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On July 28 2017, European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli alongside Soyuz MS-05 crew mates Sergey Ryazanskiy and Randy Bresnik will launch on a five-month mission to the International Space Station as part of Expedition 52/53. Five years ago I was lucky enough to interview Nespoli following a talk he gave in Dublin's Little Museum celebrating Science Week 2012.

What were your favourite subjects in school?

Hmm... Well I liked the science things such as math and physics. But I mean I wasn't an exceptional student, I was just a regular guy. I think one of the problems was that school at that time was not really interested in adapting to the student. It had a programme that was not challenging for me, so I didn't really care. I remember I did really poor in Latin. So the bottom line really is that science was my preferred subject, but it's not like I was excelling.

Science Week 2012 interview with Paolo Nespoli at Dublin's Little Museum
So then you took these interests and you ended up studying aeronautical engineering in New York. At what point then did you decide that you wanted to become an astronaut?

The idea of becoming an astronaut came when I was around 10, and I saw American astronauts jumping on the Moon. I think I was 12 or something like that. And then when I saw this guy called John Young jumping on the moon I just thought "Wow!" I want to become an astronaut." But at the time it was just an idea.

Later on when I decided to go back to university, I decided to become an engineer not because I wanted to be an astronaut, but because I liked engineering, so there is a false assumption that you need to figure out what field you need to take in order to become an astronaut - it does not work that way. I caution people all the time - you need to find your passion, and if that passion is in a technical field, then you need to find which technical field. It could be mathematics, physics, engineering, it could be medicine, it could be oceanography. It could be anything. But you don't do a technical degree just so you can become an astronaut, because there is a very good chance that you won't be an astronaut. So you better find a field that you like, pursue it, hope that everything goes okay, and then you will become an astronaut. But you need to have a profession that you can do with pleasure, with passion.

"I saw this guy called John Young jumping on the moon and I just thought "Wow!" I want to become an astronaut!"

So then after years of training, in 2007 you are about to make your first launch on STS-120. What were the main emotions that you felt on launch day, as you were getting ready to make your first flight?

Well you know, the launch itself is a bit of an anti-climax I think. Meaning that you have waited for that for a good part of your life, and finally you are there. And I think what I felt was a huge sense of being relieved. Finally I am here. Finally today is the day in which we launch. The day that I am no longer in a simulator, or doing a sport in which I could injure myself and break a leg and then you don't launch anymore. It's the day that the rocket is working. I mean there are a few chances that they might delay it, but you know, it's a day in which everything gets put together and it's a very happy day.

I felt a good sense of accomplishment that I was able to get there. But I was really concentrated on what I needed to do to do my part in this launch. I wanted to make sure that I am not the cause for a delay or even putting myself or somebody else's life in danger, so I was very much concentrated on my tasks. That took most of my brain power.
Nespoli speaking at Dublin's Little Museum for Science Week 2012.

Three years later you launched on the Soyuz Spacecraft as part of Expedition 26/27. What are the main differences between launching on the Soyuz and launching on the shuttle?

Flying the Soyuz is like driving a Ferrari in a circuit. I mean it's an extremely capable vehicle because it's extremely fast, and it performs very well. At the same time it's very delicate.  Anything can influence the launch sequence, the rocket itself, and the crew.

While the Soyuz is a very small piece of equipment, it's still very reliable, and when the Russians say you will launch on the 15th of December at one o'clock at night - you will launch on the 15th of December at one o'clock at night!

If you have flown on the shuttle, you kind of look at it with skepticism. You then rethink this when you train, because you see how reliable it is. How ingenious it is able to do these complex tasks with little equipment and little complexity. So there's a lot of things to be said about that. I think we can learn from both the philosophies of the shuttle and the Soyuz because we really need to build  a capable vehicle that will bring us to the Moon and Mars and continue exploration. We need to make it perform and we also need to understand that complicating things is not really efficient and does not work.

So then when you arrived at the space station after your two day catch up, what were the main thing that you wanted to achieve during your 6 months on station?

