Space school, days 5 & 6: the end of week one, Ad Astra, and Robonaut
Montse Cordero and Robonaut.
July 31st, 2012
12:14 PM ET

Space school, days 5 & 6: the end of week one, Ad Astra, and Robonaut

Editor's note: Montse Cordero is a 17-year-old student from Costa Rica participating in the Foundation for International Space Education's United Space School, a two-week summer program in Houston. She'll be blogging about her experiences in the program. Need to catch up? Check out all her previous posts here.

Day 5

Today was the end of week one of United Space School, and it ended with an incredible day.

Before school, our amazing host took us to see the exercise machines astronauts use in space. We weren't there for long, but we will probably be back some morning next week.

Today was basically a field trip day, which was super exciting. Before we left for our first trip, we had a great talk about ECLSS (Environmental Control and Life Support Systems) on the International Space Station. We learned about all the factors that you have to take into account to take care of the crew up in the station. This was very important for the teams taking care of the astronauts on their way to Mars and once they get there (red and green teams), but it was tons of fun for the rest of us.

Then we headed out to Ad Astra, where they’re developing the VASIMR engine, which uses plasma to propel itself. This was especially exciting for me since the founder of the company is Costa Rican. We listened to a talk about the engine, and then we toured the lab. It was amazing; we saw the prototype engine there, and the huge vacuum chamber.

Following this we went to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, where besides seeing the museum we saw a planetarium show and did an extremely fun Challenger Center mission. Not too far from there was our next stop for the day, the National Space Biomedical Research Institute at Rice University. There we toured the facilities and had a talk about human physiology in space, which was quite interesting!

To finish off our day we drove outside Houston to stargaze. It was really entertaining and we saw some pretty cool things, like Saturn. I was surprised, however, by the amount of light pollution that you notice even outside the city!

Day 6

Space school, Day 5: How to launch a ship to low-Earth orbit
Montse Cordero, left, with her housemate Alex Carney, right, in front of the vacuum chamber at Johnson Space Center.
July 27th, 2012
12:20 PM ET

Space school, Day 5: How to launch a ship to low-Earth orbit

Editor's note: Montse Cordero is a 17-year-old student from Costa Rica participating in the Foundation for International Space Education's United Space School, a two-week summer program in Houston, Texas. She'll be blogging about her experiences in the program here. Need to catch up? Check out all her previous posts here.

I'm starting to get the feeling that all of these posts start the same way, but it's for a good reason: Every day is absolutely amazing in its own way!

Today started early again. Before school, our host took us to see some big vacuum chambers used for testing at Johnson Space Center. There are two chambers in the building: one, that is pretty gigantic, where they will test the James Webb Space Telescope, and another one that’s smaller.

The smaller one is actually human rated, so they’ll test space suits there (with people inside!). The big one takes over 12 hours to reach testing level of vacuum, and the smaller one will take more than eight. They are both quite impressive, we really enjoyed seeing them and learning about them.

Then we were off to school, where we finally started working on our project. We split up in different rooms, one per team. The Maroon Team worked on deciding which method we would choose to get our ship to low-Earth orbit. After lots of options and lots of arguments and analysis we decided to use a rail-gun system, which basically means that we will use electromagnetic energy to shoot our ship into space. Our decision was mostly based on re-usability, efficiency and cost.

July 27th, 2012
09:46 AM ET

Florida's Space Coast seeks to reinvent itself

By John Couwels, CNN

Mims, Florida (CNN) – As John Bundy loads his red commercial lawn mower into a flatbed trailer, it's hard to believe he used to manage a team of NASA shuttle workers.

Bundy, who sports a scruffy beard and speaks with a thick, Southern drawl, worked at the Kennedy Space Center for 31 years, the last six years as a manager in the Orbiter Processing Facility, a shuttle hangar.

Bundy is one of  8,000 shuttle workers laid off or facing termination from Florida's Kennedy Space Center after the end of NASA's  shuttle program.  This month marks one year since the program ended with the launch and landing of Shuttle Atlantis.


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Filed under: In Space • News
Has America really underinvested in science education?
July 26th, 2012
06:33 PM ET

Has America really underinvested in science education?

By Alex Berezow and Hank Campbell, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Alex Berezow is the editor of RealClearScience. Hank Campbell is founder of Science 2.0. They are authors of the forthcoming book Science Left Behind. The views expressed are their own.

