Luis E. Luque Álvarez, M.Mus.Ed.
Violin Teacher, Kittenberger Kálmán Primary & Arts School, Nagymaros, Hungary. Member of ELGRA
Across centuries playing and listening to music has been an important human psycho-physiological communication path with or without lyrics. It is clear that in space sciences music has intervened in the life of most scientists as a motivational and alternative health resource. Pythagoras of Samos studied the physiological effect of certain scales and melodies on the human body, he believed each different modal scale would induce a different mood state to the listener or player. Several astronomers like the Galilei family, and William and Caroline Herschel, among others, were strongly connected to music, indeed they were exceptional musicians themselves.
And it was during the Apollo 9 mission when Rusty Schweickart carried a Sony Tape recorder, strictly for the purpose of providing a musical environment for the astronauts. Since then, astronauts have often highlighted the importance of music for their mission performance and have taken their music with them, indeed a tradition of wake-up calls from Mission Control has long been established to begin the astronauts’ days. These anecdotes indicate how strong is the importance of music, at least psychologically, perhaps physiologically too, for astronauts under the stress and pressures caused by the confinement of a spaceflight mission.
Music for Space Project
As a music student in 2016 I became curious about the idea of experimenting with the effect of listening to and playing music in space. At that time, I didn’t find much scientific literature about the effects of music in microgravity, hypogravity or hypergravity. Music has been highlighted only as a leisure practice and for psychological support, though I believe it provides much more than that. In 2018, I was lucky enough to have the support of the ESA Education Office, DLR, European Astronaut Centre and the European Low Gravity Research Association, teaming up with some French and Hungarian students to perform a first experiment using personalized music intervention as a psycho-physiological countermeasure under exposure to hypergravity in a Short Arm Human Centrifuge. During the ESA Spin Your Thesis Human Edition programme, our student team, along with two others (SpinKings and Spin Doctors), were able to perform some very interesting research in different space physiology fields. Our research involved 10 male participants, divided equally into two groups of 5, and spinning them in the centrifuge at 1Gz and 1.5Gz of hypergravity, with one group listening to a different style of music per spinning protocol, while the other group were spun without music. We recorded many different variables, including sociocultural background, psychological mood states, muscle tone, and galvanic skin response, among others.
Preliminary results have shown there is a clear tendency in the effect of music to decrease the tension, anxiety levels compared with the control group without music, and there was a certain stabilisation of stress muscles, which previous centrifuge studies have shown to be affected in a different way. Currently, the data is being re-analysed with the cooperation of scientists at ESA aiming to publish the complete data results. Since the Spin Your Thesis Human Edition campaign, the audio device with stereo signal installed specifically for the music experiment still remains attached to the short arm human centrifuge, where nowadays ESA astronauts and study participants can enjoy their favourite music playlist on the centrifuge.
This experiment was the initial phase of the Music For Space project, which aims to continue the research with music as a psycho-physiological countermeasure to improve astronaut’s health with alternative medicine methods and perhaps one day for Earth citizens as well.
We have in music history thousands of music styles, genres, instrumentations, and performance versions. To determine their specific benefits or disadvantages, we would need to perform more terrestrial tests, such as using a human centrifuge, parabolic flights, and analog simulations. In addition to music listening, I aim to measure in space how the playing of musical instruments could support brain, muscles, and bone health. Further studies could lead us to obtain enough data to approach an adequate and systematic music therapy method for spaceflight crews.
I encourage all students and young researchers from fields that seem to be far from space sciences to feel curious, to pursue your dreams and to try the student experiments offered by the ESA Education Office. These are an unforgettable life experience and a wonderful opportunity for students to contribute to space-related research.
We welcome back ESA-sponsored Dr Stijn Thoolen, as he continues his tales of life at the Concordia research station in Antarctica, in the harsh environment of the world's southernmost continent. If you have missed them, do check out his earlier blogs, complete with wonderful photos - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5
Dr Stijn Thoolen
Medical Research Doctor, Concordia Research Station, Antarctica
Concordia, July 10, 2020
Windchill temperature: -84°C
Mood: still OK
The Antarctic winter solstice is special. As the Earth’s south pole is maximally tilted away from the Sun and the longest night falls over the southern hemisphere, people everywhere and since prehistoric times gather in tradition to celebrate the change of season and welcome the return of sunlight. But for a bunch of lost scientists and technicians on the Antarctic continent, that longest night lasts much longer. They won’t see any Sun for another one-and-a-half months. For them, mid-winter marks not just the gradual return of daylight, but much more so the midpoint of an extraordinary nine-month winterover adventure.
