astronaut scientists

Okay, but, when we send cremated remains into space do we send an explanation with them? Because I’m just picturing some aliens cracking open a satellite and being really fucking confused.

“Human guide! Our scans indicate that this probe contains a cylinder full of ash and human bone fragments. I assume this deconstruction of form is a way for your species to travel greater distances through the stars due to your limited capacity for large spaceships and distance travel. Quite similar to the Quaxilains from the Centuri district of the galaxy, though I did not know your species had reached such advancements yet. Please instruct us in how to revive your colleague so we may interrogate him as well.”

“No, dude, whoever that was is dead. Probably some astronaut or scientist who paid to have their cremated remains shot into space once they died.”

“You told us that your species buried your dead, why did you lie to us?”

“No, I said that MY family buried our relatives. Never said the whole species did it. Sometimes we burn them, then scatter their ashes in places they loved, plant them with a tree, use them to make diamonds, shoot them into space, whatever. Lotta options.”

“I had no idea your death rituals were so…extensive.”

“Just wait until I tell you about mummification.”

Kate Rubins’ Space Station Science Scrapbook

As a child, Kate Rubins dreamed of being an astronaut and a scientist. During the past four months aboard the International Space Station, that dream came full circle. She became the first person to sequence DNA in space, among other research during her recent mission, adding to her already impressive experience. She holds a doctorate in molecular biology, and previously led a lab of 14 researchers studying viruses, including Ebola.

Here’s a look back at Rubins in her element, conducting research aboard your orbiting laboratory.

Kate inside Destiny, the U.S. Laboratory Module

The U.S. national laboratory, called Destiny, is the primary research laboratory for U.S. payloads, supporting a wide range of experiments and studies contributing to health, safety, and quality of life for people all over the world. 

Destiny houses the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG), in which Kate worked on the Heart Cells experiment.

Swabbing for Surface Samples

Microbes that can cause illness could present problems for current and future long duration space missions. 

Understanding what microbe communities thrive in space habitats could help researchers design antimicrobial technology. Here, Kate is sampling various surfaces of the Kibo module for the Microbe-IV investigation.

Culturing Beating Heart Cells in Space

The Heart Cells investigation uses human skin cells that are induced to become stem cells, which can then differentiate into any type of cell. 

Researchers forced the stem cells to grow into human heart cells, which Rubins cultured aboard the space station for one month.

Rubins described seeing the heart cells beat for the first time as “pretty amazing. First of all, there’s a few things that have made me gasp out loud up on board the [space] station. Seeing the planet was one of them, but I gotta say, getting these cells in focus and watching heart cells actually beat has been another pretty big one.”

Innovative Applied Research Experiment from Eli Lilly

The Hard to Wet Surfaces investigation from Eli Lilly, and sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), looks at liquid-solid interactions and how certain pharmaceuticals dissolve, which may lead to more potent and effective medicines in space and on Earth. 

Rubins set up vials into which she injected buffer solutions and then set up photography to track how tablets dissolved in the solution in microgravity.

Capturing Dragon

Rubins assisted in the capture of the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft in July. The ninth SpaceX resupply mission delivered more than two thousand pounds of science to the space station. 

Biological samples and additional research were returned on the Dragon spacecraft more than a month later.  

Sliding Science Outside the Station

Science doesn’t just happen inside the space station. External Earth and space science hardware platforms are located at various places along the outside of the orbiting laboratory. 

The Japanese Experiment Module airlock can be used to access the JEM Exposed Facility. Rubins installed the JEM ORU Transfer Interface (JOTI) on the JEM airlock sliding table used to install investigations on the exterior of the orbiting laboratory.

Installing Optical Diagnostic Instrument in the MSG

Rubins installed an optical diagnostic instrument in the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG) as part of the Selective Optical Diagnostics Instrument (SODI-DCMIX) investigation. Molecules in fluids and gases constantly move and collide. 

