Welcome to Moorcock's Miscellany

Dear reader,

Many people have given their valuable time to create a website for the pleasure of posing questions to Michael Moorcock, meeting people from around the world, and mining the site for information. Please follow one of the links above to learn more about the site.

Thank you,
Reinart der Fuchs
See more
See less

Science Friction

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Science Friction

    Well, kind of....

    Space Station Starved for Service

    By Traci Watson, USA TODAY

    Food is so scarce aboard the International Space Station that the two-member crew might have to leave as early as New Year's Day if something goes wrong with a robotic space pod from Russia that is scheduled to deliver more than three months' worth of meals on Saturday.

    It's unlikely that the crew will have to abandon ship. Such pods have made scores of flights with little trouble.

    But the possibility that American Leroy Chiao and Russian Salizhan Sharipov might need to leave is a reminder of how the space station continues to suffer from the disaster that grounded the space shuttle fleet nearly two years ago.

    The shuttles are the main supply line to the station, which is supposed to play a major role in NASA's ambitious plans to return to the moon and then send people to Mars. But no shuttles have flown since Columbia disintegrated during re-entry from space on Feb. 1, 2003, killing its seven-member crew.

    Since then, only Russian spaceships have gone to the station. They can't carry nearly as much cargo as the shuttle.

    The results: shortages of food, water and other supplies; a lack of spare parts to fix broken equipment; and frequent reminders of the difficulty of simply keeping people in space.

    Sometimes it seems that Murphy's Law has displaced the laws of physics aboard the space station, which orbits 220 miles above Earth. The station was supposed to be an engineering marvel; lately, it has been a big headache.

    To stretch food supplies, NASA has asked the crew to eat less. Meanwhile, trash is piling up. The main machine for generating oxygen has failed repeatedly during the past year.

    NASA continues to work on making its three remaining shuttles -- Atlantis, Discovery and Endeavour -- safer.

    The space agency hopes to resume flights in the spring. NASA space station program manager William Gerstenmaier said this month that the station, which is likely to cost $100 billion by its scheduled completion at the end of the decade, would stay in business regardless of whether shuttles flights resume.

    "It's just a tremendous balancing act," he acknowledged. But "if the shuttle doesn't come ... we'll continue to operate."

    'A cautionary tale'

    But Howard McCurdy, who studies space policy at American University, says the space station's problems reflect the difficulty of NASA's plans for eventual flights to the moon and Mars. "It turns out that just keeping a couple of people up there is really challenging and difficult," McCurdy says. "It's a cautionary tale for the hope that NASA (is) on a path toward deep-space exploration."

    Gerstenmaier has said that without a crew aboard to oversee its operations, the space station is five times more likely to suffer a catastrophic failure.

    To stretch the food supply, NASA has asked Chiao and Sharipov to cut their diets from 3,000 calories a day to 2,600 or 2,700. That's only 10-13 percent and roughly the number of calories in a bagel.

    But Chiao is a big man with a healthy appetite, and food is a crucial morale-booster at the station, where the surroundings are monotonous and there's not much to do besides work.

    "I think it will get under the skin of the people living there," says Patricia Santy, a former NASA psychiatrist. "Food is one of the things crews look forward to."

    NASA hadn't realized the food supply was running so low until recently because of misleading inventories, space station manager Mark Geyer says.

    "There was no rogue crew munching stuff," Geyer says. "We had a technique to count open (food) containers, and it really wasn't accurate enough."

    The Russian pod that is scheduled to dock with the station on Christmas Day will bring more than 200 rations of food.

    Each ration, which includes entrees such as American meatloaf and Russian beef goulash, is enough to feed one crewmember for one day.

    Only seven to 14 days of food will remain on the station by the time the pod is scheduled to arrive, so the crew would be forced to return home if there were any glitches with the pod, Gerstenmaier says. (A small Russian spacecraft is docked to the station to allow the crew to leave in emergencies.)

    The space pod also will bring water, which is almost as scarce on the station as food. Earlier this week, water stores dipped below the 45-day supply that NASA holds in reserve.

    At least the station's primary oxygen generator is running. It broke down several times this year, forcing the crew to rely on backup oxygen. The crew fixed the generator in October.


    One item that's not in short supply is garbage. Shuttles had been used to cart home trash from the space station. Now rubbish -- such as empty food containers -- can be discarded only in the Russian pods, which burn up in the Earth's atmosphere after they leave the station.

    Space on the station is so precious that NASA got special permission from its safety office to store cargo in a place that blocks access to fire equipment.

    Tests indicated that the crew could easily move the cargo out of the way if necessary, Geyer says.

    Despite the problems, the station crew is still doing research. The crew also has learned how to repair complex technology, such as spacesuits, that initially were fixed only on the ground.

    Santy says the station's problems are unlikely to scare prospective crewmembers from living there. "Astronauts are willing to take the risks," she says. "These are high-stimulus people."

    Officials from Canada and the European Union, which are also involved with the station, express confidence that the hiccups won't threaten the station's future.

    They expect construction of the station to resume after shuttle flights do.

    "Things are not dire right now," says Benoit Marcotte, space station manger for Canada, which is one of 15 nations working with the USA on the station. "Yes, it's tough, but the light is coming at the end of this tunnel."
    \"Bush\'s army of barmy bigots is the worst thing that\'s happened to the US in some years...\"
    Michael Moorcock - 3am Magazine Interview