Tuesday, August 12, 2008

One hour day and Half hour night

I always feel grateful for being in a Research Institute. Its this sheer opportunity to meet some of the most brilliant people on the planet. Today we had a talk by the Astronaut Claude Nicollier, "My experience in Space".He showed some amazing pictures of the earth from space, it was simply fantastic to see the entire Himalayas in one picture. Also, the distribution of river Ganga where it meets the ocean.
It was also an absolutely stunning picture to see that on top of one of the desserts, the cloud coverage is exactly on top of the sea, and it ends on the coastline.

Absolutely passionate about his work, he mentioned how he had undergone rigorous training in water chambers. Their first mission was repair of the Hubble Space Telescope. Imagine changing parts of a huge (2 meter diameter) telescope in space! In those water chambers, they make exact replica, with high fidelity modelling, of the space telescope. In space you need to stabilize your body, and move very slowly. They practised it for months before the mission, in the water chambers. Exact and detailed planning, even practise of handling unexpected failures and problems.

When you are in space, you are in a very low air pressure surrounding. Say 1/3rd of that on earth. So the nitrogen tends to get into the blood. There are Air Chambers, where you increase the air pressure to normal ones on the earth, and rejuvenate yourself. Claustrophobia is the fear of enclosed spaces. If you have it, then these small Air chambers are not meant for you! Also the Astronaut's suit can be very cumbersome to get into and carry along.

You can see here a photo of a pair of astronauts repairing the Hubble Space Telescope. Notice that one astronaut has firmly grounded his feet on the robot arm of the space ship,(you don't see the spaceship, the arm is the white rod like thing in the photo), and other Astronaut is freely floating. Whenever the Astronauts are doing such work, doing space walk, they are attached to the space-craft by a thread: they are tethered. This is to ensure that they don't just get lost in space by mistake! As he jokingly said, if an astronaut or a repair tool is lost, it becomes a useless satellite to Earth! So all the repair tools and parts are also tethered to the spaceship.

As you are orbiting, you have sunrise and sunset more often! You get 1 hour of a day and 1/2 hour of a night! Of course, you don't go to sleep in that night when you are in shadow of the earth. So you need to get used to this kind of bright and dark timings. Before the Earth becomes totally dark, and Sun goes behind it, you can see a beautiful cresent of the Earth! The moon also rises and sets quite fast. The sky is absolutely dark, and you can see Sun also as just another, closer, brighter and bigger star.

On Earth, our body has mechanisms to push lot of blood supply to the head. So much supply is not needed when you are in space. Lot of body fluid imbalance and loss of orientation can happen when you just reach the space. So if you are planning to visit and go for a space ride, be prepared for some phisiological unpleasantness! He said its like sea-sickness.

To become an astronaut, he said, you need good physical fitness, sound mental balance, and a sound educational background. After that, its a luck to be selected, as there is lot of competition and few jobs available!

A Physics Graduate, who did research in Astronomy, and took over Air Pilot job, and then worked as an Astronaut, Claude Nicollier is now full time professor in Lausanne, inspiring young students to the thrill of Space research.


Abhishek Ratna said...

Inspiring personality....if only he had been an art of living teacher too :)

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rintz said...

What are the opportunities of doing space research in India vs space research in say, US?

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