ME and Ophelia

Friday, December 12, 2003

Kept his cool when he thought they had been hit

This week, in a UK television interview via satellite, British-born astronaut Michael Foale said his heart did not "lurch" and he kept his cool when he thought the International Space Station (ISS) in which he is orbiting the Earth at 17,000 mph, had been hit. He heard a metallic crushing sound, apparently from the rear of the Zvezda living module, as he was having breakfast. He said it was a "good day" if neither the American side nor the Russian side are angry with each other, and that on days such as this one, it is difficult for each partner to see the point of view of the other. The sound is now believed to have come from equipment inside the ISS.

Cdr Foale is spending six months on the ISS with only Russian cosmonaut Sasha Kaleri for company. They wake up at 0700 GMT and go to bed at 2300 GMT. Their day is spent completing tasks set by both Houston and Moscow. Tasks include experiments on how zero gravity affects the development of cancer cells and the crystallisation of metals. They try to find the time to share lunch, enjoy an afternoon tea break together and send e-mails home.

They also spend hours simply staring out of the window. The ISS circles the Earth every 90 minutes. It means they see most of the inhabited part of the planet once a day, so they can monitor how human beings and other factors - erosion, the weather and so on - are changing the planet. Cdr Foale said, "it is a tremendous view - the Earth is so blue, so rich in colour, so vivid and it has all these associations, like a good perfume or good music, that you love it.."

He wished he could go to Mars "tomorrow" but does not really believe it is very credible that one country will do it on its own. As he looks at the world today, and sees the changing and evolving roles of the developed nations, now including China, in space, he says it is very hard for him to guess how the politics and international relationships will develop to create an international mission to Mars.
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Note: Background in this photo shows our astronaut standing in what looks like a techno junk scrap yard. How does one instantly find "a metallic crushing sound" coming from equipment inside the ISS? It's like looking for a needle in a haystack. Maybe those chaps ought to do some tidying up instead of looking out of the window all day :-)


Mysterious observations from mountain-top experiments

Are mini black holes raining down through the Earth's atmosphere? It is possible, says a team of physicists. They think this could explain mysterious observations from mountain-top experiments over the past 30 years. Ordinary black holes form when stars explode at the end of their lives. The heavy stellar core can collapse into a superdense "singularity" whose gravity is so strong that nothing - not even light - can escape.

If some of physicists' favourite theories about extra dimensions are correct, it would also be possible for high-energy cosmic-ray particles from space to create black holes when they collide with molecules in the Earth's atmosphere. These black holes would be invisibly small, with a mass of only 10 micrograms or so. And they would be so unstable that they would explode in a burst of particles within around a billion-billion-billionth of a second...

If they are right, the consequences would be stunning. As well as proving that tiny black holes exist, it would unveil hidden dimensions in our universe. It would also show that the CERN particle physics laboratory near Geneva will soon be able to churn out black holes to order. Particle collisions at the Large Hadron Collider, due to start in 2007, would have enough energy to create thousands of black holes every day.

Source courtesy of New Scientist via

# posted by Ingrid J. Jones @ 12/12/2003
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