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Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Space Food

Another of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors, Douglas Adams .  I have borrowed his title to write about food in space.  A little bit of history and a little bit of future.  


Yuriy Alekseyevich Gagarin was the first human to pull back our planet's drapes and leave the atmosphere for outer space.  He consumed 3 containers of food, they were shaped similar to toothpaste tubes.  Each weighing 160g.  Two were pureed meat and one was a chocolate sauce.  Similarly John Glen squeezed apple sauce from a tube as part of an experiment, Initially US scientists were concerned that swallowing would be difficult in low gravity but John Glen reported no issues when he consumed applesauce.

As space technology improved so did the food that was available to astronauts.  The food slowly evolved from tubes of various pureed items or gelatin coated dry snack foods to freeze dried foods reconstituted by water.

apollo-peas-orange-drink-cocoaBy the time Neil Armstrong was getting ready for the Apollo mission that would make him a household name, food for space use had come a long way.  But there were many concerns that needed to be addressed that were not necessary for the first human forays into space.  First Apollo 11 would be an 8 day mission, therefore the food would not just be there for Astronauts to satisfy a short term craving, the food was necessary.   It needed to be calorie and nutrient packed and it needed to survive launch and spaceflight and be somewhat palatable.

By early space food standards the Apollo Astronauts ate like kings.  Hot dogs and thermo-stabilized cheddar cheese were a couple of things on the menu along with bacon cubes.   Beverages included coffee and an orange-grapefruit drink.  Tang which is often associated with space was not provisioned on Apollo 11.

Space Shuttle Food 

When regular space flight by the Space Shuttle Missons began the array and variety of foods had increased dramatically.  The latest nutrition technology was used to design meals that would fit each individual astronaut based on their height and weight. A standard menu was base around a standard shuttle mission of 7 days and each Astronaut could choose to substitute foods from the standard menu for other selections they prefer.
Food preparation was performed  in a galley, mid deck, that contained a water dispenser and oven for warming foods and re-hydrating meals.

Astronauts used a food tray that could hold food containers for their meal.  They used conventional knives, forks and spoons with the addition of scissors to open Mylar bags.  


File:Mars atmosphere.jpgCurrently NASA is working out menu items and methods for a manned mission to mars in the 2030's,  this food will be different.  First the mission length will be much greater than any other manned mission to date.  Current reported mission timeline is 6 months to the red planet.  18 months on the surface of Mars and 6 months back home.  Food will need to last a really long time and still be edible.  

Thanks to previous space food technologies there is quite a variety, which is very important for such a long mission.  During space flight due to lack of gravity the sense of taste and smell is diminished causing foods to taste bland.  Of course you don't want someone opening up a bottle of ghost pepper sauce to spice things up at micro gravity, or everyone will have a bad day.  

mars food
These are the same dishes
Which would you eat?
But with the gravity provided by Mars meals should be able to be a bit more flavorful and easier to prepare. This is a game-changer in food preparation planning for NASA.  Gravity is less than that which is on earth and atmospheric pressures are different causing the boiling point  of water to be different.  It may be possible to efficiently boil water in a pressure cooker and fresh vegetables could be cooked easily this way.  I mentioned in a previous article about space farming, a very possible solution to getting fresh food in space is the though the use of high tech agriculture while in space.  A small green house could help provide some oxygen as well as fresh produce and unless the astronauts are up for a raw, diet boiling and cooking would become important.

Currently Maya Cooper, a senior researcher at Lockheed Martin is working with a team to develop the menu and methods for keeping astronauts fed on the mars mission.  Her team has already come up with about 100 recipies.  All of these recipes are vegetarian due to the distinct lack of cows and chickens on Mars.    To keep the menu fresh and to keep the other astronauts performing research it is possible that one astronaut will be chosen to be Mar's own Gordon Ramsay, allowing them to study the sustainability of food outside Earth's atmosphere, and possibly off-world farming.  This sort of research is an important precursor to sustained living outside our planet's environment.

I personally like ramen noodles and would be happy to eat them during long duration spaceflight.  They are light, long lasting, and they have all the necessary nutrients...right?  Ok probably not but them I am not going to mars.

Have a great day, and eat a great meal!


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Tech: Export SQL to Excel with script modifier


Export Data from SQL into Excel

Using a SQL script to modify the data set.

Earlier I covered a method for taking excel data and importing it into a SQL table using the import tool.  I also went over using Transact SQL Group By with the SUM function to sum data based on an item in a table.  Now we are going to look at exporting data from SQL into an excel file and we are going to use a transact SQL statement to modify the output.

Create an Excel file

First we will need to use Microsoft Excel to create an excel file. Headings are not needed in the file and the file won't need to be modified, we simply need to create a workbook and then save it as shown below.


