Astronaut Bruce McCandless II, the first person to conduct an untethered free flight in space

Bruce McCandless II (June 8, 1937 – December 21, 2017) was a United States Navy officer and aviator, electrical engineer, and NASA astronaut. In 1984, during the first of his two Space Shuttle missions, he completed the first untethered spacewalk by using the Manned Maneuvering Unit.

The Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) is an astronaut propulsion unit that was used by NASA on three Space Shuttle missions in 1984. The MMU allowed the astronauts to perform untethered extravehicular spacewalks at a distance from the shuttle. The MMU was used in practice to retrieve a pair of faulty communications satellites, Westar VI and Palapa B2. Following the third mission the unit was retired from use. A smaller successor, the Simplified Aid For EVA Rescue (SAFER), was first flown in 1994, and is intended for emergency use only.

Star Trek star William Shatner ready to boldly go into space

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Image caption,William Shatner has been training with Blue Origin

Hollywood actor William Shatner will later become the oldest person to go to space when he takes a ride in the Blue Origin sub-orbital capsule.

The 90-year-old, who played Captain James T Kirk in the Star Trek films and TV series, says he is looking forward to seeing Earth from a new perspective.

He will blast off from the Texas desert with three other individuals.

His trip aboard the rocket system, developed by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, should last about 10 minutes.

Mr Shatner will get to experience a short period of weightlessness as he climbs to a maximum altitude just above 100km (60 miles). He will also be able to see the curvature of the Earth through the capsule’s big windows.

“There is this mystique of being in space and that much closer to the stars and being weightless,” the Canadian star said.

“I shall be entranced by the view of space. I want to look at that orb and appreciate its beauty and its tenacity.”

Mr Shatner will be joined on the flight by Audrey Powers, a Blue Origin vice president; Chris Boshuizen, who co-founded the Earth-imaging satellite company Planet; and Glen de Vries, an executive with the French healthcare software corporation Dassault Systèmes.

They have been given a couple of days’ training, although there is nothing really major for them to do during the flight other than enjoy it. The rocket and capsule system, known as New Shepard, is fully automatic.

Blue Origin flight director Nicholas Patrick said the quartet did however need to know what to do in the unlikely event of an emergency, and to recognise – and not be perturbed by – the normal bumps and noises of spaceflight.

“The third thing the training does is teach the crew how to behave in Zero G; how to move around the cabin without bumping each other or kicking each other; what handholds to use; the kinds of things they can expect and their response to it,” the British-born, former Nasa astronaut explained.

This will be only the second crewed outing for New Shepard. The first, on 20 July, carried Mr Bezos, his brother Mark, Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen; and famed aviator Wally Funk.

Afterwards, Ms Funk, being 82, was able to claim the record for the oldest person in space – a title she will now now relinquish to Mr Shatner, assuming his mission passes without incident and he gets above Earth’s atmosphere.

The launch comes amid claims that Blue Origin has a toxic work culture and failed to adhere to proper safety protocols. The mostly anonymous accusations made by former and present employees have been strenuously denied.

“That just hasn’t been my experience at Blue,” countered Audrey Powers, who is responsible for mission and flight operations.

“We’re exceedingly thorough, from the earliest days up through now as we’ve started our human flights. Safety has always been our top priority.”

New Shepard rocket - annotated image

William Shatner may be the first person to go from Star Trek’s version of space to the real thing – but three Nasa astronauts have made the opposite journey.

Mae Jemison appeared in an episode of TV sequel Star Trek: The Next Generation, while Mike Fincke and Terry Virts turned up in the final episode of Enterprise, the Star Trek prequel series.

Also providing a link are Gene Roddenberry, the franchise creator, and James Doohan, the actor who played Montgomery “Scotty” Scott in the original 1960s series and subsequent films. Both men had their ashes sent into space.

Flight profile of New Shepard

While Mr Bezos invites some people to fly on New Shepard, he is selling other seats. And whereas his space tourism rival, Sir Richard Branson, puts a ticket price against a trip in his Virgin Galactic rocket plane, the Amazon founder does not disclose the fees paid by the likes of Mr Boshuizen and Mr de Vries.

Just adding a little bit of levity to the post:

William Shatner is going to space, aged 90


Boldly going where no 90-year-old has gone before. Image Credit: Twitter / William Shatner

The legendary Star Trek actor is set to become the oldest person ever to venture into space next month.According to reports, Captain Kirk himself – William Shatner – will be one of the passengers aboard the next civilian flight of Jeff Bezos’ New Shepard spacecraft when it launches in October.

Like the previous flight in July of which Bezos himself was a part, the launch will see Shatner and his fellow passengers reach the edge of space on a trip that will last only around 15 minutes.

If he does go, the Star Trek veteran will become the oldest person in history to venture into space.

There are rumors that a documentary will be filmed of the event, however Discovery allegedly rejected the concept and Shatner’s team is now looking for an alternative channel to pick up the project.

