Challenges of Space Exploration: Gravity Assisted Functions

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One of my first assignments as a NASA contractor at Johnson Space Center in Houston back in the late 80s was to participate in a vendor survey seeking sources of medical equipment used for life science experiments in Spacelab (mock-up used for training purposed pictured above). If an item was available commercially, it could save a tremendous amount of money versus developing one from scratch and essentially reinventing the wheel.

When I would talk to each sales representative, who was usually rather excited to be talking to someone from NASA, the first thing I would ask would be, “Will this particular item work upside down?”

The ensuing silence never failed to make me smile.  After a sufficiently dramatic pause, I would explain.

Anything used in space needed to function without any assistance from gravity. This could be something as simple as a reagent moving through a tube or some mechanical part that required a nudge from the 9.8 meters/second/second acceleration of gravity.

Since we’ve all grown up on Earth’s gravity field, it’s easy to take it for granted. In fact, I was amazed to encounter situations where aerospace engineers made the mistake of designing something that was gravity dependent! How ironic is that? That’s how pervasive it is, that even someone trained specifically to work in the space industry would forget that important little detail. Along similar lines, when the shuttle would arrive in orbit, any tools left in the cargo bay, or anywhere else, for that matter, would come floating out, sometimes presenting a serious hazard.

Take a look around and think about some of the things you do every day that depend on gravity. Would your food stay on your plate or your drink in the glass? Nope. Could you wash your clothes in your washing machine? Nope. Would water run out of the tap so you could brush your teeth? Not unless it was under pressure and then it probably wouldn’t go where expected. Floating around looks like a lot of fun, but many an astronaut has battled with space sickness as his or her stomach was quite literally upset with food refusing to settle.

While my heroine, Creena, is onboard the escape pod, she encounters similar issues since it didn’t have a gravity simulator. To quote from “Beyond the Hidden Sky:”

“Nonetheless, there were still a few things she’d never get used to. Like the sanicube. She’d never thought of going to the bathroom or taking a shower as gravity assisted functions before, but they were, with equally bizarre solutions.”

Think about going to the bathroom standing on your head. More than likely, you wouldn’t like the result. Needless to say, toilet facilities in space require innovation to avoid what could otherwise be an extremely unpleasant environment. You can’t pick up a toilet that will work in space at Home Depot, that’s for sure, and developing one was expensive. Even then, it wasn’t ideal. I talked to individuals who were tasked with cleaning up the space shuttle when it returned from a mission who described a rather disgusting mess. Not only would it look as if the astronauts had engaged in numerous food fights, it would smell similar to a port-a-potty as well. Yummy, right?

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It was quite common when I would go to schools to talk about space exploration that someone would inevitably ask about the space toilet. It certainly didn’t look anything like a normal commode. It employed assistance from vacuum hoses for urination and a general vacuum for defecation. I had a tour of the toilet training facilities with some of my coworkers one time which, of course, we found somewhat amusing. Potty training for astronauts certainly seemed a bit odd, considering all the high-tech training they received.

The funniest part was that the toilet in the training facility actually had a video camera inside it! This had an important purpose, i.e., so trainees could see if they were correctly parked on the seat, which was required to maintain that vacuum effect noted earlier. Failing to do so would result in, well, the possible escape of something you wouldn’t exactly want to encounter floating around, eh?

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It didn’t take long for someone to dub it the “butt cam” and we joked about the possibility of someone broadcasting the training session across NASA Select, the private TV network that spanned not only Johnson Space Center but every other NASA facility and accessible in every conference room, lobby and manager’s office. No doubt the “butt cam” was on a closed circuit, but this shows the type of humor we engineers found in the most unlikely places. Yes, it was definitely fun and interesting to work at NASA.

How many “gravity assisted functions” that we Earthlings take for granted can you think of?

