Check out the official expedition patch for our citizen science sea ice research project! 

If you’re able to give $25 to support our Kickstarter campaign, you’ll receive this patch and the same as a sticker. I, for one, can’t wait to be sporting this on every piece of clothing I own. Big thanks to our talented designer Thyra Heder

Learn more about the project here: http://bit.ly/2015ArcticOcean

Today’s peek into the archives shows a dinosaur skull uncovered in 1925 during the Museum’s famed Central Asiatic Expeditions. “Dinosaur skull, Shabarahk Usu, Mongolia, 1925,” was photographed by James B. Shackelford. 

From 1921-1928, the Museum sponsored five expedition seasons exploring Mongolia, especially areas in the Gobi Desert. The expeditions were led by Roy Chapman Andrews a well-known explorer, naturalist and paleontologist. 

Images from these expeditions show the Mongol people the expedition encountered as well as photographs of landscapes, expedition camps, camel and motor caravans, religious structures and many fossil sites, including the first discovery of dinosaur egg.

See the collection of images from the Central Asiatic Expeditions


Meals Ready to Eat: Expedition 44 Crew Members Sample Leafy Greens Grown on Space Station

ISS - Expedition 44 Mission patch.

Aug. 7, 2015

Fresh food grown in the microgravity environment of space officially is on the menu for the first time for NASA astronauts on the International Space Station. Expedition 44 crew members, including NASA’s one-year astronaut Scott Kelly, are ready to sample the fruits of their labor after harvesting a crop of “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce Monday, Aug. 10, from the Veggie plant growth system on the nation’s orbiting laboratory.

The astronauts will clean the leafy greens with citric acid-based, food safe sanitizing wipes before consuming them. They will eat half of the space bounty, setting aside the other half to be packaged and frozen on the station until it can be returned to Earth for scientific analysis.

Image above: Astronauts on the International Space Station are ready to sample their harvest of a crop of “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce from the Veggie plant growth system that tests hardware for growing vegetables and other plants in space. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA’s plant experiment, called Veg-01, is being used to study the in-orbit function and performance of the plant growth facility and its rooting “pillows,” which contain the seeds.

NASA is maturing Veggie technology aboard the space station to provide future pioneers with a sustainable food supplement – a critical part of NASA’s Journey to Mars. As NASA moves toward long-duration exploration missions farther into the solar system, Veggie will be a resource for crew food growth and consumption. It also could be used by astronauts for recreational gardening activities during deep space missions.

The first pillows were activated, watered and cared for by Expedition 39 flight engineer Steve Swanson in May 2014. After 33 days of growth, the plants were harvested and returned to Earth in October 2014. At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the plants underwent food safety analysis. The second Veg-01 plant pillows were activated by Kelly on July 8 and grew again for 33 days before being harvested. The seeds had been on the station for 15 months before being activated.

The Veggie system was developed by Orbital Technologies Corp. (ORBITEC) in Madison, Wisconsin, and tested at Kennedy before flight. Veggie, along with two sets of pillows containing the romaine seeds and one set of zinnias, was delivered to the station on the third cargo resupply mission by SpaceX in April 2014.

Image above: NASA plans to grow food on future spacecraft and on other planets as a food supplement for astronauts. Fresh food, such as vegetables, provide essential vitamins and nutrients that will help enable sustainable deep space pioneering. Image Credit: NASA.

The collapsible and expandable Veggie unit features a flat panel light bank that includes red, blue and green LEDs for plant growth and crew observation. Using LED lights to grow plants was an idea that originated with NASA as far back as the late 1990s, according to Dr. Ray Wheeler, lead for Advanced Life Support activities in the Exploration Research and Technology Programs Office at Kennedy.

Wheeler worked with engineers and collaborators to help develop the Veggie unit from a Small Business Innovative Research project with ORBITEC. Dr. Gioia Massa is the NASA payload scientist for Veggie at Kennedy. Massa and others worked to get the flight unit developed and certified for use on the space station. The purple/pinkish hue surrounding the plants in Veggie is the result of a combination of the red and blue lights, which by design emit more light than the green LEDs. Green LEDS were added so the plants look like edible food rather than weird purple plants.

“Blue and red wavelengths are the minimum needed to get good plant growth,” Wheeler said. “They are probably the most efficient in terms of electrical power conversion. The green LEDs help to enhance the human visual perception of the plants, but they don’t put out as much light as the reds and blues.”

Wheeler, Massa and Dr. Gary Stutte, all from Kennedy, previously investigated similar experiments to grow plants in the Habitat Demonstration Unit at NASA’s desert test site near Flagstaff, Arizona, in 2010 and 2011. Wheeler said Veggie will help NASA learn more about growing plants in controlled environment agriculture settings. Similar settings include vertical agriculture, which refers to stacking up shelves of plants that are grown hydroponically and then using electric light sources like red and blue LEDs. This kind of system is popular in some Asian countries and beginning to grow in the U.S.

Image above: (Interior view) NASA plans to grow food on future spacecraft and on other planets as a food supplement for astronauts. Fresh food, such as vegetables, provide essential vitamins and nutrients that will help enable sustainable deep space pioneering. Image Credit: NASA.

“There is evidence that supports fresh foods, such as tomatoes, blueberries and red lettuce are a good source of antioxidants. Having fresh food like these available in space could have a positive impact on people’s moods and also could provide some protection against radiation in space,” Wheeler said.

After the first crop of lettuce was returned from the space station, Massa began working with a team of flight doctors and NASA safety representatives to get approval for the crew to eat the produce.