While neither Bezos or Shatner have officially confirmed the flight, Shatner had previously mentioned it during a San Diego ComicCon panel earlier this year.

“There’s a possibility that I’m going to go up for a brief moment and come back down,” he said.

The current record holder for oldest person in space is 82-year-old aviation pioneer Wally Funk who joined Bezos during Blue Origin’s previous flight in July.

If Shatner’s flight does go ahead, Funk’s record will have been broken within a matter of months.

Green Bank, West Virginia, population 143, the quietest town in America: no cell phones, Wi-Fi, television or radio

Green Bank, in Pocahontas County in West Virginia, the United States, is possibly one of the quietest residential places on earth. There is no cell phone reception here, no Wi-Fi, not even radio or television. But Green Bank is not technologically backward. On the contrary, it’s home to the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope on earth – the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT). The GBT is the reason why this town is electromagnetically silent.

The telescope is the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope, surpassing the Effelsberg 100-m Radio Telescope in Germany. The Green Bank site was part of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) until September 30, 2016. Since October 1, 2016, the telescope has been operated by the independent Green Bank Observatory. The telescope’s name honors the late Senator Robert C. Byrd who represented West Virginia and who pushed the funding of the telescope through Congress.

Radio telescopes work by detecting electromagnetic waves that come from distant galaxies. These signals are so faint that the slightest emission of radio waves from electronic gadgets can interfere with the readings of the radio telescopes. For this reason, all cell phones, Wi-Fi, radio and other communication devices are outlawed here. There are no cell phone towers for miles around, no music plays on the radio or soap operas on the television. Cable television is the only TV allowed.

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The boundaries of the device-free zone extend far beyond Green Bank, covering an area roughly equal to 13,000–square-mile. This region is called the National Radio Quiet Zone, and is located around the sparsely populated countryside that straddles the borders of West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. Almost all types of radio transmissions and certain electronic devices are banned here so that the powerful Green Bank Radio Telescopes can work without disturbance. Green Bank happens to be the closest community to the Green Bank Telescope.

The tech-free life in Green Bank may seem impossible for those who can’t live without their cell phones, but for the 140-odd residents of the town, life is a bliss. Kids aren’t glued to the glowing screens of their mobile devices. They actually talk to each other instead of texting. Older residents roll down their car windows to greet each other and leave their front doors unlocked. If they must speak to someone out of town, there are pay phones.

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The current telescope, completed in 2000, was built following the collapse of the previous Green Bank telescope, a 90.44 m paraboloid erected in 1962. The previous telescope collapsed on 15 November 1988 due to the sudden loss of a gusset plate in the box girder assembly, which was a key component for the structural integrity of the telescope.

Living under the shadow of the giant telescope, some of the residents are not even aware of the technological advances elsewhere.

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“We didn’t realize the rest of the world was getting connected and staying connected constantly, via phones and computers and all that,” said radio host Caleb Diller, who grew up in Pocahontas County. “So we were kinda back in time a little bit. We hadn’t progressed to that.”

Over the last few years, many people have taken up residence in Green Bank. These people claim to suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity, or EHS—a disease not recognized by the scientific community. It’s said that people suffering from EHS get symptoms like dizziness, nausea, rashes, irregular heartbeat, weakness, and chest pains from electromagnetic radiations.

“Life isn’t perfect here,” said Diane Schou, one of the first “electrosensitive” immigrants who came to Green Bank with her husband in 2007. “There’s no grocery store, no restaurants, no hospital nearby. But here, at least, I’m healthy. I can do things. I’m not in bed with a headache all the time.”  As of 2013, an estimated 36 people have moved to Green Bank to escape the effects of electromagnetic hypersensitivity.

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The previous telescope

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The GBT is fully steerable, and 85% of the entire celestial sphere is accessible. The structure weighs 8500 tons and stands 450 feet above ground. The surface area of the GBT is a 100 by 110 meter active surface with 2,209 actuators (a small motor used to adjust the position) for the 2,004 surface panels. The panels are made from aluminium to a surface accuracy of better than 0.003 inches (76 µm) RMS. The actuators adjust the panel positions to correct for distortions due to gravity which change as the telescope moves. Without this so-called “active surface”, observations at frequencies above 4 GHz would not be as efficient.

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Saturn’s Moon Resembles the ‘Death Star’

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A new image from NASA’s Cassini probe is raising eyebrows among sci fi fans for its eerie resemblance to the infamous Death Star from the Star Wars films.

The unsettling celestial body, dubbed ‘Tethys,’ is one of Saturn’s icy moons and measures about 660 miles across.

With its enormous crater positioned in just the right spot when photographed by the spacecraft, the moon looks remarkably similar to the monstrous weapon at the center of the epic space opera.

While it is almost certainly not a fabricated space ship designed to destroy planets and wreak havoc across the universe, who knows what creatures could lurk in the deep deep depths of the moon?

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