My goal was to be a good crew member. This means working effectively with Mission Control, the other crew members, to do my best, get all he scientific results from all the experiments we performed, and most of all making the space station work effectively. So I wanted to do a good mission. Nothing exceptional but a decent and good mission, and it turned out that this is exactly what I did.

It was nice being up there you know, I really enjoyed it, and I felt that after the initial period of adapting to life in space; which was really hard work, I felt I was able to contribute effectively to what was going on. I worked really well with Mission Control, I worked really well with my crew members. I made myself available any time I could, to go above and beyond what was the call of duty. I made myself available to work on weekends because I felt it's such an exceptional place to be, and I really need to take advantage of all the things that are there.

You orbited the Earth once every 90 minutes. What was the best thing you have seen from space?

Paolo Nespoli training at Star City, Russia. credit: ESA
Difficult to say. It's difficult to say because I started the mission looking out of the Cupola (360 degree field of view window on the ISS). By the way it's not so easy to look down because of things like time. If you have a few minutes in the Cupola, most of the time you see oceans and clouds. I mean there are a LOT of clouds! I would say that more than 50% of the planet is covered by clouds. And it also very difficult to make out where you are. However this is only at the beginning. Then there is a magic moment about one third into the mission where suddenly, you understand where you are. You peek out of the window and now you know what continent you are flying over, what nation you are looking at, what river, what sea it is. Then you start picking out things- special places, mines, cities. It becomes really really interesting. Then I thought I'm going to take a picture of 2 or 3 exceptional places that I really want to go and see once I go back to Earth.

I wanted to go back and see those places, and then I started taking pictures. Sure enough, instead of ending up with 2 or 3, I ended up with three hundred and something, which obviously is impossible because I don't have either the money or the time to visit all those places. So really it is difficult to say which is the best, because from up there, everything looks so astonishing. I mean frozen lands from up there look pretty inhospitable, but from space they look wonderful. Just so interesting.

When Expedition 27 was coming to an end, what were your feelings as you prepared to leave the ISS, your home for the last 6 months?

Well you know, six months pass fairly quickly, which is astonishing, but this is what happens. And six months pass even quicker because we had so many visiting vehicles- 2 shuttles and things like that, so we were always busy busy busy. But it turns out that the last shuttle was delayed, and it came at exactly the moment in which we needed to leave which caused an operational problem. They actually delayed our return by a week, and they were thinking of delaying it even more. We even asked to be delayed even more because we wanted to stay up there. Then it turned out that this was not possible. But I would have to say in my opinion the strongest emotion was that I was glad that the six months had passed in a pretty good way.

I felt I worked effectively with Mission Control and the other crew members. We got a lot of data, we really worked well in orbit, nothing major happened, so I had a good sense of accomplishment which was pretty good. I have to say however that I was not ready to go home really, because I had other things to do, but you know, time passes and things need to be done. And I have to say that in a certain way when I was going home that it was a good mission. I mean it doesn't take much to turn a good mission into a disaster, so in a certain way I was happy to be where I was. I did not cry when I left the station, well.. maybe I cried but it was more emotional I think. I did not live with displeasure, I mean, I was very neutral. I was coming back but I was neither happy nor sad. I think I came back exactly the time I needed to come back.

In the last couple of weeks, it has been announced that there will be a year long mission to the ISS. Do you feel that now is the right time to carry out a mission like this?

The Soyuz MS-05 crew ready for launch credit: Roscosmos
I feel we need to know more about what happens to the body and what happens to the mind when you stay in space for a long time. There was a Russian cosmonaut who stayed in space for well over a year, so the Russians have done  this in a more restricted and confined environment (Mir Space Station) than what is today space station, where we have internet, telephone, teleconference capabilities so we can talk to Mission Control whenever we want. So I feel we need to understand more about longer duration missions if we want to go to Mars and continue exploration.