 

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Challenges of Space Exploration: Weightlessness

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In my recent interview with Book Nerd Paradise I read an excerpt from Beyond the Hidden Sky which illustrated what Creena experienced when the escape pod finally landed on Verdaris. While she’d been instructed by the onboard v-troid, DORAI, to exercise as a regular part of her zones, Creena got frustrated with the equipment malfunctioning and stopped doing so as part of her general rebellion. Exercising was a bore, especially when the marching machine kept jamming or not keeping an accurate record of how much she’d done. Moving about the pod in a weightless environment was effortless and fun! Yet she was initially informed that life in zero-g meant exercise zones. The conversation went like this:

“If I don’t I’ll get what?” Creena asked.

“Orthostatic intolerance,” DORAI replied.

“What’s that?”

“Side effects of zero gravity. It affects your heart, skeletal muscles, bones and balance. Without countermeasures you’ll be dizzy, have trouble standing up, and won’t be strong enough to walk when you return to a gravity field.”

So she’d been warned but conveniently forgot. The results were not pretty.

Why were these exercise routines known as countermeasures necessary? This excerpt from p. 62 of The Star Trails Compendium briefly explains it:

Gravity forces your body to continually compensate for it by building additional strength. Without it muscles weaken, including the heart, also a muscle, which needs to pump blood against it. Orthostatic intolerance is the technical term for not being able to stand up without holding onto something. Astronauts in space exercise to maintain their strength so that when they return to Earth they are not too weak to walk. Some astronauts who have returned from long-duration space flight have not been able to walk without assistance.

Gravity is something we take for granted. For example, pouring a glass of water requires gravity to deliver the liquid to the container. In space the liquid would spill out into the air and float around in a glob. Think about things you do that you can’t do upside down and you will discover various “gravity assisted functions.” Astronauts often suffer from space sickness, similar to motion sickness, because gravity is not helping keep food and liquids in their stomach.

My first job at NASA was in their Life Sciences Division at Johnson Space Center in Houston Texas. Among other things, they studied the effects of zero gravity on the human body. They conducted various experiments and developed exercise equipment for the astronauts to maintain their fitness level. One of the physical problems related to losing calcium from their bones, which obviously would weaken them. They found that resistance exercises were most effective, even though aerobic exercises such as running on a treadmill were still important as well.

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To prepare for long-term space flight such as that required to go to Mars, NASA is currently conducting a year-long study about the effects of micro-gravity in an interesting way. It just so happens that two astronauts, Mark and Scott Kelly, are identical twins. Mark is retired but on March 27, 2015 Scott and Russian cosmonaut, Mikhail Kornienko, blasted off for the International Space Station where Mark will spend a year participating in the study. Mark, who will remain on Earth, will serve as a control during which they will study molecular changes between the two. The study, which comprises numerous separate experiments, will also address how an astronaut’s mental state is affected by these changes.

You can learn more about the study here.

Space travel is not a simple matter. While we have the technology to build an interplanetary spacecraft we still don’t fully understand how it will affect humans at the physical level. This study will provide a few answers.

[NOTE: You can download a free copy of The Star Trails Compendium which contains lesson and discussion ideas of the science in The Star Trails Tetralogy from Smashwords here.]

Image licenses and copyrights via 123rf.com

A Flagrant Holiday Star Trails SSP and Special Deal

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If you follow me on Facebook you’re familiar with my “SSP’s”, a throwback to my more than two decades working at NASA where we used acronyms to the point that to outsiders they sounded like another language. When I was at NASA “SSP” stood for “Space Shuttle Program.” In this case, however, it stands for “Shameless Self-Promotion.” As an Indie Author, if I don’t hawk my own books, no one else will, either. Actually, I take that back. I have lots of amazing friends who are also fellow authors and we try to help each other out however we can, somewhat like group therapy.

Anyway, to celebrate the Christmas Holidays (which also include my birthday on Christmas Day) I’ve placed “Beyond the Hidden Sky,” the first volume of my Star Trails Tetralogy, on sale for only $.99 from now through New Year’s Day.

