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Friday, September 28, 2012

Stations in Space

Space Stations

Skylab Mission Patch
Space Stations appear everything from science-fiction dreams of extra-planetary life in space to research in low earth orbit.  For many in the public, their first experience with any sort of space station began with the iconic pinwheel style station used in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Gracefully floating through space while spinning it was majestic and in 1968 when the film was released, we may have been heading toward a future with space way-station and we may be on our way there again with a new proposal by NASA to put a station on the far side of the moon at Lagrange point 2. In this post I want to talk mostly about early space station history and interesting facts pertaining to space station history.

SpaceLab and MOL

Skylab in orbit
Skylab in orbit 

The first US space station was Skylab.  Launched in 1973, Skylab orbited from 1973 till 1979 when, entering the atmosphere Skylab burned up and parts of the station were spread South-East of Perth, Australia.  Interestingly Skylab almost did not come into fruition.  The Air force was working on a Manned orbiting Laboratory(MOL) that would have been used for a variety of different experiments but mainly for reconnaissance utilizing large optical cameras as well as side scanning radar.  Eventually the Air Force decided that unmanned spy satellites were more cost effective for spying and MOL was scrapped.  Skylab orbited for 2,249 days but was only occupied for 171 during 3 manned space flights to the station.  During manned occupation of Skylab astronauts were able to confirm the existence of coronal holes in the Sun and collect data on the effects of microgravity on humans.
Proposed MOL Space Station

In 1974 NASA had planned to mothball Skylab but performed 2 studies detailing the reuse-ability of the station.  An early shuttle mission would have boosted Skylab to a higher orbit extending its life by another 5 years and subsequent shuttle flights would upgrade and retrofit Skylab for a variety of experiments.  In 1979 greater than expected solar activity heated the outer layers of the  Earth's atmosphere increasing drag on the orbiting station and in turn brought about its demise faster than initially expected.


Because of the perceived threat to the Soviet Union that the MOL presented the Soviet Space program responded by developing and launching three space stations.  The Almaz program that launched the three stations designated them as civilian Salyut Space Stations  as a cover for their real military purpose.

Salyut 2

Salyut 2, the first to be launched, failed 13 days into its mission.  Three days after launch the third stage of the delivery vehicle exploded causing debris to collide and sever a fuel line.  Salyut 2 entered the atmosphere on May 28, 1973.

Salyut 3

line drawing of salyut station
Salyut Station Depiction
Second of the three Soviet spy stations to launch was also the first (from my research) to test a firearm in space.  Little is known about this mission but reports of test firing a "Self Defense" gun at 500 and 3000 meters occurred.  On January 24, 1975 the station was deorbited over the Pacific Ocean.

Salyut 5

The final of the three Salyut stations was launched on June 22, 1977 and used actively for reconnaissance but also several experiments were carried out.  Crystals were grown in space and an aquarium where fish were studied in a microgravity environment were also on board.  Additionally cosmonauts had a televised conference with school students while in space.  On the first mission the cosmonauts left earlier than planned because the air became contaminated causing physical and psychological problems for the crew.  Salyut 5 was deorbited on August 8, 1977.

I wrote this article because it interested me, and I were interested you may also be interested.  I didn't know that there was a manned space reconnaissance program until I began reading about Skylab's history, and had never really considered it.  With spy satellites I had assumed there had been no manned reconnaissance initiative but I see the logic behind the programs and the reason for their ultimate demise.

There is certainly more space station talk to be had and I plan to cover the proposed new station to be positioned Lagrange 2 and the ISS but that is for a future article.  Please feel free to comment any facts or information you  may have regarding space stations below.

Have a great weekend!


Links to additional Resources:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Curiosity is a Stranger in a Strange Land

Stranger in a Strange Land

Phobos Crescent as seen by Curiosity
Phobos Crescent - JPL 
Curiosity left Earth's atmosphere on November 26th, 2011 traveling toward her new home, Mars.  Much like Valentine Michael Smith she has become a stranger in a strange land.  With the foreign landscape before Curiosity, approximately one third of Earth's gravity, and an extremely thin atmosphere, I expect the sight of a thin crescent in the sky would be a faint reminder of home.