So it is an important moment. A time for celebration and for reflection (or perhaps just celebration…). To me it looks a little like Christmas, or New Year’s Eve, but with a twist perhaps (we are winteroverers, after all). Presents, dinners, parties, and (digital) mid-winter greetings from all the other Antarctic stations, kindly inviting us to come over to celebrate together. ‘The door is always open’, ‘generous parking space for motor vehicles and sledges’, ‘plenty of accommodation with ice sea vistas’, ‘bring your sleeping bag’, ‘COVID-19 free’. Anyway, you get the much-needed humour.
At first I wondered: being here only for about half a year now, how can such a completely new thing already hold such importance to people? No ritual, no guidelines, no one really knowing how to celebrate it, and yet the expectations are high in our crew, and the ideas plentiful. But looking back I have to admit: mid-winter is a beautiful tradition, even though never celebrated before…
While hints of daylight can be spotted on the horizon around noon, there won’t be any sun for another one-and-a-half months.
Winter can be harsh, without sunlight, far away from home, and with the same twelve people, for such a long time. And even in such an interesting and beautiful place, also I have recognized a few moments of disappointment. I guess, with all those different backgrounds and being the only Dutch around, it is not always easy to feel understood. Or perhaps it is just me who is getting a little less tolerant, in higher need for emotional support. And while that doesn’t make life always easy here, I recently read a beautiful sentence:
‘Do not worry that others don’t understand you. Rather worry that you don’t understand others.’
Can we still bring up that flexibility to try to understand each other, in a world where we are tempted to blame our problems on all but ourselves? On the ethical playground of Concordia, where walking away is out of the question and a lack of group cohesion can have direct consequences to our own wellbeing, I like to believe it is essential. And wasn’t this exactly what I was here for? To learn to become a better person?
With such thoughts in the back of my mind and realizing we still have another half to go, mid-winter then becomes the perfect excuse to work a little on ourselves. To do an extra effort for each other, give rather than ask, and just share some fun. To collaborate in a positive way to get closer as a group, building that tolerance for each other again, and making us all a little more willing to see the best in each other. And as such, music went back on loud again, and we went to work…
Brazilian night complete with exotic travel stories (you can imagine how popular these become here) and table soccer tournament, quiz night, cheesy fatty Alpine dinner, ‘kermesse’ games event including prizes to win, a spa (our hospital doctor decided that we could give the hospital a better use for the winter months), the first Antarctic championship of the traditional Italian game ‘Ruzzolone’ (Google it, and let your imagination do the rest), and, for once this year, an opportunity to actually go out for dinner (we eat in the same room all year long) in our ‘McDome’ fast-food restaurant (you may know it better as the astronomy shelter…). Ordered by radio and served upon arrival. Burgers, chips, milkshakes, and amazing reactions from the rest of the crew: everything a deprived winteroverer needs!
Mid-winter was great! Each of us participated to organize some of the festivities, and it kept us busy for sure. We celebrated five days full of the most ridiculous activities, and we were all exhausted afterwards. I guess that all these efforts may seem trivial back home, and the details may not look like much from the outside, but here I feel it is pretty important to us. These ridiculous activities bring variety, make us smile, and get us fueled up for another four-and-a-half month together. These will become the memories that we take home after a year on ice, and I think that makes mid-winter worth all the effort!
It makes me wonder how I will feel after a yearlong of practicing the much-needed tolerance and social consciousness here in Concordia: do we put the same amount of effort in each other at home?
Note: this article was originally posted on the ESA blog website (LINK) and permission has been obtained to republish it here.
