Space digest: Apollo 11 anniversary, Endeavor delays, Mars mission simulation

As the 40th anniversary of the first moon landings draws nearer, space travel both past and present continues to make headlines.

NASA has launched an official web page to commemorate the Apollo 11 flight. Highlights include a state by state map showing locations of lunar tie-ins, from the birthplaces of astronauts to the current homes of moon rock samples. There’s also a slightly bizarre photo contest where pictures must include the 40th anniversary logo. (If you’ve always wanted to see pictures of children in pirate outfits wearing NASA shirts, it’s a must.)

Of course, it’s nowhere near as cool as We Choose The Moon, a site offering a real-time recreation of the way Apollo 11 was covered. If you haven’t had a chance to do so, check out our own Miss Cellenia’s article about the site.

Meanwhile the agency continues to struggle with its modern-day missions. Tonight will see a sixth attempt to launch the Endeavor shuttle which is due to take seven astronauts to the International Space Station along with the final piece of a Japanese-made space laboratory. The mission has been delayed three times by thunderstorms and twice by hydrogen leaks. If the shuttle doesn’t launch by tomorrow, there will be another 10 day delay to allow a previously scheduled Russian supply run to the station.

Speaking of Russia, six men from the country have just finished a mission to Mars – or the nearest thing to it. The crew have been on a training exercise which concentrates on the journey rather than the destination.

The Associated Press reports they have spent the past 105 days sealed off in a mock-up space capsule made of windowless metal canisters around the size of a railway carriage. Just as with a real shuttle mission, the only contact they’ve had with the outside world has been with the mock controllers, complete with a realistic 20 minute delay.

While the experiment was partly designed to test physical effects (most of those involved put on weight despite extensive exercising), the emotional and mental responses were also of interest. A similar experiment in 1999 was marred by complaints of sexual harassment by a female participant and involved two men having a bloody fistfight. There were no such problems with the all-male crew this time, which will certainly reinforce some stereotypes about how men behave around women.

The men, who were paid just over $20,000 for their participation, said that as well as missing friends and relatives, the main negative effect was missing the sights and sounds of nature.

[Picture source: AP]

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