Open the Import/Export Wizard

Once you've created your excel file open the wizard.  You will choose your data source which will be the server name and in this instance I chose the SQL Server native Client as the source type.  Below that you will choose the database from which you will be exporting the data.


Choose Destination

Choose Microsoft Excel as the destination and then choose the Excel file that you created earlier.

SQL Server Import and Export Wizard_2012-09-04_21-30-09

Specify Table or Query

In this instance we are actually going to run a small script so our export is formatted in a way that is easier for us to use, or formatted for another software package, etc.

SQL Server Import and Export Wizard_2012-09-04_21-30-38

SQL Query

Here you can see that we are using the query that we created in an earlier article to sum data in a table. 

If you click the Parse button you should see if any errors are generated by the SQL script.  Also if you click the browse button you should see a sample listing of the results.

SQL Server Import and Export Wizard_2012-09-04_21-38-52

Source and Destination Table

This screen shows the source and destination tables.  You can change the destination in this example because we are creating a new table(sheet) with the export.  You can also append data to a sheet but then you would want to choose the appropriate sheet.

You can preview the results and edit mappings to change data types or modify the mapping between the source and destination tables.

SQL Server Import and Export Wizard_2012-09-04_21-36-12

Save and Run

This is a neat step.  I won't be covering it in detail in this posting but in the future I will get in depth on this feature.  I have checked the Run Immediately box but if you were to save the package as a SSIS package you can then execute the package as a job or part of a maintenance routine.  This give quite a bit of latitude for automating repetitive processes.

SQL Server Import and Export Wizard_2012-09-04_21-36-25

Finalization Page 

There is a final confirmation page that goes over the export process you built in broad strokes.

SQL Server Import and Export Wizard_2012-09-04_21-36-39

Summary / Confirmation page

Finally we see a page that shows the success/failures of the process we've run.  You normally can click on informational messages and get more details, such as the "124 rows Transferred" link below.

SQL Server Import and Export Wizard_2012-09-04_21-45-15

Excel file - Final Results

As can be seen below our Excel file has been created and it has the information we expected in it.

Microsoft Excel - test.xlsx  [Group]_2012-09-04_21-45-45

Today was a day full of tech articles...and more to come, however I prefer science topics like the "Space Farming" or the "SE Asia Early Man" article I wrote in the past week or so.

Have a good one!




sql_serverFrom time to time I plan on posting things I have to deal with in the real world.  Often I find articles that are helpful on the web, but other times I have to piece the knowledge I am looking for from several places and combine that information for my final answer.

This will be a short article dealing with a very simple application.  Using the SUM function to return results based on a group of items. So here goes:

Table with Multiple Entries per Date

First I queried a table I had created by importing a spreadsheet into a SQL tabled named "Tracking".  I wanted to ensure that the data contained in the spreadsheet imported properly into the Table and the results were what I expected.  To do this I simply selected the columns I wanted to inspect and 

Select [date]salescommission From dbo.Tracking 
Here are the results that were returned:

As you can see the results show several sales on one day and several commissions.  In this database we keep track of individual sales but lets say we need to get totals for both the sales and commission for each day in particular.
Select [date], sum(sales)as  sales  sum (commission) as    commission 
From   dbo.Tracking 
Group By 

 After running this script you can see that the sales and commissions have been summed below,  The dates are out of order because when I imported the spreadsheet I was not paying attention to the data type and I converted it to nvarchar.  I will correct this and show how that is done in another article.


Happy Summing


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Kodu Curiosity

Kodu Curiosity

The title alone contains a double meaning, at least for me.  When I first read the word Kodu I was unsure of its meaning.  Was it a distant cousin to African gazelle like ungulate the Kudu? Was it some sort of Klingon word? What the heck is Kodu? 
 I immediately quelled my curiosity and began reading all I could.  Kodu, a Microsoft project,  is a neat visual programming language that allows kids (even big ones) to create games for both PCs and the Xbox game console.  The visual language is excellent for helping kids break complex problems into smaller steps, to solve a difficult problems and its cartoonish game nature is non-threatening.

The language/game is fun, but helping kids hone early logic and problem solving skills in the guise of gamification is the real innovation here.  Kids have fun while learning and not just like most crappy edutainment games, but, similar to building a city and its infractructure within Sim City, building the game is the largest part of the fun.

Kodu feels like it has LEGO mindstorm DNA, and looking at the design and audience it seems to have gained some inspiration from the Mindstorm project.  One major advantage is that Kodu is completely free, you only need an Xbox or a computer then download the software and begin.  Mindstorm basic starter kits will set you back $279.99 plus shipping, making it slightly less accessible than Kodu.

If all of this weren't enough (sounding like a cheesy TV ad now, but this is for science, so it's ok), Microsoft,  in conjunction with JPL is working on a Curiosity Kodu Mars Experience!  It isn't available yet but when it is, youngsters will be able to virtually, beam lasers at rocks, analyze mars substances, program curiosity to perform tasks and much more.  