Art has insightfully contributed to shaping the future throughout modern history and beyond; if not always forging reality itself, feeding our prospective imagination. In regard to literature, suffice to mention the visionary minds behind the novels From the Earth to the Moon, by Jules Verne; 1984 by George Orwell; or Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson, to name but a few. As for cinema, so that we keep it as close as possible to the imminent dystopian reality, one could recall Outbreak, by Wolfgang Petersen, or Contagion, by Steven Soderbergh. Yet, there is another film we could call into play in order to foster images and ideas that may offer us a devious perspective on intimacy in an era of space missions to Mars, HIV, COVID–19 and other pandemics alike.
High Life, a feature by French director Claire Denis, takes place on a spaceship launched into the cosmos bearing a crew of expatriates whose diverse biographies have accomplished a vast array of crimes and misdemeanours – they all had been sentenced to death prior to their departure from planet Earth. This manned mission is destined to reach the outskirts of the universe, to source energy from a black hole and to conceive human life through artificial insemination in outer space. Here, instead of the most "apt and healthy" (as envisaged by NASA missions, for example), a vessel is filled with outcasts.
The onboard scientist played by Juliette Binoche, condemned for having killed her very own baby in the earthly past, switches between scientific commitment and nymphomania. Notwithstanding, she uses her criminal peers as guinea pigs to give birth to a child in this increasingly hostile environment. And since sexual intercourse is prohibited in the spacecraft, in order to get sexually aroused, ejaculate and survive the deprivation of pleasure, they all make use of a special device called The Box: a dedicated S&M room of sorts, equipped with an ergonomic technology designed to fit the human sexual needs, deeds and desires.
Within this volatile context, the crew is invested with deep, obscure purposes. Repressed sexual drive affects each and every passenger in this hermetic and remote capsule of life, producing the spark of madness that eventually unbalances that highly combustible atmosphere, unfolding an uncontrollable stream of violence and death.
On a different note, consider another type of vessel, one that is not floating about the universe but instead rooted in a rather mundane, if not decadent environment, also designed for pleasure: a sauna.
Brazilian artist Adriana Varejão has been obsessed painting steaming rooms for over 20 years now. Devoid of human presence, her grid-tiled canvases appear as both physical and mental spaces onto which one can project its most secretive imagination; those are rooms of utmost intimacy where fantasies and desires acquire shape.
The human body, although absent in Varejão's saunas, remains an ever present ghost emanating frailty, sex, pain and pleasure – from time to time, the artist maculates her pristine surfaces with blood, or a wad of hair, remains of a fluid and perishable human nature. Those paintings transpire a residue of life: the stillness of an action that has just evaporated from earth. A moment suspended in time, or a moment of death, perhaps?
Now, imagine not a spaceship but a sauna drifting in deep space, in the vacuum of time. No one is inside, just the interior covered in tiles, producing a steamy & misty atmosphere charged with the latency of human desire, impregnated by the vestiges of human dreams. This vessel might be carrying microbes, bacteria, illnesses elsewhere, nobody will ever know.
Above all, this flying sauna encapsulates everything that once was human and is no more; this inhospitable room no longer serves any purpose as there is no man or woman to inhabit the ever-floating cocoon of imagination, sex, desire and struggle to breathe.
Sex in space remains a tacit taboo. No one talks about it – and presumably no one has ever had sex in outer space.
NASA has never revealed any research on the well known odds of attempting to engage in sexual contact in a zero gravity room, although speculation allows us to imagine that synchronising the movements would be a difficult, if not impossible task – not to mention the amount of sweat produced by the human body under such conditions. Apparently, there would be bulky drips of sweat floating around, splashes of human sticky secretions all over the room, besides the thick layers of grease covering the lover's skins.
Much has been said about cosmic sex between astronauts in space missions, although nothing has been confirmed yet. In the year 2000, an article in The Guardian, by Jon Henly, referred to a book published by a French science, space and astronomy writer called Pierre Kohler, who claimed that both US and Russian astronauts had enjoyed sex during separate important research programmes into how humans might survive for several years in orbit.
According to Kohler's book, "there existed a confidential Nasa report, to which he had gained access, detailing a space shuttle mission in 1996 during which a project codenamed STS-XX was to explore precisely which sexual positions were possible in a weightless atmosphere; two guinea pigs had reportedly tested the 10 positions deemed most suitable for a spot of the old zero-gravity how's-your-father." The report, again according to Kohler's book, concluded that "only four positions were in fact possible in space without 'mechanical assistance' (the missionary position was not one of them). It added, tantalisingly, that a videotape, albeit censored, existed of the experiment."