“Microbiological food safety analysis looks very good on the first Veg-01 crop of romaine lettuce,” Massa said.

Besides the nutritional benefits, could growing fresh produce in space also provide a psychological benefit? Alexandra Whitmire, a scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston is involved in research to answer that question.

Whitmire is the Behavioral Health and Performance Research scientist for NASA’s Human Research Program. Her team supports research related to reducing psychological risks on a Mars mission.

“The Veggie experiment is currently the only experiment we are supporting which involves evaluating the effects of plant life on humans in space,” Whitmire said.

Her team is focused on crew behavioral conditions, performance reduction, and team communication and psychosocial adaption.

Space Station Live: Lettuce Look at Veggie
Video above: Paul Zamprelli of Orbitec, the company that developed the Veggie greenhouse, describes the hardware that supports plant growth and, for the first time, crew consumption of lettuce on the International Space Station. Video Credit: NASA TV.

“Future spaceflight missions could involve four to six crew members living in a confined space for an extended period of time, with limited communication,” Whitmire said. “We recognize it will be important to provide training that will be effective and equip the crew with adequate countermeasures during their mission.”

The countermeasures could include things like meaningful work. Habitat-related modifications also could include plant life. Whitmire said Earth studies have shown plants are associated with well-being and optimal performance. Plants potentially could serve as a countermeasure for long-duration exploration missions.

Massa agrees: “Besides having the ability to grow and eat fresh food in space, there also may be a psychological benefit. The crew does get some fresh fruits or vegetables, such as carrots or apples, when a supply ship arrives at the space station. But the quantity is limited and must be consumed quickly.”

Having something green and growing–a little piece of Earth–to take care of when living and working in an extreme and stressful environment could have tremendous value and impact.

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA
“The farther and longer humans go away from Earth, the greater the need to be able to grow plants for food, atmosphere recycling and psychological benefits. I think that plant systems will become important components of any long-duration exploration scenario,” Massa said.

The system also may have implications for improving growth and biomass production on Earth, thus benefiting the average citizen. Massa said many of the lessons NASA is learning with Veggie could be applied in urban plant factories and other agriculture settings where light is provided by electrical light and water conservation is practiced.

“We hope to increase the amount and type of crop in the future, and this will allow us to learn more about growing plants in microgravity,” Massa said. “We have upcoming experiments that will look at the impacts of light quality on crop yield, nutrition and flavor, both on Earth and in space.”

The team at Kennedy and Johnson hope that Veggie and space gardening will become a valued feature of life aboard the space station and in the future on Mars.

For more information about Veggie, visit here: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/383.html

Related links:

International Space Station (ISS): http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/index.html

one-year Mission: https://www.nasa.gov/content/one-year-crew

Journey to Mars: https://www.nasa.gov/content/nasas-journey-to-mars

NASA’s Human Research Program: https://www.nasa.gov/hrp

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/home/index.html

NASA’s Johnson Space Center: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/johnson/home/index.html

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA Kennedy Space Center/Linda Herridge/Kristine Rainey.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch
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I’m in Helsinki for a few days, resting after finishing up my North Pole season. 

The highlight of my 7th voyage (!) to the North Pole was this polar bear. I had been longing for an “iceberg bear” since my first season in the Arctic, and wow, just amazing when it finally happened. We spent an hour with this wonderful creature, who was very patient with our big orange ship. 

I also took a TON of video which I’ll edit together and share soon but for now, I hope you can get a good feel for this special Arctic moment through these photos.

Field Journal: The Business End Of A DNA Database

Mary Blair, assistant director for research and strategic planning at the Museum’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, is blogging from the field during this summer’s expedition to Vietnam. Read about her 2013 expedition here.

I watched it fall from the tree with anticipation… and with glee saw it make a satisfying splat on the ground. It was loris poop, and it was filled with priceless primate DNA.

Ok, I know, most people aren’t going to share my excitement for animal bowel movements. Taking your dog outside and picking up after him is a chore. But for a primatologist, a modest dropping could contain an invaluable trove of biological information.

In the past, I’ve collected hundreds of primate fecal samples for my dissertation fieldwork on squirrel monkeys in Costa Rica. Looking back, I didn’t realize how good I had it; squirrel monkeys have one of the highest metabolic rates of all primates for their body size, and they defecate several times a day. Not only are they veritable poop machines, they also travel in groups of up to 70 monkeys; that means there’s a pretty good chance that one of them is defecating at any given moment.

It’s not uncommon for primates to be cooperative with poop-collecting researchers. This red-shanked douc (below) we came across during a daytime hike made deposits right in front of our research team, as did several of his colleagues. While the assist is appreciated, we’re not focusing on red-shanked doucs during this trip.

We’re looking for lorises, and unfortunately, lorises don’t make many trips to the figurative forest ‘bathroom.’ These primates poop maybe once a day, are mostly solitary, and are nocturnal! So, we are extremely lucky to get any loris fecal samples in the wild. Every sample is precious, and collecting it feels like striking gold.

The Center for Biodiversity and Conservation team, co-led by Dr. Minh Le, a conservation genetics researcher at Vietnam National University, is attempting to amass the most comprehensive genetic sample of slow lorises in Vietnam to date. His student Giang Cao is with us in the field now to help with sampling, and has just completed her undergraduate thesis on the conservation genetics of slow lorises using the samples we have collected previously. And no, not all the samples stink.

The growing database of genetic information is extremely important. Read why on the Museum blog.