I think it's a good time for NASA, and the community to tackle a one year mission. I personally would like to go on a one year mission. I know many US astronauts who volunteer for that, so NASA really had problems to select an astronaut, but basically yeah, I think that now is a good time, and I think we should do it.

Do you feel that in order to achieve the goal of landing on Mars, all space faring nations like the US, Europe, Russia, China and India all need to work together in order to achieve this goal?

Well you know, there are technical considerations, and there are political considerations. I'm not sure I can do political considerations because this is not my field. But obviously, in my opinion, the most problematic point of going to Mars is to find secure political support. It's not a technological problem, it's not a capability problem, it's more support. Going to Mars costs a lot, and we need good political will, and I feel that now, we do not have such a political will.

I think that going to Mars will be better done if completed on an international point of view. A mission to Mars by the human race. Instead of just by Italy, United States, Russia or China or whatever. I think it would be better if we went as humanity, but I am not sure if this would work. It might be that the Chinese decide that it is an important strategical goal for their nation to go to Mars, and they will decide to go. For sure it's easy if one nation decides. It's more difficult if a consortium of nations is in charge of this task. I don't know! I feel it would be much better for humanity if we went as human beings, as united nations or something like that. But as you know it's not so simple!

To celebrate Paolo's return to the ISS, Blackrock Castle Observatory are offering free admission from 16:30 – 17:00. For more information, please click here.

Live coverage of the Soyuz MS-05 launch, rendezvous and docking to the International Space Station will be available on NASA TV.
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Crowds of excited space enthusiasts descended on Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) on Tuesday evening for the International Space University's annual Gerald D. Soffen Memorial Lecture. This year's lecture was given by former NASA astronaut and Patron of CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory, Dan Tani.

The annual lecture is one of the many highlights of the International Space University's (ISU) Space Studies Program (SSP) which is taking place this year at CIT from June 26 - August 25.

Dan Tani backdropped by a picture of Cork he took from space.
credit: ISU



ISU Chancellor and Apollo 11 astronaut Dr Buzz Aldrin was originally scheduled to deliver the Soffen Lecture but had to cancel his trip to Cork and Ireland last week due to medical advice. Tani shared in the audience's disappointment that Aldrin wasn't able to make it this time, but was quick to pay tribute to the second man to walk on the Moon's contributions to space exploration.

Beneath Cork Midsummer's 'Museum of the Moon,' Tani began his talk by describing his family background - many years of which involved his parents and siblings living in a Japanese internment camp in Utah during World War 2. After the war, his family then moved to St. Louis, Missouri and later to Philadelphia where Tani was born. 

Tani, who grew up idolising Major League Baseball players told the audience in a touching tribute that his mother was in fact his real hero after losing his father aged just four years old.

"Leaving my mother with two in college, two in high school and me, just a four year old, my mom's my hero and she should be everybody's hero. She was a great woman."

Looking back on his earliest childhood fascinations with space, Dan admitted to spending much of his time (when he wasn't playing baseball and pretending to be a cowboy) building and flying model rockets out of wood and paper.

"I loved the power of holding the button and making something go so fast and so high and then I started to imagine 'What is it like up there? What can you see?" so that sparked the exploration interest in me. I didn't have any sort of clue that thirty years later I'd get my picture in front of this rocket (space shuttle Endeavour) a couple of hours after my first landing in 2001. A lot of things happened in those thirty years!"
Tani speaking to a capacity crowd under the Museum of the Moon at CIT.
credit: Clare Keogh

However, Tani noted that the most important thing to happen to him in the years between building model rockets and actually flying a real one into space was something he described as "something few men have the nerve to do" - marrying a Cork woman. 

"Oh and I became an astronaut too!"

Tani first flew in space aboard shuttle Endeavour on STS-108 in 2001 on a twelve-day mission to the International Space Station. It was on this flight that he got to carry out his first of six career spacewalks. He later flew aboard Discovery on STS-120 in 2007 which delivered him to the orbiting laboratory for a long duration stay aboard the ISS as part of Expedition 16.