These claims ended up deemed as pure hoax by the space agencies of both nations. Who knows?
ESA-sponsored Dr Stijn Thoolen, currently spending 12 months at the Concordia research station in Antarctica, presents the next blog in his series recounting tales from his time spent in the harsh environment of the world's southernmost continent. What an amazing experience - do take a look at his previous blogs (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) to follow his great adventure!
Dr Stijn Thoolen
Medical Research Doctor, Concordia Research Station, Antarctica
Concordia, April 7, 2020
Sunlight: about 10 hours
Windchill temperature: -72°C
Mood: just fine
It is quite strange to be here, on the only continent not affected by the corona virus. To me, with everything that is currently going on in the rest of the world, it makes feel even more distant than we already are. Here, life just goes on, and although it has not been easy for some of us either, not being able to share in these experiences or provide support at home to those who could use it, messages are now suggesting that we are suddenly the ones better off!
And I have to admit indeed. Even though we are stuck here for nine months without any possibility for evacuation, with limited resources, a disrupted work/leisure balance, a threatening environment outside, both environmental and social monotony, and a group of relative strangers that come from all sorts of backgrounds (reading this I guess the situation for you may perhaps not be so different), at least we came here by choice…
So let me start with saying that I really hope you are doing well. Being isolated and confined comes with all kinds of stressors, deviations from the normal situation you could say, that ask our body and mind to adapt. Given the sudden disruption that the Corona outbreak has caused to all of you, I imagine that is certainly not easy.
And while our experiences are so different, and even though I feel probably as ignorant as you about how to deal with all those stressors (we have just been left to ourselves two months ago), perhaps this is a good time to share with you some of my own thoughts about isolation at Concordia.
A while ago I came across a story about the 1897-1899 Belgian Antarctic Expedition, which I found quite illustrative for what I have considered to make my winterover a happy one this year. At the time the Antarctic was still mostly unknown territory. The south pole was not yet reached, and the unforgiving environment made many expeditions end in disappointment. Aimed for exploration and for science, this one was no exception. When their ship the Belgica got stuck in the pack ice of the Bellingshausen Sea, the 19-member crew became the first in human history to winterover below the Antarctic circle, and as such you can imagine they were badly prepared to do so. It must have been pretty difficult, I imagine. Expedition doctor Frederick Cook described depression, irritability, headaches and sleeplessness among the crew, and basically provided a first recorded description of the so-called ‘winterover syndrome’.
“The curtain of blackness which has fallen over the outer world of icy desolation has also descended upon the inner world of our souls” – Frederick A. Cook, 1900
The strange and extreme Antarctic environment, just like in space, indeed has a strong capability to upset our system. Symptoms like fatigue, headaches, sleep disturbances, impaired cognition, negative emotions such as depression, anxiety and anger, and interpersonal conflicts have all been observed in polar dwellers. Such symptoms are usually more prevalent during the harsh winter months, when stressors are highest. Hence the ‘winterover syndrome’. For the winterover crew of 1898, Dr. Cook reasoned that what they needed that was the opposite of that harsh winter environment. Apparently with good effect, he prescribed them a diet of milk, fresh meat (poor penguins) and cranberry juice, as well as exercise, warmth and light. Interesting I think, not necessarily his particular ‘baking treatment’ of having the crew sit naked around an open fire, but the way it shows how dependent we are on our environment, and our limitations to adapt. In other words, to facilitate adaptation, we may want to create an environment that is more familiar to us.
