Happy Birthday ISS

I’ve long had an interest in spaceflight and satellite technology. I think I can trace it back to visiting Jodrell Bank when I was a kid – I did a blog about this before – but in recent days it has been in the forefront of my mind again. Not least because I watched Gravity on Sunday, in IMAX 3D. If you’ve not seen it, you must be fucking mad! From start to finish Gravity is gripping and visually incredible – much of the most dramatic scenes are shot (i.e. rendered) from a first-person perspective inside the helmet of a spacesuit. More fascinating still is the amazingly throttled and muted soundtrack because – sorry Star Wars – there simply aren’t going to be any loud explosions in space, only the sounds experienced inside the suit. If anything this makes the visuals even more impressive, they’re not padded-out by a thundering track of collosal explosions in Dolby 7.1. The 3D is used sparingly and to maximum effect, such as having millions of fragments of shrapnel flying toward your face at 25,000 miles per hour. See it whilst it’s still on general release in IMAX 3D or forever kick yourself!

Anyway, back to my interest in spacey things. Last week I stumbled upon NASA’s live video stream from the International Space Station, which also carries the feed of all audio communications. The video is often just dark noise or a blue screen but sometimes for hours on end it will broadcast a live view of Earth from the outside of the ISS as it speeds over the continents below – there is a sunrise or sunset every forty-five minutes. On Friday it was streaming live from one of the modules onboard, showing just a couple of guys floating back and forth moving heavy equipment around with the casual ease that micro-gravity allows. The comms were surprisingly mundane for such an epic feat of scientific achievement:

Cosmonaut: “Houston, did you get any feedback on where I can plug in the iPad?”
Houston: “Yeah, we looked into it, don’t use the sockets on J359 it’s going to take like ten or fifteen hours to charge, just plug it into the AC inverter.”
Cosmonaut: “Understood. I’ve no idea where the cable is. Say, whilst you’re here we’ve got a problem with the laptop, the screen is totally black.”
Houston: “Have you held down the function key and pressed the brightness button? I mean, it’s not just turned down really dark is it?”
Cosmonaut: “We’ve tried that, no effect.”
Houston: “You could probably switch it off it for like five minutes then start it again, maybe try booting Linux not Windows XP?”

The feed has become rather a welcome addition to my working day. Usually I’d just plug my phone into my speakers and listen to music all day, but now it’s the babble of Russian Cosmonauts and the various changing shifts of American Mission Control staff. It’s both relaxing and sometimes amusing. This afternoon I was listening to a crew member discussing something that was jammed:

Astronaut: “I can’t immediately see anything that’s stopping it being removed.”
Houston: “No intrusion by one of the latches or something?”
Astronaut: “Don’t think so, can I just hit it with a hammer?”
Houston: “If you do, just please god don’t tell me!”

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