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3. International Space Station

Posted in 12 Days of Johnny Mackintosh, Science, Space, star blaze with tags , , , , on December 28, 2009 by keithmansfield

“Three hundred and forty kilometres above Earth, they passed the space station windows so close that they could see the astronauts inside.” p. 9

Credit: ESA/NASA

It’s the third day of Johnny Mackintosh. If I had countless millions of pounds, I would spend around £15m of them on a trip to the International Space Station.

Several people have done this and Charles Simonyi has even been twice. He donated money to Oxford University where I work so we could have a Professor for the Public Understanding of Science. For a while this was Rickard Dawkins who wrote The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion. Nowadays it’s the mathematician Marcus du Sautoy. I went to his inaugural lecture in November and we chatted about football and space afterwards, making me think that Marcus would probably like Johnny Mackintosh.

The ISS is in what we call low Earth orbit, at an altitude of around 340 km (that’s just over 200 miles). When I was growing up, for a while the Americans had Skylab and then the Russians broke all sorts of records with Mir. From space, Earth has no borders and it’s great that a cooperative, international approach is being taken to much space exploration. If you want to see the space station, as it crosses the night sky, it’s easy. NASA have an applet at their Human Space Flight website which will tell you when the ISS will be visible, wherever you are in the world.

Tomorrow we’re off to the very heart of the solar system.

Real Life in Space

Posted in Science, Space with tags , , , , , , , , on July 29, 2008 by keithmansfield

“The others followed suit . . . sliding down into what looked like a chaotic junkyard, about the size of a school gym. Johnny wondered if he was ever going to see the type of gleaming hi-tech spaceship he’d always imagined.”

JM&tSoL, p.81

When we watch science fiction films or TV shows, spaceships are normally spotlessly clean and tidy. The Discovery One of Kubrick/Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey would be the perfect pristine example if it weren’t for the mess going on inside computer HAL’s brain. From James Tiberius Kirk’s starship Enterprise through to Roj Blake’s Liberator, once we leave the shackles of Earth it seems nothing is ever the slightest bit out of place (even in zero G).

In real life things are seldom like that. I hate to disappoint any parents reading this, but I have to tell you that Johnny’s quarters on the Spirit of London are just as untidy as his bedroom back in Halader House.

At the UK’s National Space Centre in Leicester, there’s a mockup of one module of the International Space Station:

It’s informative to see how the same module looks in Earth orbit:

Thanks to Joey deVilla’s Global Nerdy blog for pointing out the pictures.
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