For here in Concordia, or perhaps for something as different and unexpected as a Covid-19 lockdown, I like to think the idea is quite similar. I therefore try to maintain a daily rhythm full of activities that mimic a little bit the world we come from. I try to wake up and go to bed at regular times to promote sleep and maintain a functioning biological clock (without sunlight it relies even more on social clues), and while I restrict myself as much as possible from bright computer screens in the evening hours, an artificial daylight is standing by in my office for the darkest months. Elisa, our cook, is making us pretty balanced meals twice a day, and even though I have to admit I eat a lot here (altitude plus cold equals many burned calories), I take vitamin D in addition to make up for the lack of sunlight. About three times a week I visit the gym (it got a little too cold outside) to stimulate myself physically, and if not working, sleeping, eating, or exercising, I try to stimulate my senses by an impact from the magnificent world outside, playing games together, or reading a book. Socially, I try to stay connected with my friends and family at home, and with the crew we regularly have video connections with schools for outreach purposes, and even with each other’s families. We are social beings after all, and we may easily become lonely if we don’t feel part of the group (whichever group that may be…). Finally, to relieve some of the excess amount of stress here, I try to practice meditation each morning, and for the same reasons we have our sauna (yes, sauna) open on Sunday’s. Perhaps it really is a paradise…
Prof. Dr. K. Ganapathy M Ch (Neurosurgery) FACS FICS FAMS Ph.D
Director, Apollo Telemedicine Networking Foundation; Director, Apollo Tele Health Services; Past President, Telemedicine Society of India; Past President, Indian Society for Stereotactic & Functional Neurosurgery; Former Secretary and Past President Neurological Society of India; Emeritus Professor Tamilnadu Dr MGR Medical University; Formerly Adjunct Professor IIT Madras & Anna University Madras www.kganapathy.com
This story was written by Prof. Ganapathy when a student (Std. IX – B) in 1964 in India
It was on the 2nd of January 2064 A.D. that my father, an official of the Interplanetary Police Service got his transfer orders posting him from the Moon to Earth. I was not quite pleased about this for having been born and bred on the Moon, I did not want to go to an inferior planet. And then, I had to continue my education on Earth of all the places. As we had been asked to proceed to Earth at once, we went in our private rocket. We reached Earth in about an hour. I was then reminded that about one hundred years ago, the Americans had landed their first rocket on the Moon, and the journey then had taken three and a half days. What a colossal waste of time in those days!
My father’s headquarters on Earth was at a place called Mathiras. Our first problem in Mathiras was to get me a seat in one of the interplanetary schools. We found that Santa Badena which a hundred years ago was known as St. Bede’s, was one of the best schools. My father therefore conveyed a telepathic message to the Head of the institution. He replied that getting admission into St. Badena was one of the most difficult jobs, and this had been so for over a hundred years.
It was at that time, i.e. 100 years ago, he went on to say, that the then St. Bede’s had hit the headlines when in the glorious period of two short months they had won the inter-school Hockey Cups, the Senior Championship Cup for Athletics, lost the Junior Cricket Championship, and broken four long-standing records in Athletics. I at once made up my mind to get admission to St. Badena, for there was no other school in Mathiras with a honorary tradition like hers. I was asked to sit for an entrance examination test along with other applicants from Venus, Mars and Jupiter.
The next day I landed at the school cosmodrome in my own rocket. I felt a bit strange in this place, for the Earth you know is not as modernised as the Moon. I was then conducted by an unsmiling robot towards a glass dome, which had many gadgets. Later, when I became a pupil of St. Badena, I discovered to my surprise while pursuing some old records and photographs, that robot bore a very striking resemblance to one of the school peons, who way back in 1964 had ushered all new-comers to the Principal’s office.
Very soon, the entrance examination was under way. An unseen hand pushed a button. My body began to quiver and a telepathic question was asked. I replied that A2 – B 2 = (A+B) (A–B). Another button was pushed and I found myself getting the same sensation that I felt some few seconds ago. I said that now the sea was 3 miles away, but a hundred years ago, it was 300 yards away. The unseen hand pushed a third button and some pieces of metal fell down. A bizarre voice said that this was the final question. I had to make a replica of a robot. I found myself dripping with perspiration as I underwent this practical test. But my efforts were successful. A few more buttons were pressed, and then I heard a whirring sound. It was the electronic computer at work assessing my work. A few seconds later an announcement came over the TV saying that I had passed the test. My father congratulated me on being one of the two successful candidates from the Moon. From that day onwards I used to go to school daily in my own rocket, which travelled at a safe speed of only 10,000 miles per hour…. my father’s was a much more powerful one, and he said that it would not be safe for me to travel in his much faster rocket.
At St. Badena, we were taught by machines and the pictures appeared on the TV. During the intervals, my friends and I (some were Martians and some were Venusians) used to go to the school museum. There we saw photographs and other relics over a hundred years old. We were quite amused at the appearance and the dresses of the teachers and the pupils of those years. An old school magazine called “The Bedean” attracted my attention.