On Global Public Square last month, Fareed Zakaria made the case that the U.S. economy is struggling in part due to poor investment in science. He based this conclusion on two claims: First, that federal research and development (R&D) investment has declined over the past several years and, second, that American students have fallen behind in science education.

The first claim, while true, only tells part of the story. As we discuss in the upcoming Science Left Behind, American R&D investment has been relatively consistent for the past 30 years, never dropping below 2.3 percent of GDP. Though the federal portion of U.S. R&D investment has fallen during this period, the private sector has actually picked up the slack. Indeed, the most recent estimate for 2012 shows that the U.S. will spend approximately 2.85 percent of its GDP on R&D.


Filed under: 2012 Election • Science Education • Voices
Grand Canyon-sized valley found beneath Antarctica
Ice-penetrating radar was towed across the Antarctic ice sheet to reveal the massive valley below.
July 26th, 2012
01:47 PM ET

Grand Canyon-sized valley found beneath Antarctica

British researchers say they've discovered a massive rift valley beneath the Antarctic ice sheet that rivals the Grand Canyon in depth and is contributing to ice loss on the continent.

“If you stripped away all of the ice here today, you’d see a feature every bit as dramatic as the huge rift valleys you see in Africa and in size as significant as the Grand Canyon," the lead researcher, Robert Bingham, a glaciologist at the University of Aberdeen, said in a press release.

Fausto Ferraccioli, Bingham's co-author and geophysicist from British Antarctic Survey, said the valley allows warmer ocean waters to contact glacial ice, contributing to the melting seen on the continent.

“What this study shows is that this ancient rift basin, and the others discovered under the ice that connect to the warming ocean, can influence contemporary ice flow and may exacerbate ice losses by steering coastal changes further inland,” Ferraccioli said.

The work of the researchers was reported this week in the journal Nature.

The valley is in West Antarctica, which is losing ice faster than other parts of the continent, the researchers say.

“Thinning ice in West Antarctica is currently contributing nearly 10% of global sea level rise. It’s important to understand this hot spot of change so we can make more accurate predictions for future sea level rise,” David Vaughan, of the British Antarctic Survey's Ice2sea program, said.

The researchers came across the valley, which lies below the Ferrigno Ice Stream, in 2010 during three months of fieldwork on Antarctic ice loss. The area had not been explored in five decades.

“For some of the glaciers, including Ferrigno Ice Stream, the losses are especially pronounced, and, to understand why, we needed to acquire data about conditions beneath the ice surface,” Bingham said in the University of Aberdeen release.

The team used ice-penetrating radar over a 1,500-mile flat stretch of ice sheet, an effort that revealed the massive valley.

“What we found is that lying beneath the ice there is a large valley, parts of which are approximately a mile deeper than the surrounding landscape," Bingham said.

In comparison, the Grand Canyon falls off 7,000 feet, or 2,100 meters, at its south rim in Arizona, according to the National Park Service.

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Filed under: News
July 26th, 2012
11:54 AM ET

Opinion: Sally Ride opens a new frontier for others

Editor's Note: Ainissa G. Ramirez, Ph.D., is the director of the award-winning science lecture series for children called Science Saturdays at Yale, and hosts a video series, "Material Marvels. "Technology Review named her one of the world’s 100 Top Young Innovators for her contributions in transforming technology. Follow her on @blkgrilphd. This piece was written in association with The Op-Ed Project.

By Ainissa G. Ramirez, Special to CNN

(CNN) – Sally Ride was a fantastic physicist and astronaut, and later a science education reformer.

I was surprised to learn of her passing on Monday. I was even more surprised to learn that she was a lesbian.

She left us with one last gift — she came out publicly.


Filed under: Voices
Space school, days 3 & 4: team assignments, astronauts, flying
Montse Cordero and fellow USS student and housemate Alex stand in front of NASA's Space Exploration Vehicle.
July 26th, 2012
10:24 AM ET

Space school, days 3 & 4: team assignments, astronauts, flying

Editor's note: Montse Cordero is a 17-year-old student from Costa Rica participating in the Foundation for International Space Education's United Space School, a two-week summer program in Houston. She'll be blogging about her experiences in the program here. Need to catch up? Check out her first post: Getting ready to explore space school, and her log of the first two days.