When temperature differences cause that movement, called the Soret effect, scientists can track it by measuring changes in the temperature and movement of mass in the absence of gravity. Because the Soret effect occurs in underground oil reservoirs, the results of this investigation could help us better understand such reservoirs.

The Sequencing of DNA in Space

When Rubins’ expedition began, DNA had never been sequenced in space. Within just a few weeks, she and the Biomolecule Sequencer team had sequenced their one billionth “base” – the unit of DNA - aboard the orbiting laboratory. 

The Biomolecule Sequencer investigation seeks to demonstrate that DNA sequencing in microgravity is possible, and adds to the suite of genomics capabilities aboard the space station.

Studying Fluidic Dynamics with SPHERES

The SPHERES-Slosh investigation examines the way liquids move inside containers in a microgravity environment. The phenomena and mechanics associated with such liquid movement are still not well understood and are very different than our common experiences with a cup of coffee on Earth.

Rockets deliver satellites to space using liquid fuels as a power source, and this investigation plans to improve our understanding of how propellants within rockets behave in order to increase the safety and efficiency of future vehicle designs. Rubins conducted a series of SPHERES-Slosh runs during her mission.

Retrieving Science Samples for Their Return to Earth

Precious science samples like blood, urine and saliva are collected from crew members throughout their missions aboard the orbiting laboratory. 

They are stored in the Minus Eighty-Degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI) until they are ready to return to Earth aboard a Soyuz or SpaceX Dragon vehicle.

Measuring Gene Expression of Biological Specimens in Space

Our WetLab-2 hardware system is bringing to the space station the technology to measure gene expression of biological specimens in space, and to transmit the results to researchers on Earth at the speed of light. 

Rubins ran several WetLab-2 RNA SmartCycler sessions during her mission.

Studying the First Expandable Habitat Module on the Space Station

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) is the first expandable habitat to be installed on the space station. It was expanded on May 28, 2016. 

Expandable habitats are designed to take up less room on a spacecraft, but provide greater volume for living and working in space once expanded. Rubins conducted several evaluations inside BEAM, including air and surface sampling.

Better Breathing in Space and Back on Earth

Airway Monitoring, an investigation from ESA (the European Space Agency), uses the U.S. airlock as a hypobaric facility for performing science. Utilizing the U.S. airlock allows unique opportunities for the study of gravity, ambient pressure interactions, and their effect on the human body. 

This investigation studies the occurrence and indicators of airway inflammation in crew members, using ultra-sensitive gas analyzers to evaluate exhaled air. This could not only help in spaceflight diagnostics, but that also hold applications on earth within diagnostics of similar conditions, for example monitoring of asthma.

Hot Science with Cool Flames

Fire behaves differently in space, where buoyant forces are removed. Studying combustion in microgravity can increase scientists’ fundamental understanding of the process, which could lead to improvement of fire detection and suppression systems in space and on Earth. 

Many combustion experiments are performed in the Combustion Integration Rack (CIR) aboard the space station. Rubins replaced two Multi-user Droplet Combustion Apparatus (MDCA) Igniter Tips as part of the CIR igniter replacement operations.

Though Rubins is back on Earth, science aboard the space station continues, and innovative investigations that seek to benefit humans on Earth and further our exploration of the solar system are ongoing. Follow @ISS_Research to keep up with the science happening aboard your orbiting laboratory.  

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black astronauts who have traveled into space [x]


John Glenn, the World’s First Astronaut!

Yesterday the world received the sad news of the death of the very first astronaut, John Glenn.  Yes, yes, Yuri Gagarin beat us Americans and speakers of English into space, but Gagarin was the world’s first cosmonaut!  A small, nit-picky distinction that only a word nerd would make, but this blog is all about words, so the distinction matters.  Astronaut John Glenn piloted the Friendship 7 spacecraft in February of 1962 as part of the Mercury program, a significant American technological milestone that represents one of the few words in the English language to move from pure theoretical abstraction to concrete reality in a single day. 