The series is old-fashioned, classic hard science fiction. “Star Wars” or “Guardians of the Galaxy” fans are especially likely to enjoy it. “Beyond the Hidden Sky” kicks off the family saga that continues through “A Dark of Endless Days” and “A Psilent Place Below” with the fourth and final volume, “Refractions in Frozen Time,” due out soon.

Okay, okay, I know I’ve been saying “soon” for a while. I did find great consolation for missing my various release dates (by years, in some cases) from some authors who write similar length and complexity stories to mine who said they never met their first deadline, either. So I feel at least I’m in good company, tardy though I may be. Like fruit ripening on the tree, it’s not ready ‘til it’s ready to drop. Sorry. That’s just the way it is.

I’m picky and won’t put it out there until I’m reasonably satisfied it’s the best possible product. Someone told me once an author doesn’t ever finish a book, s/he abandons it, which is definitely true for me. As fellow author, Elle Klass, has pointed out, I’m a “grammar Nazi” so I definitely try to clean up my own books as much as possible. This series comprises full-length books, i.e. well over 350 pages for the print version with “Refractions…” current hitting about 427. Thus, for the series we’re talking about over 1500 pages, enough for you to get your teeth into the various characters, my particular SciFi universe and of course my “subplots galore” as noted in one of my reader’s reviews.

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As you have probably already guessed, I’m not one of those authors who kicks out another book every six weeks or so. Not even close. I started writing this story “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” I don’t even want to admit exactly when and where that was. Let’s just say in the interim the original technology I’d depicted became science fact and I had to upgrade it considerably. I’m sure it will be (maybe already has become) obsolete at some point as well.

These stories are suitable for all ages, teen and up. However, the vocabulary and writing style is fairly sophisticated and I’ve been told by various reviewers that it doesn’t read as if written strictly for young adults. It’s not.  They are considered “clean” and are listed on the Clean Indie Reads website here: http://cleanindiereads.com/star-trails-tetralogy/

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As an Indie Author I had a lot to learn and this past year has been akin to climbing Mount Everest, in a figurative sense, at least. I was the world’s worst book blurb writer and hope I’ve gotten a little better at that at least. Here’s the latest for “Beyond the Hidden Sky.” I’d love to hear any comments or suggestions!

Moving to another planet is never easy. It’s even harder when you never arrive…

Laren Brightstar knows he’s a target since refusing to work for Augustus Troy. Accepting the chief terralogist position on the other side of the galaxy seems like the simplest solution. Getting there, however, isn’t. Not with a teenage daughter like Creena.

She’s Intelligent.

She’s a rebel.

And now she’s missing.

In deep space.

Was it an accident? Or abduction?

Either way he has to find her. Before Troy does. And somehow he knows life will never be simple again.

* * *

If you don’t want to take my word for it, here are some review excerpts so you can see that some people really like them! You can of course find these in their entirety as well as various others on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Goodreads.

PRAISE FOR “BEYOND THE HIDDEN SKY”

A joy to read. Imaginative hard sci-fi with real-life characters… Anyone who loves hard science will lap this book up. However, that and the wonderful world-building is the bonus. The start of a bigger, complex, political sci-fi thriller chock-full of mysterious baddies… and there’s a robot I swear would drive C-3PO insane.

–Ceri London, Author of “Rogue Genesis”

Subplots galore that will satisfy the appetite of the hardcore sci-fi audience.

–John Reinhard Dizon, Author of “Nightcrawler” series.

Entertaining and believable. The author takes you on a ride through the universe.

–P.S. Winn, Author of “Tunnels”

A brilliant sci-fi, young adult novel…Colorful and animated word sketches give the reader the feel of actually watching or being right in the mix of the story. I am an author as well as having taught junior high science for a number of years and think this read would be a fabulous addition to classroom libraries as well as “the hungry for sci-fi lovers” personal bookshelf.