Day 3

I’ve been a space geek for a pretty long time, so being at space school is like a dream come true. I’ve wanted to learn everything related to space since I was a little girl. Influence from my parents and going to Space Camp, along with a few other factors, got me to where I am now, but I never imagined I’d get to do things like the ones I’ve been doing these days. The most amazing part is that it’s only day two!

Today started early at Johnson Space Center, where we visited their acoustics laboratory. The laboratory is where they test spaceships and their components before they fly to make sure the vibrations from the launch won't damage them. From there we went to the University of Houston, Clear Lake where our classes take place. It was pretty exciting; we knew we were getting our team assignments.

Before finding out which team we belong to, we had a talk from the admissions department of UHCL. Then we were finally told what team we were on and who our teammates were. I got my first choice, the Maroon Team. There are eight people on the team: two Chileans, two Canadians, two Welsh, an Irish and me. I’m sure it will be plenty of fun to work with them and learn about their cultures.

The Maroon Team will handle everything that has to do with taking mission components from Earth to low-Earth orbit. When we finally got to mission work, we debated and decided our mission parameters. We decided we were going to Mars on an exploration mission for more than 90 days, with five to nine astronauts, etc. These sound like easy decisions to make, but we actually had to discuss a lot.

The toughest decision was probably choosing between an exploration and a colonization mission. At first most of the group thought exploration was the best idea, but once both sides started giving arguments we split pretty much in half. Should we take the risk and just establish a settlement, or should we go on an exploratory mission first to see how humans do? After tons of really good arguments and a split vote, we chose to go and explore first. The other parameters were chosen similarly.

Tonight we had a soccer match: United Space School students vs. the NASA All Stars team. It was a pretty intense match, but in the end the best team (obviously, I’m talking about the students) won, 5-4. As soon as the match was over, Alex and I left, but for a good reason - we were taken flying! Our host has a four-seat plane; it’s small but really fun to fly in. We got to see downtown Houston from the air at night, which is a truly amazing view. We even got to “take control” of the airplane for little bits of time, which was awesome.

Day 4

Bras from Middle Ages found in castle
Thanks to garments like this one found in Austria, we now know that the modern bra might not be such a modern invention.
July 26th, 2012
08:00 AM ET

Bras from Middle Ages found in castle

Scientists in Austria recently revealed a secret bigger than Victoria’s. 

While excavating Lengberg Castle in 2008, a group of archaeologists led by the University of Innsbruck’s Dr. Harald Stadler unearthed a sack from a recess in the floor. Inside, they found underwear, shoes and four linen pieces that looked like bras. The castle was first documented in 1190, but archaeologists suspect the sack and its contents were left there during a renovation in the 15th century. 

Many people believe the modern bra was invented after corsets, and was a revolutionary result of late 19th and early 20th century style and engineering. But the "treasure chest" of chest wear suggests that the bra as we know it is just the most recent overhaul in a long line of similarly shaped breast supports.

"(The find) reminds people not to assume we already know everything, and to keep an open mind to possible new discoveries about our history," said Beatrix Nutz, a member of Stadler's team who he commissioned to research the textiles in 2009.

“I don’t think they quite revolutionize the history of underwear, but this find certainly will modify it,” says Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, who was not involved in the research. “I think it means people should go back and look a bit more carefully at other garments and images in antiquities collections, to focus on something that may be more ignored."

The four newly discovered bras include two that resemble crop tops with bag-like cups, a decorated piece with thick shoulder straps and bags, and one that surprised Nutz with its similarity to lingerie in the 20th century.

“The one that I myself like to compare to a modern ‘long-line bra’ does look as if it could have been fashioned not 100 years ago,” Nutz said of the bra, which has thin straps and minimal cups. “The radiocarbon dates proved otherwise.”

Two of bras - in addition to a pair of underpants, a girls dress and a shirt fragment - have been carbon dated to the 15th century, Nutz said. This coincides with the idea that the garments were disposed of during the recorded renovation of Lengberg Castle.

Similarities between the medieval bras and our current collection of demis, push-ups and racer backs end pretty quickly in the realm of construction.

The medieval bras are linen while modern bras take advantage of synthetic fibers. Additionally, Nutz’s "long-line" bra fastens at the side instead of the back, cup sizes didn’t exist in the 15th century, and, of course, the Lengberg bras are all hand-sewn.

Curious to see how these bras fit into medieval chronology, Nutz began a personal inquiry into the history of underwear in general. She also contacted peers in Germany and France for help finding mentions of undergarments in medieval texts. What she found out was that, apart from differences in form, these bras also served functions different from those desired today.