While humans have been dreaming of flight since the dawn of time, it wasn’t until the turn of the nineteenth century that the Wright brothers achieved that magical 59 second flight covering 852 feet, skimming over the beach not more than twenty feet off the ground. The new science of flight and aeronautics was born and after thousands of years of dreaming about flight, it only took another two and a half decades to coin the term astronaut and set the bar higher for flight. A combination of two Ancient Greek words aster meaning star and nautes meaning a sailor, an astronaut was a sailor of stars.

On April 9, 1959, the word took on a new meaning when NASA announced the first seven American astronauts: Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper, and Deke Slayton. These seven men would become known as the Mercury Seven. More than simply a new word though, these early pioneers of both space and technology became heroes of popular imagination. They inspired generations of young boys and girls into science and technology and the technology derived from the space program has enriched our everyday lives from breakfast foods to automobile safety.  

John Glenn was the most famous and prominent member of the Mercury program and he would go on to a long career in the Senate and returned to space at the age of 77 with the Shuttle program.  A pioneer from the beginning of his career to the end! 

Image of the John Glenn and the Mercury 7 astronauts courtesy NASA.

I’ve been super busy with other projects this month and had planned to do a bunch of illustrations for Black History Month, but my schedule never really permitted it.

However, I’m entering some more free time, so I first decided to do a portrait of Mae Jemison, one of my favorite ladies! Mae is a scientist, astronaut, physician, dancer, actress, and the first black woman to ever go into outer space! 

She’s a wonderful woman who stood up to racial inequality and sexism in her field. A real icon! 

apparently two frontrunners in the 13th doctor’s casting are hayley atwell and vicky mcclure and they’re both fine but

fuck, man. after 55 years they finally deign to consider casting a woman in the role and we go for young and sexy? the doctor is face-blind and alien, with poor social graces and an inescapable sense of otherness. it’s a great part and we’ve seen it taken up by everyone from young-and-pretty peter davison to punk rock grandpa peter capaldi, the men can be young, old, ugly, attractive, goofy, serious, vicious, almost human, but women always, always, ALWAYS have to be young and beautiful. we have to be young and beautiful scientists, doctors, astronauts. we have to be young and beautiful teachers, nurses, artists, designers. we have to be young and beautiful superheroes, secret agents, princesses, villains. even when slated to play an alien we have to be young and beautiful

tbh casting a young and beautiful white woman is only FRACTIONALLY better than just going with another white man. go with an older woman! go with a woman of color! go with a gay woman, a trans woman, an unconventionally attractive woman! why does it always have to be like this

incidentally, this is still the single most hilarious anecdote re: apollo astronauts i have come across

Apollo 13 was halfway to the moon before Swigert realized he had not filed his income taxes and that he would be quite unable to do so before the April 15 deadline. The subject came up as scientist-astronaut Joe Kerwin was reading the Sunday morning news: “Today’s favorite pastime across the nation—Uh oh, have you guys completed your income tax?”

Swigert radioed, “How do I apply for an extension?” Mission control exploded with laughter. “It ain’t too funny, things happened real fast down there and I do need an extension. I’m really serious…”

“You’re breaking up the room down here,” Kerwin said. A few minutes later he assured Swigert that there wouldn’t be any problem: an automatic extension is granted to anyone who is out of the country at tax time.



In 1997, Kalpana Chawla became the first Indian woman to travel in space. She acted as the mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator on flight STS-87 of the Space Shuttle Columbia, traveling over 6.5 million miles in 252 orbits of Earth and logging more than 372 hours in space.

Chawla was selected as a crew member for flight STS-107 three years later. After multiple delays due to scheduling conflicts and technical difficulties, she returned to space on January 16, 2003 to spend approximately sixteen days in orbit conducting a series of experiments on microgravity and other topics. 

Tragically, Space Shuttle Columbia encountered some difficulty reentering the Earth’s atmosphere, disintegrating over Texas and resulting in the death of Chawla and her six fellow crew members on flight STS-107. She has been memorialized through scholarship funds, college dormitories, hostels and more established in her name, including the Kalpana Chawla Government Medical College in her birthplace of Karnal Haryana, India.