It was dated November 1964. How funny the photographs and articles in the mag appeared. The fellows that must have been living in the pre-historic age, I thought. Suddenly, I woke up and faced the cold reality that after all I was still only in 1964. And there is but little hope that I will live to see this dream realised.
Notes from the Author - Oct 21st, 2020
It all started with my searching for my school magazine to show my brother-in-law’s 13-year-old grandson articles I had written 60 years ago to encourage him. Among the articles was one I had written in 1964 about a visit to the Earth from the Moon. Reading the last sentence, “there is little hope that I will live to see this dream realised”, I am now optimistic that in my lifetime I will see the commencement of colonisation on the Moon (considering that my grandparents (all four) lived to their mid-eighties, when the average life expectancy was 52 and my parents to their eighties and nineties when the life expectancy was 58, I have good telomeres in my genes! ).
In the sixties in India all bright students were expected to become doctors or engineers. When I was in XIth grade my elder brother passed away in a road traffic accident and at that minute I decided to become a doctor. When I was in the 4th year in the medical college, my eldest brother also met with a fatal accident. This resulted in my becoming a Neurosurgeon. It appears that my fascination for the Moon has been lying dormant. I would show my first grandchild the Moon from the terrace of our house and I literally brainwashed him, repeating ad nauseum, that he should plan to visit the Moon. He is in the XIth grade now and is planning to study transportation and design engineering along with astrophysics to design transportation on the Moon!!
When NASA and Nokia announced plans to set up mobile towers on the lunar surface to facilitate communication within the Moon and to Earth, I was reminded of my first encounter with the telephone. It was 1958. My father was a senior Government of India officer working in Vijaywada a Tier I small city in South India. We were one of the “privileged elite” to have a telephone at home. The waiting time to get a telephone connection then was 2 years. On lifting the receiver, the operator would ask for the number (a 4-digit number). Trunk calls to other cities had to be booked and would materialise in about 8-10 hours. My father was empowered to book “lightning” calls to Delhi, which would materialise within 30 minutes. Very few could do this. My father had to talk so loudly I would wonder why an instrument was required! And 50% discount was given after 8pm.
Today my youngest grandchild gets annoyed when his video call drops for 1-2 seconds once in a month!!! I deem it a privilege to belong to the “Baby Boomer” generation to have lived in the second half of the 20th century and in the first three decades of the 21st century to see humankind evolve. Belonging to the BC (Before Computers not before Corona!) Era, I firmly believe that technology is a means to an end and not the end by itself. Yes, it is wonderful to learn from my grandchildren the intricacies of the iPhone 12, but believe me, the millennials and Gen Z have no idea of what they have missed.
Thanks to my meeting Prof Thais Russomano in Rio several years ago my interest in Space has been rekindled. The article I wrote 56 years ago shows that the interest has always been lying dormant!! Thank you InnovaSpace for resurrecting this contribution made in 1964.
National Point of Contact, Space Generation Advisory Council - Zimbabwe
High Altitude Balloon Discover Mission (HABDM) is the first space student-led project that has been done in Zimbabwe. The project was a collaborative engagement project between students from the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space Zimbabwe (SEDS Zimbabwe) and the Meteorological Service Department (MSD) of Zimbabwe. The purpose of this mission was to spearhead space education in Zimbabwe and ensure that students are aware of the opportunities that space has. Our primary goal was to record the flight to the stratosphere and use that footage for educational purpose as well as celebrating the World Space Week. Prior to the launch date we decided that we would send our payload together a radiosonde from the MSD so that we could compare the atmospheric information obtained.
To add to the mission, we covered the capsule pink acknowledging that the month of October is the month for breast cancer awareness. It only took us three days to have all the equipment for the payload. Despite the risks involved and the probability of failing to recover our instruments was high because we did not have enough time to prepare. We had seen videos of well-prepared teams who had done high altitude projects facing some challenges in recovering their payloads when they were using state of the art equipment. So in our case to avoid too much disappointment we had to lower our expectation and accept any outcome.