Astronaut Dan then narrated a video of a shuttle launch for the audience -

"It's really as cool as you think it is. Everything is shaking like crazy. You are both focused on your instruments and your procedures but also you've got half an eye out the window just taking in this incredible experience of being accelerated to orbital velocity. I recommend it."

While Tani's hobbies on the ground include playing golf, one of his favourite on-orbit activities was taking pictures of the Earth below.

"In four months I took about 16,000 pictures of the Earth."

Some of Tani's Tani's favourite spots on Earth to image from space included cities at night, glaciers, as well as the Australian outback. However, it was not until day 112 into a 120 day mission that Tani was finally able to get his first clear view of Ireland from space, before sharing a few tips on how to spot Cork from orbit.

"Along the coast you can spot this nub sticking out, and that's the Old Head of Kinsale. Then once you find the Old Head, you can find Kinsale, Cork Harbour and it was awesome for me to be able to see my second home from space and get some good pictures."

After describing the novelty of eating, sleeping and brushing your teeth in space, Tani also described the difficulty of going to the bathroom in microgravity -
credit: Clare Keogh

"If you ever want to appreciate gravity in your life, think about it in the bathroom, because without gravity everything floats! It's one of the big fears of first time fliers."

Tani turned the audience's attention to the future of human space travel -

"Some people think we should to go back to the Moon and use it as a place to learn how to live on a different terrestrial surface and the advantage is that it's just a few days away. Some people want to go to an asteroid and get samples.. but I would say that everybody wants to go to Mars so the real discussion point is what's the best path there..

It's exciting that we're involving so many countries, and I would hope that in a day or in a week or so, we could add Ireland to this list. Ireland could be a significant contributor to the space programme and I think just having ISU here this year will help do that."

Tani, who now teaches science and technology at the American School in Japan, closed by describing his latest mission - the mission to inspire the the next generation of scientists, engineers and astronauts to reach for the stars, and help them realise that endless possibilities lie just around the corner if you're willing to work hard on your dreams!

Be sure to share your #SummerOfSpace and #SSP17 experiences online using #OurSpaceOurTime.

You can check out a full list of events taking place nationwide between June and August this year in the Summer of Space brochure which can be downloaded here or by visiting Blackrock Castle Observatory's website.

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After a journey of over 73 million miles, the Expedition 49/50 crew have safely returned to Earth after completing a 173 day mission to the International Space Station.

Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov with crew mates Andrey Borisenko and Shane Kimbrough landed their vehicle in the remote steppe of Kazakhstan, southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan at 11:21 p.m. GMT.
Kimbrough, Ryzhikov and Borisenko adjust to life back on Earth shortly
after landing. credit: NASA/Ingalls

The trio bid farewell to their crew mates early this morning before hatches between the station and the Soyuz were closed. This was followed at 7:56 a.m. by the undocking of the spacecraft from the station's Poisk module - marking the official beginning of Expedition 51.

Since their arrival to station the crew have conducted hundreds of scientific experiments across a wide range of scientific fields including biology, biotechnology, physics, Earth observation and human physiology experiments.

Landing in perfect conditions under clear skies, the crew were extracted one by one from the vehicle by Russian search and recovery forces at the landing site and flown to the remote town of Karaganda a short time later for a welcoming ceremony.

Ryzhikov and Borisenko will board a Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center plane for a flight back to Star City to be reunited with their families, while Kimbrough will return to the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

This morning's landing brings to an end the first long duration space flight for Ryzhikov, and the second for his Russian crew mate Borisenko, who first flew to the station as a Flight Engineer on Expedition 27/28. He now logs a total of 337 days in space.

NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough, who previously flew on a short-duration mission to the station on space shuttle mission STS-126, returns to Earth with a combined 184 days in space under his belt.

