Without a doubt, the coolest thing I did at Apollocon 2009 was watch the presentation by Astronaut Stanley G. Love. (here's the official NASA bio; here's some cool photos of Love in training)
He brought an 18-minute video which he narrated and told us interesting stories and details. The video images were amazing, things we earth-bound humans never get to see. Perhaps the coolest shot was of the International Space Station after the Shuttle Atlantis left. There was the ISS, floating majestically above the Earth, a shining example of human ingenuity. Absolutely gorgeous.
Other facts we all learned from the video and the Q&A session:
- The orange suits weight 80 lb.
- As soon as the fuel tank is jettisoned, the astronauts start working. That is, they are barely in orbit.
- The entire first day or orbit is devoted to an examination of the heat shields. A camera is put on Atlantis' arm and they take video of the bottle of the shuttle.
- A normal airplane, when landing, comes in on a 3-degree angle. The shuttle lands at a 20-degree angle. (Yikes!)
- When the shuttle lands, without engines don't forget, it is traveling at 345 MPH.
- Love went on two spacewalks. The suit is 350 lb (on earth). He said that trying to close one's hand in the spacewalk suit is about the same as trying to squeeze a tennis ball. Numerous times, in training mainly, his body got a little bruised and bloody from being in the suit.
- The shuttle orbits the Earth every 90 minutes at a rate of approximately 55 minutes of light and 35 minutes of darkness. You have no dawn or twilight. One second it's dark, the next it's noontime bright. (That was my question, BTW.)
- The movie "Apollo 13" got the science right.
- He knew, within the first frame of "Independence Day" that they got the science all wrong.
Another question came about nausea in space. About one to two hours after lift-off, you begin to have 'stomach awareness,' a nice euphemistic way of saying nausea. The nausea, to one degree or another, usually lasts one to two days. Most astronauts who just get in space are directed to keep Earth-like visual cues. That is, the floor is 'down' and the ceiling is 'up.' After days and weeks in space, you're brain adjusts and you can eat, sleep, rest anywhere in the 3D space inside the ISS.
After the Q&A, Love signed photos and made himself available for additional questions. I got one for my son who was duly impressed that his dad met a real, live astronaut. A NASA rep brought with her scale models of the Ares class of rocket, the ones that'll replace the shuttle. These rockets are massive, almost twice as high as the shuttle and the Saturn V rocket that took our astronauts to the moon forty years ago.
I don't know about y'all but I just eat up all this space exploration stuff. NASA, its history and all that it accomplished, is utterly fascinating. After seeing the Ares rocket models, I'm really looking forward to humans returning to the moon. I just want to see it.