Science off the Sphere

My favourite astronaut is back in space. That’s right, the legendary Don Pettit (@astro_Pettit) is up on the International Space Station on Expedition 30. He previously was one of the engineers on Expedition 6 in 2002/03.

Don Pettit is a pretty incredible guy, he has so much enthusiasm for science, more than Brian Cox! It’s what he does in his spare time on the station though that’s most impressive. As can be seen in videos, he’s constantly pondering experiments and things to test in the zero-g of space. In the short amount of time off the astronauts have he films videos showing and explaining amazing scientific phenomena. Back on Expedition 6 he did ‘Science Friday’s‘, and now on Expedition 30 he’s doing ‘Science off the Sphere‘.

It’s truly is amazing the things we’re missing out on down here. In his first video of this expedition he demonstrates some interesting facts about knittin’ needles and water. And what’s best, he gets you involved too. He leaves a question to be answered at the end and you get to contact him with your answer.

Not many astronauts have done anything similar to Don, which is a shame, because it’s really important. It gets not only interesting facts across but gets younger people interested in science, gets them asking themselves questions and so on. This is something that should be continually encouraged.

I’ll leave you with two of his latest videos. First, the knittin’ needle experiment (watch it just to hear how he says knittin’ needle, it’s amazing!) and then his latest video on how astronauts can drink from cups (something previously not possible, it had to all be done through straws). Enjoy.

Life looks for Life

Warning: This post is not based on much, if any, science. It is merely my opinion and pure speculation.

An article in the Guardian that someone linked to me annoyed me slightly today. It shouldn’t really have annoyed me, but I was up early for work so it did. The article was titled ‘Aliens may destroy humanity to protect other civilisations‘.

Now, first of all, to all you naysayers out there, there is an extremely high probability that other intelligent life (by intelligent in this respect we mean capable of deep space radio communication) exists in the galaxy and the Universe. The maths doesn’t really allow us to be the only life in the Universe.

We all think of aliens as if they’d be similar to us (two arms, two legs, and so on) but this is highly improbable. We only have two arms and two legs as a result of random events that happened in the first days of evolution. Despite what they may look life and their differences, an intelligent civilisation is surely going to have a similar morality though, right?

A more advanced civilisation than our own would be well past the point of destroying themselves, they’d have learnt the dangers as we are doing now. We’d have science and mathematics in common. Mathematics is the only universal language and it’s how we’d commune with them upon first contact. These aliens would be curious. Perhaps they’d been searching for other life in the galaxy too, they’d finally know that they aren’t alone, as would we. Even if they’d already discovered other life finding more would be an astonishing discovery.

Why would they see us as a threat (as some of the article suggests)? An advanced civilisation wouldn’t be afraid of a new, relatively under-developed civilisation emerging. They’d embrace it, right? They wouldn’t want to destroy us. They wouldn’t need resources from our tiny planet. They wouldn’t destroy us for our water, water’s one of the most common compounds in the Universe. There’s plenty of other planetary systems with far superior resources for them to use than the dwindling supplies on the Earth.

It’s all we humans have ever done, we are an exploring species. We crave to know more, to explore further. Life looks for life.


When We Left Earth – What the Shuttle Meant to Me

I was reading through the Radio Times to see if there was anything cool on the telly soon. It was a warm, sunny day in July 2002 and I found a programme that had caught my eye. I highlighted it and said to my dad “can we record this please?” I was 11 and cable had yet to be introduced to our lonely corner of the village. A good friend and neighbor however had more money than the rest of us in the cul-de-sac and had this thing called Sky along with a funny dish stuck to his house. He could record it for me, and he did!

The programme was called ‘Rocket Men of Mission 105’ and the description in the Radio Times had read something like ‘the story of a mission to space’. The next day the neighbor bought up the programme recorded onto VHS for me (Yes VHS) and I sat down to watch it with an un-blinked glaze in my eyes for just under and hour. Here, I think, my obsession with space began.

Since then I’ve missed maybe only two or three launches. I managed to persuade my parents to let me wake up in the early hours to see some night launches. I recall one time getting up at something like 3am to see the launch of Endeavour. In the time before YouTube existed I recorded the launches onto VHS so I could watch them again and again.
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