of life on Venus, it still set both the scientific community and the public abuzz with new wonder.

Missions to space can be costly and time consuming, but in a complete coincidence, the ESA and JAXA happened to already be planning a flyby of Venus next month as part of the BepiColombo mission to Mercury that launched in 2018.



a steam train on a track with smoke coming out of it: In this photo provided by European Space Agency (ESA), The Ariane 5 rocket carrying BepiColombo lifts off from its launch pad at Kourou in French Guiana, for the mission to Mercury, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018.


© ESA via AP
In this photo provided by European Space Agency (ESA), The Ariane 5 rocket carrying BepiColombo lifts off from its launch pad at Kourou in French Guiana, for the mission to Mercury, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018.

“We are all very excited,” Johannes Benkhoff, a scientist for the BepiColombo mission, told ABC News.

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“It was not expected and we would’ve never thought about looking for life on Venus using our instruments, because we are going to Mercury,” he added. “But nevertheless, when we heard about it, we were all excited and we immediately looked if we can do something.”

Benkhoff expressed some doubts that all of their equipment that was planned for exploring Mercury will end up being sensitive enough to do research into signs of life on Venus during the flyby, but said they are looking into any ways they can assist.

MORE: NASA’s Mars Perseverance completes successful launch, will look for signs of ‘ancient life’

“We had a meeting of our Venus working group and phosphine was one of the topics,” he said. “We also had one of the team members who discovered this phosphine joining our meeting.”

The international space agencies actually have two planned flybys of Venus on their calendars, one slated for next month and one in August 2021.



The northern hemisphere of Venus is displayed in this global view of the surface as seen by NASA Magellan spacecraft.


© NASA
The northern hemisphere of Venus is displayed in this global view of the surface as seen by NASA Magellan spacecraft.

The purpose of these flybys for the BepiColombo mission is to de-accelerate the spacecraft so that it can stay on track to reach Mercury by 2025, according to Benkhoff.

“But of course, if we can do a little bit of science, we do that also,” he added.

Benkhoff said that the BepiColombo mission is in partnership with Japan, but they also have collaborators from the U.S. and Russia, and marveled at how exploring other planets has a way of bringing people on Earth closer together.

“That’s what I like about space,” he said. “It’s a very international community and you come together with different cultures.”

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