–Elle Klass, Author of “Eilida’s Tragedy” and the “Baby Girl” series

Science theory is a large part of this story and the writer uses many scenes and situations to explore warp drive, time bumps, worm holes, and warp gullies to name a few. When explanation is needed in a book, it usually slows progression of the plot, but the author uses the science as a “key” to unlock the puzzle of the many developing situations in which Creena finds herself. It’s a great book for anyone that wants to learn more about scientific concepts while being thoroughly entertained.

–Martha Fawcett, Author of “The Permeable Web of Time” and the “Janaforma” series

This well written novel’s style plunges the reader into a new world through fabulous characterizations and sci-fi terms without interrupting the flow of the story. Reading this, I did not even realize it was considered a YA, as it is written in a mature style with realistic possibilities. As a Star Wars fan, I was deeply excited to read this book.

–Rhoda D’Ettore, Author of “Newborn Nazi”

Begins at warp speed as space travel and its theory weaves throughout the tale of a family separated by mishap and kept apart by intent.

–Noelle Harrild, School Librarian

* * *

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Here are links to the books as well as some “Book Bubbles” where you can find excerpts with commentary from yours truly.

BEYOND THE HIDDEN SKY – Star Trails Tetralogy Volume I

Book Trailer: http://youtu.be/ennmW2jTIsc

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Hidden-Star-Trails-Tetralogy-ebook/dp/B005JQNN2M/

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/beyond-the-hidden-sky-marcha-a-fox/1112260474

Create Space (Print copy): https://www.createspace.com/3911767

Book Bubble Excerpt: http://www.bublish.com/bubble/view/2861/

Book Bubble Excerpt 2: http://www.bublish.com/bubble/view/3131/

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A DARK OF ENDLESS DAYS – Star Trails Tetralogy Volume II

Book Trailer: http://youtu.be/P_2sbLHvBj8

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Endless-Days-Trails-Tetralogy-ebook/dp/B007X5V1TE/

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-dark-of-endless-days-marcha-fox/1112742769

Create Space (Print copy): https://www.createspace.com/3937890

Book Bubble Excerpt: http://www.bublish.com/bubble/view/2735

Book Bubble Excerpt 2: http://www.bublish.com/bubble/view/3228

Book Bubble Excerpt 3: http://www.bublish.com/bubble/view/3754

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A PSILENT PLACE BELOW – Star Trails Tetralogy Volume III

Book Trailer: http://youtu.be/-MTp9vUFLy0

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/Psilent-Place-Below-Trails-Tetralogy-ebook/dp/B0082CW8QC/

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-psilent-place-below-marcha-fox/1120000574

Create Space (print copy): https://www.createspace.com/3991023

Book Bubble: http://www.bublish.com/bubble/view/2752

Book Bubble 2: http://www.bublish.com/bubble/view/3589/

And here’s another teaser for REFRACTIONS OF FROZEN TIME – Star Trails Tetralogy Volume IV

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Book Trailer: http://youtu.be/SRY0P4-ZBYw

If you’d like to follow me, here are links to my various other social media locations. “Likes” are particularly appreciated! If you have one you’d like me to “like” in return let me know.

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Marcha-Fox/e/B0074RV16O/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6481953.Marcha_A_Fox

Author Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/marchafoxauthor

Author Website: http://www.StarTrailsSaga.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/startrailsIV

This Blog Page: https://marcha2014.wordpress.com/

Tumblr: http://startrailsiv.tumblr.com

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/pub/marcha-fox/86/440/326/

Google+: google.com/+MarchaFoxAuthor

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/kallioperisingp/

Thank you for wading through this much longer-than-intended SSP. It somewhat demonstrates why my short stories turn into novels and my novels turn into a series. Sorry, just can’t help myself.

I wish everyone a most joyous holiday, whichever one you happen to be celebrating at this special time of year. Many thanks to my family, friends, fellow authors, fans and the many people who have helped and supported my efforts writing for many years. May all of us enjoy an happy and prosperous New Year!