Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, the spaced-out star of social media


#1

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#2

Does the fact that the genre of ‘astronaut does videogenic thing on ISS’ always makes me wonder “And the cost per flight hour to make this possible was what?!?” indicate that I have a cold, shrivelled hatred core where my heart should be, and am incapable of joy, wonder, or love; or is this a worthwhile consideration?

The astronauts seem like cool people and all; but it’s hard not to think of all the awesome robotic missions, proposed satellites, and so on, when you see anything ISS related, much less the youtube fodder.


#3

Well said. What is important to remember is that the payback from space exploration (for the foreseeable future) is not commercially tangible. It is knowledge for its own sake. To achieve the social and political support, and therefore the funding, it may be necessary to fund the puff pieces.

I have been a in quite a few debates with friends and colleagues over the value of space exploration (Mars rovers, landing on comets, deep space probes, Hubble etc. My articulation of the benefits doesn’t extend much beyond “but it’s cool, it satisfies our need for wonder, exploration is part of what makes us human”. Not convincing in the face of an argument that the same budegt expended on medical aid to those in need would save XX lives.

I don’t think the billionaire-into-space things are helpful in any way, but otherwise, yes, astronauts are cool. Chris Hatfield seems to take his opportunity to inspire interest in space (and science and engineering generally) very seriously. If that’s what comes from the puff-pieces, so be it. That’s plenty for me and my tax dollars.

I sat on the floor of the school gym one day in 1969 watching some grainy black and white footage on a 12" tv. Perhaps the most enduring memory of that period for me and one that remains an inspiration (even if it was shot on a sound stage in Nevada).


#4

Keeping a human presence in space forces us to maintain and continue to improve the technology needed to support people in space, while also providing a more flexible platform for experiments than robotic missions do. The “youtube fodder” is a bonus, since you’re not going to get that kind of outreach with robots - there is really only so much interest you can drum up over sending a machine out to some place.

Robotic missions might be “cheaper”, but then you have people who think that not sending them at all is even more so. And, really, we spend little enough on space as it is.


#5

Perhaps their crack political calculators have done the calculations and this is, in fact, the best that they can do. I just wish that we could get more science mixed into the puff.

The Hubble, say, is an actual space telescope, doing actual work, in addition to producing the iconic-but-typically-false-colored-from-a-variety-of-wavelengths pretty pictures.

I cried got something in my eye, when I was watching the MARDI feed and learned that Curiosity had successfully detached from the skycrane and landed safely; and then it went on to rove around and do mars geology stuff.

The ISS, though, just seems be a bit of a pig. Relatively huge amount of mass in LEO, frequent resupply missions; and for what? Its earth-surface/earth-structure study capabilities are pitiful compared to purpose built satellites(the astronaut who likes taking pictures out the window is pretty decent at it; but you don’t send a human to do a machine’s job, and proper surface imaging satellites are more than ‘decent’, never mind the gravimetric satellites and other specialty stuff. It has some experiments onboard; but not a whole lot given its size(since so much of it is life support).

I don’t criticize the astronauts themselves; if you get sent to a mostly-useless space station, you might as well make the best of it, and they seem to do so; but it’s kind of grim to watch when thinking about what other projects had to be strangled in the cradle so that another load of food packets and an espresso machine could be sent up to keep the astronauts making youtube videos and singing Space Oddity.

With the sole exception of human-health-in-microgravity-and-space-radiation research(which they substantially limit by being practically in the upper atmosphere, and keeping individual astronauts on fairly limited duration missions); anything the ISS does could be done more cheaply; and probably better, either on earth or by automated systems in space.


#6

It’d be hard to simulate long-term microgravity anywhere else, so there is that; but much of the life support R&D, to the degree any gets done, could be done elsewhere.

Maintaining viable closed-loop or mostly closed-loop environments is, indeed, a fascinating set of challenges in a variety of fields; but it’s also something you could run dozens of concurrent studies of in suitably airtight structures on earth(plus, since the cost of failure is ‘open the door, study what went wrong’ rather than ‘high-profile death of all crew’, you can afford to be much, much, more aggressive on earth. It’s also cheaper to try something, since fedex is way cheaper than any orbital launch system).


#7

Italian & an Astronaut, what else is there in life I ask you!

Thank you to all the Space Folks for sacrificing your bone density and teaching Earth bound humans space stuff!


#8

I think there are a lot more experiments that have been done and will be done on the ISS than you give it credit for.

And at the very least, you’re not going to be able to study long-term human biological reactions to microgravity with a satellite, and even studying non-human biological processes with robotic missions is not easy. And that those can be combined with other experiments, so you’re not just doing it for specific experiments and then throwing away a large part of the design effort.

The problem is, it won’t be done elsewhere, if you get rid of the cause.


#9

There’s a lot more science going on on the ISS than simple Earth observation such as plant growth, microgravity flames, microfluid research, and the SPHEREs experiments to name just a few. What you see make the rounds are just the simplest demonstration of what’s being done on the ISS. There’s really no way to reproduce long term microgravity on Earth and many of the experiments on the ISS examine forces and processes where Earth’s gravity would normally dominate and obscure the forces being studied. One very useful result coming out of experiments like this are the ‘lab on a chip’ testing devices that were developed using effects that were tested on the ISS.

You do have a point that the astronaut pictures aren’t good for Earth observation science but that’s not their point. It’s a look at our beautiful planet and outreach project. The ISS does serve as a platform for a number of Earth observation missions though and several experiments in space based tracking for communications.

Having an astronaut on hand to repair, run, and modify the experiments makes it much easier to do them than it would be to try to design a completely automated system and to launch it on a short term satellite. To move most of these experiments to an automated satellite would require huge increases to the cost and design time of every experiment, not to mention the failure rate.

Having an astronaut at hand capable of monitoring and modifying an experiment means simple mistakes or defects don’t completely kill an experiment. It allows follow on experiments to be done much easier by simply sending up new hardware and a new set of procedures for the astronaut running the experiment.

In short having humans on orbit allows us to do many experiments that would be too expensive and difficult to perform otherwise.


#10

What’s with all the space hatin’?
What these astronauts are doing is so not ‘puff’, in fact it’s probably one of the most important things they do. They educate and inspire.
Most of the social media, video, etc they do during their free-time, and should be commended for all their amazing work. Just being able to tweet an astronaut and possible get a response from someone actually in space is pretty crazy amazing. If you could list the most inspiring job, I believe that astronaut would top the list, and the more we see the cool stuff they do, the more kids they can inspire. The more personal, social interaction is even better. You can get on a Google hangout with them and ask a question, even a trivial one like ‘how do you drink coffee in space’ and they will show you right then and there. Having a wild dream of being an astronaut is inspiring, but you used to have to be some heroic test pilot. Now, it could even be a realistic dream, that will inspire even more.


#11

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