Curiosity cannot suffer any of the organic issues we as humans may, when we visit our planet's smaller, red sister.  Curiosity won't get homesick, or miss relatives.  She won't yearn for the fall sun setting over a valley painted red and yellow by autumn.  Curiosity will not miss the fish swimming in streams or the cool mountain air.  And although I have anthropomorphised Curiosity by referring to it as "her", I have done this consciously as sailors would refer to their ships.  Sailors would speak kindly and gently to their ships and they hoped that their vessel would return the favor.

We are all sailors riding through the fabric of time and space.  On this ship you choose the level of your participation.  You can choose to ignore the greatness of what we have accomplished and will continue to accomplish.  You can choose to complain about the expenses involved in space exploration and travel, remaining ignorant you use technology directly derived from the space program on a daily basis. Or, and this is a big or, you may be one of the few who have the opportunity to enter space, you may be even one of the very, very, few who will set foot upon another extra terrestrial body within the next decade.  Or like myself you may only visit these places through your internet connection and your mind, and maybe a telescope, but this is a journey we can all take together.


Monday, September 24, 2012

App Review: Podax

Podax Podcast Android Applicaton

Podax by axleby (free)

Google Play - Apple App Store unavailable

Google recently announced that they would be discontinuing their Android podcast application Google Listen.  I know that there were a lot of people who didn't like the interface and preferred a paid application and I can understand their position.  It wasn't a very pretty interface and adding new podcasts was often difficult and you had to find the correct RSS feed and hope that it would pick them up properly.
Podax Subscription Screen
Podax - Subscription
Refresh Page
However managing Google listen with Google reader simplified things and because both were so closely integrated it made subscribing much easier from the reader web interface than it ever was from the application.  However once you had gotten your podcast subscriptions sorted out, it was very basic, it would update the podcasts subscriptions and you would listen to them.  If you want to delete a podcast, you delete it.  Very simple and very easy to use.

But, because listen was yanked from the play store I decided to find replacement app that was free.  Normally I have been able to find free apps for nearly anything I might want to do.  I may have to put up with ads, or a banner, or some sort of pop-ups but free none the less.  Now that is not to say that I am against paid apps.  I have purchased a few dozen apps over the years but I generally always look for a free app before I go down the purchase rout.  

And now we get to Podax...which was not my first choice in fact it wasn't my 8th choice, I believe that this was my ninth choice (ok so we don't yet get to podax). I looked at Beyond pod ($6.99 Paid) which had good reviews and looked like it was a pretty solid app but then i found out that I would need to refresh each of my feeds individually, pro does this for you, and not wanting to refresh the 35 or so podcast I subscribe to, I moved on. Next up  My Pod ($3.86 paid) which looked good but then I found out it would only sync 10 feeds in the free version which would not work at all for me.  I also tried Double Twist which looked really cool and as a media file player it seemed to work quite well.  I even installed the desktop program and was able to manage music on my phone but if I wanted to do this wirelessly I would need to pay for that option (winamp does this for free) I could subscribe to podcasts but could not import my Google Reader subscriptions, not to say that it can't be done(there are instructions on their site that did not help me at all), however I suspect this is a paid feature and if it isn't it is not very intuitive.
Show Queue
Show Queue

Finally I happened upon  Podax.  It did import my Google Reader subscriptions immediately but then things slowed down.  When refreshing podcasts the app grinds to an apparent slow halt...however it is working in the background,really it is...wait for it...I assure you, it might be working.  It may look like it has locked up your phone, it may actually have locked the phone, but it is probably working in the background. Once all of my podcasts had been refreshed Podax then proceeded to download the fresh episodes from my discription.  Once the initial refresh was completed the download went fine and using the app was not enjoyable, but also, not a bad experience either.  I did try refreshing the podcasts again and noticed the same performance issues.  The best way to work this is to allow the app to run the podcast update and let it go.  Once it is done the interface is still a bit clunky but it is functional and I nearly always go for form over function.
Podax Subscription Screen
Podcast Sub Screen

I rated the app three out of five stars because although it works, it doesn't work well and is glitchy.  However once you get past the glitches and are able to use the app, it does work and it works fairly well.

To sum up...

The app is functional, it works, it is not pretty.  It does have glitches but it is free and ad free.  I give it a reserved recommendation as the app is maintained and hopefully gets better.  So far it is the best free podcast app i've come across however I would be happy to try any other apps you may suggest, please suggest below in the comments.


Podax Player Screen
Podax Player Screen