Where most bras today are worn to highlight contents of all sizes, breasts deemed too large found their ways into "breast bags" in order to minimize their appearance.

“These ‘bags’ would have been utilitarian,” Nutz said.

Bras meant to highlight were used in private.

“Only the wearer herself and her husband would have seen them,” Nutz said. “As all ‘bras’ are decorated in some way it must be suspected that the wife would have at least wanted to look nice for her husband.”

Because the recently discovered bras are decorative, they would belong to members of the elite, Steele said.

“Linen was fairly widely used, but to have linen as underclothing helps protect your outerwear from your dirty body,” Steele said. “You can wash linen, you can’t easily wash silk or velvet or fur.”

Women were also discouraged from wearing underpants if they weren’t wealthy (those who did were assumed to discard them frequently in the company of men), but it is not yet known if the underpants found in the sack were men’s or women’s garments.

Despite differences, Nutz said that the medieval finds meet criteria for bras. The newly found bras have cups, where ancient Mediterranean "bras" were “simple strips of cloth or leather wound around the breasts and designed to flatten rather than enhance,” she wrote.

Even so, the presence of enhancing bras could represent the growing European fascination with empires of old, Steele said.

“In the 1500s, you certainly had people becoming increasingly aware of antiquity and ancient Rome, so I think that’s possible,” Steele said.

Steele said that bras called strophiums were common in ancient Rome, and indicative of class and style.

“Only the lowest class prostitute would take it off during sex. It has erotic significance as well as ‘breast support,’” Steele said. Mosaics do, however, depict Roman women wearing bandeau-like bikini tops while engaging in athletics.

Even so, bra-wearing wasn’t well received in the middle ages. Could wearing bras, then, have been a statement about standards for women?

“I don’t think it was a protest,” said Nutz, noting that progressive fashions have been worn throughout history without necessarily having social agendas. “Some people don’t like them because they’re too skimpy, and most things are met with skepticism at first.”

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Filed under: Discoveries • News • On Earth
Astronaut's legacy: A boost for women in science
July 25th, 2012
02:47 PM ET

Astronaut's legacy: A boost for women in science

After two space shuttle flights in the 1980s, astronaut Sally Ride spent much of the rest of her life trying to encourage children, particularly girls, to give the sciences a shot.

Ride, the first American woman in space, was part of a wave of women who entered the traditionally male disciplines of natural sciences and engineering in the 1970s. One of those she inspired was Catherine "Cady" Coleman, who told CNN's "Newsroom" that she never considered becoming an astronaut before meeting Ride in 1982.

"When I'd think of what they look like, it's those Mercury Seven standing in front of an airplane, a bunch of guys that were older than me with not as much hair," she said. "And suddenly you meet Sally Ride, and it became clear to me that maybe this is something I can pursue."


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The human, funny side of Sally Ride
Sally Ride, far right, poses with NASA's first class of female astronauts in August 1979, including Kathy Sullivan, third from left.
July 24th, 2012
02:18 PM ET

The human, funny side of Sally Ride

Editor's note: Kathryn Sullivan, former astronaut and the first American woman to walk in space, is assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction and deputy administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She is also serving as NOAA's acting chief scientist.

(CNN) - Retrospectives of Sally Ride's life over the next few days are likely to include the words "ground-breaking," "trailblazer," "inspiration" and "mentor." And rightly so. She epitomized these words and so many more. To me, she was also a classmate, a crewmate, a collaborator and a friend.

Sally and I first crossed paths in the first grade at Hayvenhurst Elementary School in California in 1958, though neither of us remembered the other clearly. We had a good laugh as we pieced this together 20 years later, when we met as two of the first six women in NASA's astronaut corps.

It wasn't the only similarity in our backgrounds. We shared a love for competitive sports, and our college careers revealed that we both loved arts and letters as much as the sciences. The second point paid many dividends later on, in great crossword challenges during crew quarantine and many shared lecture engagements.

We six women in the Class of 1978 ranged in age from 39 (Shannon Lucid) to 26 (Sally and me). Underneath our different professional backgrounds and personal styles, we had many points in common: All six were intelligent, goal-oriented, creative and strong. We each had chosen our career path because it suited our talents and fired our passion, not in pursuit of celebrity.

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