On the 10th of October the whole team met at the MSD offices and without wasting time the balloon was launched. We were graced by the presence of the Deputy Director of MSD Zimbabwe, Mr Mazhara. Unfortunately on the launch the weight of the payload posed a huge challenge. We ended up removing the radiosonde to ensure that the balloon ascended to the stratosphere. Our payload consisted of two cameras, mobile device, usb adapter, power bank and a data logging system. The team consisted of students from University of Zimbabwe and National University of Science and Technology Zimbabwe, with the assistance from Claire a geography teacher at St John’s College in Harare and William, a self-employed space enthusiast. It was through the collaborative effort of the team that we were able to have all the resources that were needed for the launch. The MSD came through for us by providing us with the balloon and hydrogen gas.
We welcome another blog by ESA-sponsored Dr Stijn Thoolen, currently spending 12 months at the Concordia research station in Antarctica conducting experiments. What an amazing experience - do take a look at his previous blogs (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) to follow his great adventure to the world's southernmost continent.
Dr Stijn Thoolen
Medical Research Doctor, Concordia Research Station, Antarctica
Concordia, February 7, 2020
Sunlight: 24 hours (but not for long)
Windchill temperature: -45°C
Mood: a little roller coaster
At this moment I am just plain excited. Next to me the rest of the DC16 crew are having their own emotions. Our freshly inaugurated station leader Alberto, draped in the colours of our three national flags, came up with the idea to have our national anthems playing while the last Basler plane of the summer campaign leaves Dome C. So here I stand, hearing my own voice on maximum volume pronouncing a Dutch translation of too patriotic sentences from the station’s speakers, and with the Dutch ‘Wilhelmus’ screaming over the Antarctic plateau as an official start of our winter over. Haha, such an unrealistic scenario! And while those sounds are quickly overruled by the roaring engines of the plane, and with snow blowing in our faces, I can only smile. There goes our last connection to the rest of the earth, disappearing into the distant sky. Unbelievable!
I guess I have already spilled all of my emotions at this point. In the past few days, more and more planes have been taking away more and more of the beautiful people we enjoyed our summertime with, and the station has become more and more empty. Funny: they were already leaving, and I have the idea we just started… It has been an exciting idea on the one hand, but the closer we came to being left alone, the more and more confronting that got on the other. When two days earlier another plane left with sixteen more people, the goodbyes were harsh, with everyone in tears again. You know, those healthy ones. And when it was gone, those left on the ice slowly returned back to the station, all silent, all caught in their own thoughts. It had been an intense few summer months, and this was the weird moment of realization that it had come to an end, with a big unknown lying ahead. I guess the blend of feelings has been a repetition of those during the days before my departure to the Antarctic. Perhaps a little lighter this time.
To me, constellations are like an invitation to study and research: not only are they beautiful to watch, but they have an awesome scientific and historical aspect. The word itself, “constellation”, sounds unique: it comes from Latin: “con” means together, and “stella” was the word the late language used to refer to stars.
Astronomers have found 88 constellations in the sky. According to Wikipedia, “a constellation is an area in the sky in which a group of stars forms an outline or pattern”. Here comes the interesting part: “These can represent animals, mythological people, creatures, and inanimate objects."
The earliest accepted evidence on constellations we have is from prehistoric times, from Mesopotamia, now known as the Middle East: people made-up stories about them and created different beliefs, such as the influence on human behavior based on the position of a celestial object. According to their clay writing tablets, dating back to 3000 BC, Babylonian astronomy was the first to: apply math to their predictions, possess an accurate theory of the planets, and focus observation on a group of stars, known as Ziqpu stars.
The classical Zodiac is a revision of the Neo-Babylonian Empire’s constellations. Greek astronomy adopted the Babylonian system, first introduced by Eudoxus of Cnidus. It is a crucial phase in the history of astronomy, as they inspired the names of most stars, planets and constellations: some are tied to mythology, such as Orion and Aquila; some are astrological signs, such as Gemini and Leo, connected historically and scientifically in a manner that always makes me thankful for astronomers' time and effort put into all these discoveries.
The northern hemisphere and southern skies are different: most of the northern constellations are based on Greek legends, such as the hunter Orion; the southern ones have more modern roots, sometimes shortened names of ancient constellations. Constellations are made up of stars representing an image, and only those visible to the naked eye are part of constellations.