An entire syllabus for classroom use is available online here, and it looks like a very exciting and stimulating project.

These opportunities may help us find the next Einstein, Adam Steltzner, or Carl Sagan.  If we stimulate a young mind to become a great mind then any effort put towards projects like this are invaluable.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Farmer in the Sky

Farmer in the Sky

For the Restaurant at the End of the Universe go here.

Is not only an excellent novel by one of my favorite authors, Robert A. Heinlein, but also an activity that is coming closer to an exciting and meaningful reality.

For any sustained activity in space our explorers will need nourishment to eat and oxygen to breath, we all know this and although it seems to be obvious it is also a subject that is often not given as much consideration in the news or by the general public.  Space Agriculture has been the a plot element within many science fiction novels and movies or at least a major component to these stories.  Some major advancements for growing technologies have arisen from the knowledge gained from investigation into this problem that have benefited farmers and gardeners here on earth.


Ohio Clearview golf course
ZeoPro used on a golf course
NASA scientists at the Kennedy Space Center and the Johnson Space Center teamed up with Boulder Innovative Technologies, working toward a way to provide soil rich in nutrients for deep space.

With a lot of research these scientists developed a synthetic soil loaded with a zeolite minerals that contain essential plant growth nutrients.  This new technique was dubbed zeoponics.

The first usage of ZeoPro (the trademarked name for ZeoponiX, Inc Fertilizing products) was on golf courses, sports fields and greenhouses, where its slowly dissolving reservoir of nutrients increase a plant's strength and growth performance. 
Link to NASA Spinoff Page

Alien Soil

In 2008 the first wet soil experiment using martian soil was performed by NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander.  Phoenix's robotic arm scooped up soil and dispersed it into 3 different on-board analyzers.  
  1. An oven that baked and tested emitted gasses.
  2. A microscope imager
  3. A wet chemistry lab
On Jun 25, 2008 Phoenix performed the first wet chemistry tests and on the following day (sol 31) she returned the results that indicated salinity levels and pH levels were such that they would not cause issues with life.  NASA's Goddard Space Flight center has been working on a project bio-engineering  plants that may be better suited to survive on the 4th rock from the sun.

Nuclear LEDs

We are seeing the use of Light-emitting diode (LED) technology all around us in consumer electronic products.  From flashlights that use a single small battery, and seemingly last forever to LED light bulbs that cost just pennies to light.  LED lighting is the next logical step for lighting where direct solar light is not an option.  Whether it be underground tunnels in the moon, with it's lack of an atmosphere and no meaningful radiation protection, or deep space where the closest star is but a pinprick of light.  

LED panel light source used in an experiment o...
Current solar-powered battery storage is not adequate.  The most practical solution currently would be the use of a Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (TRG).  This is the same sort of power source used on the Curiosity Rover.  LEDs are also extremely robust surviving shock and long periods of usage, lasting up to 50,000 hours, and they do not produce as much heat byproduct as traditional horticulture lights do.

On earth it takes roughly 50 square meters of plant life to provide both food and oxygen to support one astronaut based on Earth growth/production.  In low or zero-gravity environments we do not know how well plants will produce at that scale. 


Whatever the future holds agriculture will be a part of it both on earth, possibly growing algae that produce fuel for our vehicles or plants that can grow quickly.  Maybe just a better tasting apple or grocery store tomatoes that not only look beautiful but actually taste as good as they look.


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Today in Science September 2nd: Frederick Soddy

Frederick Soddy (September 2, 1877 – September 22, 1956

Frederick Soddy 

Frederick Soddy was born September 2nd, 1877 in Eastbourne, Sussex, Englad to Benjamin Soddy.  He was educated at Eastbourne Collage and later at the University College of Whales, Aberystwyth.

In 1895 he was granted a scholarship at Merton College, Oxford and graduated in 1898 with honors in chemistry.  After two years research at Oxford he traveled to Canada and from 1900 till 1902 he was an instructor in the Chemistry Department of McGill University, Montreal. 

The bottom right coroner shows
separate impact marks for the two
isotopes of neon
Soddy worked closely with Professor Sir Ernest Rutherford, together exploring radioactivity.  They published papers outlining the transmutation of elements into other elements or simply the disintegration of elements through radioactive decay chains.

Soddy had discovered isotopes.  Trying to explain why, based on his studies, there were 40 different radio-elements between Uranium and Lead, but the periodic table only allowed for 11. Soddy suggested that several types of atoms could occupy the same place in the table allowing for different radioactive properties.  The term "isotope" is Greek for "at the same place" and was suggested to Soddy by Margret Todd a Scottish Physician and friend.

For his work on isotopes he received the Nobel Prize for chemistry .

He was also honored with the naming of a small crater after him that is located on the dark side of the moon.