Hackaday Links: August 1, 2021

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Amateur radio operators have a saying: When all else fails, there’s ham radio. And that’s true, at least to an extent — knock out the power, tear down the phone lines, and burn up all the satellites in orbit, and there will still be hams talking about politics on 40 meters. The point is, as long as the laws of physics don’t change, hams will figure out a way to send and receive messages. In honor of that fact, the police in the city of Pune in Maharashtra, India, make it a point to exchange messages with their headquarter using Morse code once a week. The idea is to maintain a backup system, in case they can’t get a message through any other way. It’s a good idea, especially since they rotate all their radio operators through the Sunday morning ritual. We can’t imagine that most emergency services dispatchers would be thrilled about learning Morse, though.

Just because you’re a billionaire with a space company doesn’t mean you’re an astronaut. At least that’s the view of the US Federal Aviation Administration, which issued guidelines pretty much while Jeff Bezos and his merry band of cohorts were floating about above the 100-km high Kármán line in a Blue Origin “New Shepard” rocket. The FAA guidelines make it clear that those making the trip need to have actually done something to qualify as an astronaut, by “demonstrated activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to human space flight safety.” That’s good news to the “Old Shepard”, who clearly was in control of “Freedom 7” during the Mercury program. But the Bezos brothers, teenager Oliver Daemen, and Wally Funk, one of the “Mercury 13” group of women who trained to be NASA astronauts but never got to fly, were really just along for the ride, as the entire flight was automated. It doesn’t take away from the fact that they’ve been to space and you haven’t, of course, but they can’t officially call themselves astronauts. This goes to show that even billionaires can just be ballast too.

Good news, everyone — if you had anything that was being transported aboard the Ever Given, your stuff is almost there. The Suez Canal-occluding container ship finally made it to its original destination in Rotterdam, approximately four months later than originally predicted.  After plugging up the vital waterway for six days last March, the ship along with her cargo and her crew were detained in Egypt’s Great Bitter Lake, perhaps the coolest sounding body of water in the world next to the Dead Sea. Legal squabbling ensued at that point, all the while rendering whatever was in the 20,000-odd containers aboard the ship pretty much pointless. We’d imagine that even with continuous power, whatever was in the refrigerated containers must be pretty nasty by now, so there’s probably a lot of logistics and clean-up left to sort out.

I have to admit that I have a weird love of explosive bolts. I don’t know what it is, but the idea of fasteners engineered to fail in a predictable way under the influence of pyrotechnic charges just tickles something in me. I mean, I even wrote a whole article on the subject once. So when I came across this video explaining how the Space Shuttles were held to the launch pad, I really had to watch it. Surprisingly, the most interesting part of this story was not the explosive aspect, but the engineering problem of supporting the massive vehicle on the launch pad. For as graceful as the Shuttles seemed once they got into orbit, they really were ungainly beasts, especially strapped to the external fuel tank and booster. The scale of the eight frangible nuts used to secure the boosters to the pad is just jaw-dropping. We also liked the idea that NASA decided to catch the debris from the explosions in a container filled with sand.

27 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: August 1, 2021

  1. That means that Yuri Gagarin would not have qualified as an astronaut. His craft was under ground control. He had an envelope of override codes to use if ground control failed.

    Never mind that given the FAI rules in place at the time of his flight he didn’t qualify given that he did not land in his craft.

    1. Surely Yuri Gagarin’s flight would have come under “contributed to human space flight safety”. I mean it was the first human space flight, so his being there infinitely increased human space flight safety.

      1. I could equally argue that every successful trip increases our experience, and the more experienced you are, the safer it is. Thus, everyone’s trip contributes to human space flight safety.

    1. From the wikipedia page on him “two days later, the Soyuz spacecraft arrived at the International Space Station, where he spent eight days participating in experiments related to AIDS and genome research”. That at least qualifies him by “activities during flight that were essential to public safety”, but probably also because people onboard the ISS are expected to do maintenance work for some hours of their days too.

    2. Anyone who goes up on a Soyuz third seat has to operate at least some of the controls because there’s no way to reach them from the other two seats. So that right there means you count as having been crew.

  2. I’m ok with Bezos not meeting the requirements. He was a rich meat puppet riding on other people’s efforts and requiring no skills or thought. But its an interesting line to draw in the sand. Even the spacex version of sending astronauts up takes the pilots almost completely out of the loop with those pretty looking touch screen displays. You could have people in space, performing maintainence and research tasks, performing space walks, but are still not meeting the criteria. An era without any astronauts.

    1. I think performing maintenance tasks alone would qualify you to be ensuring public safety, basically it’s not the trips up and down that makes you an astronaut, it’s doing something novel or doing something for space flight. Mr Bezos can be an astroemptor, a star customer.

    2. Was DD Harriman’s rocket controlled from the earth? I know he hired a jockey to fit in the rocket ship for size and weight reasons, but I can’t remember if he actually piloted the rocket.

  3. Those bolts are freaking heavy. One of my former professors have one of those in her classroom that KSC gave her, she also have an LR-87 in one of the classrooms too. I had to move that stud bolt from one room to another for a demonstration and if I remembered the bloody thing weighed over 300lbs.

  4. If they had died, that would provide data essential to public safety, therefore surviving also does. Millionaire or not, risking one’s life being the first person to fly a new make and model of spacecraft is significant and takes a certain degree of courage. I argue that by the FAA’s own definition, they are all astronauts. They proved that this craft can carry humans at least once without killing them.

  5. So what about Richard Branson and this ceremony where Chris Hadfield gives the virgin galactic crew ‘astronaut wings’ after the first flight? Is that just a stunt from virgin galactic or is it somehow different from Jeff Bezos?

    (personally, I think whatever they call themselves or the definition of astronaut, they don’t have the same abilities, responsibility and purpose that trained astronauts do, so they are just tourists)

    1. When I read the story, there was something about timing. The first billionaire went up, they changed the rules, the second billionaire went up. So it implied the first passes and the second fails, because of timing.

      But if this matters, best to double check.

      I don’t think this was to spite the billionaires, but a realisation that things had changed. These are certainly pioneers, going early, but what follows?

    2. Branson receiving wings from Hadfield makes him as much an astronaut as the captain of an airliner giving a 5 year old a pair of wings makes that child a pilot. At least Branson is a licensed pilot with time on experimental craft. Bezos, on the other hand, lacks anything more than a basic understanding of science.

  6. ” …exchange messages with their headquarter using Morse code once a week.”

    That is both cool and brilliantly practical and so beyond the realities of the poor and inefficient technology implementation found in western law enforcement (I am a volunteer for the local sheriff’s dept – and their practical knowledge of tech is somewhere between a rock and an avocado).

    “but the idea of fasteners engineered to fail in a predictable way under the influence of pyrotechnic charges just tickles something in me”

    I gotta tell you, the Army and the Marines are looking for people such as yourself.

  7. In 1905 being an Aeronaut was a big deal, in 2005 just a peanut eater. In 2121 being an Astronaut will be so common nobody will even remember the word, so flaunt it while people still care.

    1. From interview with woman in ESA astronaut training, scheduled to go up to ISS for a tour next year: Astronauts are people who go up to space to do work, and who get paid. People who are instead paying, and don’t help advance science are “space tourists”.

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