I would like to share a few definitions about stars that I found in my Science notebook from sixth grade:
Apparent Brightness is how bright the star is as seen from Earth
Absolute Brightness is how bright it actually is
As the star gets cooler, it tends to get dimmer, and as it gets hotter, it gets brighter. How bright it looks from Earth depends upon its size, its distance from Earth and its absolute brightness. They can appear brighter or dimmer depending on these factors. Stars also have different colors, which depend on their surface temperature. Red is the coolest, followed by yellow, white and blue being the hottest. Thus, even though Betelgeuse is a red star and the Sun is a yellow-orange star, Betelgeuse gives off more light, given its size.
I also learned in science about the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram (H-R diagram), that compares two very important characteristics of stars: the temperature and absolute brightness. Astronomers use it to understand how stars change over time.
Most of the stars form a diagonal line called the main sequence, where surface temperatures increase as brightness increases.
The stars, far away in space, stay in one place, while Earth spins on its axis, as well as orbiting the sun, which causes the stars to appear to “move”. Earth also orbits the sun. We see different stars, depending on what side of Earth we are.
Constellations are more than just a group of stars. Throughout the ages, people have used them to share stories and develop scientific ideas. Modern astronomy consists of these stars, and is, in my opinion, an extraordinary field.
Thanks to many awesome people who develop modern technology, we have the opportunity to stargaze at home, just by downloading one of the multiple apps that facilitate easy access to seeing constellations, stars and countless other space objects.
Thank you to my science teacher, Ms. Edwards, who helped me navigate the mysteries of science in sixth grade and also thank you all for reading! Wishing all the students a successful academic year!
Read Stephanie's previous blog - When STEM helps us reach for the stars.
Director of Space Training Operations, Blue Abyss; European Space Agency (Retd); Chinese Academy of Sciences (Retd); InnovaSpace Advisory Board Member
Congratulations to Editor Vladimir Pletser and all the authors who contributed to this interesting open-access book entitled Preparations of Space Experiments, which was published this week. Spend a few minutes watching Vladimir as he summarises the contents of each chapter, written by world-leading researchers who have designed and prepared science experiments on microgravity platforms, including aircraft parabolic flights, in preparation for subsequent spaceflight.
Hello, my name is Stephanie Lichi. Since I was very young, I was fascinated by multiple elements that later on I found out are part of astronomy: stars, the globe I played with, the solar system in a coloring book, rocket toys. My favorite game was to make a rocket out of chairs and pretend to blast off into space.
Later on, I found out my passion fits into the astronomy field; since I started watching space documentaries and learned more about rockets and stars, I was blown away to find out how many sciences contribute to the success of this field.
Even the most simple part of each area can lead to something extraordinary: math can calculate courses for rockets, the distance to stars, and tackle data in creative ways; science is used to collect and analyze data, and everything that has to do with collecting minerals to the lab equipment; programming is the process of building a software system to execute a specific task; engineering builds the rocket and designs its components.
When I observed stars for the first time with a telescope, I understood that it is a product of engineering that requires precise mathematics and science in order to function.
When astronomers, in an effort to understand the dynamics of the universe, needed to calculate the distance between Earth and stars, a lot of sciences worked together: math because this procedure involves lots of calculations, physics and science because Earth is constantly moving, and engineering because special instruments are required to measure the brightness of the star.
In rocket launching, thousands of specialists put together their brilliant minds: scientists and engineers build the rocket and the tools that the astronauts need, mathematicians do lots of calculations, space doctors make sure astronauts are healthy.
Currently I am a rising seventh grader. I am aware that the knowledge my favorite subjects offer (math, science and engineering) is crucial to the space field and is used in all areas: rocket launch, observing stars, testing rock samples from Mars - to mention but a few. While solving equations in math, learning about chemicals in science and programming in computer class, I realized astronomy is such a fascinating field because it comes from a lot of dedication, teamwork and knowledge, and each area blends together magically thanks to the discipline of those who are committed to solving mysteries that have fascinated humanity for thousands of years.
I hope this article will inspire children to appreciate and look differently at the efforts made by many people who work behind the scenes.
Thank you to all the specialists who make astronomy possible and accessible to us!
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