Thursday, January 27, 2011

NASA's New Astronauts To Hitch Rides With Russians; Commercial Transport A "Possibility" For Future

Duane Ross - the man who has been selecting astronauts for more than 30 years. Pictured here at Gila Bend, AZ. Photo courtesy of Duane Ross. 

The astronaut class of 2009 may be the last one for a while, due to federal budget cuts and major restructuring of the U.S. space program. The final U.S. Space Shuttle launch is scheduled to be completed by Atlantis, on June 28, 2011. With no new U.S. spacecraft to replace the retiring Shuttle fleet, Americans will be relying on the Russians to ferry our astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

"The current class [of astronauts] was selected to do long-duration missions," said Duane Ross, NASA's Manager for Astronaut Candidate Selection and Training. A typical mission aboard the Space Station could last anywhere from 90 to 180 days. This is quite different than the 10, 11, 12, 14 or 16-day missions done by a Space Shuttle crew. The type of crew members selected has also been affected by this new mission directive. "Now that we're going to the Space Station, there's no crew position that requires piloting skills," said Ross. Not that piloting skills aren't important, he added, but a pilot will not be necessary since the U.S. will not have any spacecraft to fly in the near foreseeable future.

Is there a good chance that NASA will select future astronauts to fly aboard commercially built hardware such as the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule? "That's a possibility," said Ross, who is supportive of commercial space efforts. "I'm behind all of them 100%," he said. 

SpaceX, a privately-owned California-based company, appears to be more than willing to take over the transportation of American astronauts. According to the SpaceX website:

         After the Space Shuttle retires next year, NASA will be  
         totally dependent on the Russian Soyuz to carry 
         astronauts to and from the International Space Station for
         a price of over $50 million per seat. The December 8 COTS
         Demo 1 flight demonstrated SpaceX is prepared to meet
         this need - and at less than half the cost. On December
         13th, we submitted our proposal to NASA's Commercial
         Crew Development Program (CCDev2) to begin work on
         preparing Dragon to carry astronauts. 

Right now, there are 60 active NASA astronauts, and NASA is currently not accepting applications for astronaut slots. Once an astronaut is selected, he or she won't actually fly for another 4 or 5 years due to the training schedule. "So you have to project a long way ahead to decide how many astronauts you need," explained Ross. "And it's hard to do because that's budget driven, and you don't know who's going to stay and who's going to leave. There are actually quite a few astronauts who leave each year." 
Duane Ross. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Jabba the Snow-Hutt

Happy Holidays from the Lewters!
My family doesn't have many holiday traditions. And we don't live in a place that gets a lot of nice-packing snow each year. But, we put the ten inches we got in January to good use! 
Anything related to Star Wars is generally well-received by my family, so it was only fitting that we had a Snow Jabba guarding the driveway entrance for a while. My sister and I contemplated which of us should don a metal (aluminum foil?) bikini and pose with the creature, although neither of us had the courage to do so. 

     Happy New Year to everyone! 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Raza Names a Dress "The Elegant Astronaut!"

"The Elegant Astronaut" by Raza Designs

I was quite surprised to find a link online to a different "Elegant Astronaut." This is not another blog, however; it is the name of a dress made by Raza Designs. It is described as a "Black Mat Jersey A-line gown with accentuated shoulder, collar and waist decor," and it sells for $140.00. It does look reminiscent of something Queen Amidala would wear from Star Wars, wouldn't you say? Kudos to Raza for their tasteful and elegant clothing! What a refreshing collection of gorgeous dresses, robes and gowns that flatter a woman's physique while leaving a little something to the imagination.

Raza's website can be found at:
(Hyperlink will appear when you roll the mouse over it.)

Monday, January 3, 2011

What's Killing the Damn Birds and Fish in Arkansas?!

Movie still from Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds."

Thousands of red winged black birds and many thousands of fish have recently turned up dead in Arkansas, with no apparent explanation.The birds were falling dead all over the city of Beebe, AR on New Year's Eve, and just a few days later, tens of thousands of dead drum fish were washing up on the shores of the Arkansas River in Ozark. These towns are less than 150 miles apart. (And the town where I live is between them.)
  Autopsies on some of the birds indicate death from internal bleeding from "blunt force trauma." There have not been any autopsy results released on the dead fish yet.
   I can tell you I'll be drinking bottled water for a while!

A Message from My Great-Grandfather to the Nazi German Army

My family has two treasured journals that were written in Russian by my great-grandfather, Theodocey Shpilevoy.  I am in the process of having them translated, since none of his living descendants can speak or write Russian. While that alone is somewhat disheartening, his journal entries are often strongly worded and emotionally disturbing. Some of the journal entries appear to be from the perspective of other Russians who had immigrated to the New World in the early 1900's. This entry pictured above was written on New Year's Day in 1942, and mentions a story none of my living relatives has ever heard. [Translation below.]
Ruso, N. Dakota
Jan. 1, the year 1942

[First line illegible. Translator's Note.]
I do hereby raise my hand to strike Hitler's German army, bear this token of vehemence and insult. You villains, scoundrels, and bandits, may you feel the strike (the stinging slap) of this old man's hand. You tortured my son's chest with knives while he was alive, you cut his arm while he was alive, you burned his eyes, he was still alive. All the knights, the sons of Soviet and Ukrainian people, spit in your filthy faces. I weep and damn you [upcoming line - Translator's guess: illegible, not to mention probably written during emotional outpouring; this line probably a reference to the son's place of work, the factory where his picture, to honor him, hangs on the wall...] This is how I will remember him.