Before his departure this morning, Kimbrough handed over the reigns of the International Space Station to Whitson in the traditional Change of Command ceremony, in which he recognised the difference science conducted in space has for people the world over;

"We get the ability to interact with things up here that benefit all humanity."
The Soyuz MS-02 carrying Ryzhikov, Borisenko and Kimbrough shortly before landing at 11:21 a.m. GMT.
Credit: NASA/Ingalls
In the meantime, station commander Peggy Whitson alongside Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet remain aboard station. Whitson, who became the first two-time female commander of the International Space Station with this morning's departure paid tribute to her commander for the past four and a half months.

"Up here we don't wear shoes but Shane's leaving me some big socks to fill!"

Meanwhile back on Earth, veteran Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA astronaut Jack Fischer are in the final stages preparations for their launch to the International Space Station. The duo will launch in their Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on April 20.

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by Cian O'Regan

Space industry professionals and enthusiasts from around the world descended on Cork County Hall on Friday to discuss the growth of the Irish space industry, as well as preview the Cork Institute of Technology, Blackrock Castle Observatory and Ireland playing host to the International Space University's Space Studies Program from June 26 - August 25 this year.

Guests were welcomed by the Mayor of County Cork, Cllr. Seamus McGrath, who kicked off proceedings by introducing the first speaker of the day, Orla Flynn.
Niall Smith, Head of Research at CIT outlines plans for the International Space
University's Space Studies Program coming to Cork this summer. credit: Phil O'Reilly

Flynn is the Deputy Director of the Cork Chamber of Commerce and Vice President for External Affairs at CIT. She expressed her delight at the fact that Cork and CIT was chosen to host SSP17, and was looking forward to seeing the growth of the space industry in Ireland, particularly in Cork.

Following Flynn was David Gibbons - Head of the European Space Agency Space Solutions Centre in Ireland - based at the Tyndall National Institute. Gibbons began by stating that the Irish space industry is currently worth €76m annually and expects that figure to double in the next five years. He was quick to point out that most people don't even know that there is a space industry in Ireland.

"The SpaceX Dragon - the first private vehicle to visit the International Space Station had 350 components that were built in Ireland, so we're already in space" Gibbons said.

"At the Space Solutions Centre we take technologies from space an spin them into existing companies." 

The aim of the Space Solutions Centre is to provide easy access to the technical expertise of ESA. It provides €50,000 to startup companies looking to apply space technologies on the ground.

Omar Hatamleh is the Chief Innovation Officer and Engineer at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. He is also the Director of the Space Studies Program.

Hatemleh explained the structure of SSP which is now in its thirtieth year. Taught through core lectures, team projects and workshops, the curriculum covers the principal space related fields, both non-technical and technical and ranges from policy and law, business, management and humanities to life sciences, engineering, physical sciences and space applications.

"This will be a unique opportunity to inspire young people to get involved in science, technology, engineering and mathematics." 

Bringing the Space Studies Program to Cork will also bring with it substantial economic benefits. It is expected that over €3m will be generated in the local economy as a result of SSP.

Next to speak after Hatamleh was Niall Smith - Head of Research at Cork Institute of Technology and a driving force behind the team bringing SSP17 to Cork as the Lead of the CIT Local Organising Committee. He gave an overview of some of the key features of this year's program which includes:
  • 132 participants from all over the world will take part in this year's program. They will be assisted by 50 ISU staff members.
  • 100 visiting experts.
  • €1.7m will go into the local economy directly from ISU.
  • SSP17 will be the largest conference programme ever held in Cork.
Dr. Buzz Aldrin, the International Space University’s Chancellor and Apollo 11 moonwalker will kick off the 30th edition of ISU’s Space Studies Program SSP17 on Monday June 26.

Aldrin will in addition address SSP17 participants, faculty and the general public on the evening of 27th June 2017. Aldrin is one of only twelve humans to have walked on the moon, after he participated in the Gemini program. He is one of the leading advocates for a human Mars mission.

Official poster for SSP17
credit: International Space University
"There's no silver bullet in terms of SSP but the chance for opportunity is huge."
Over the course of the nine-week programme, Cork and CIT will play host to fifteen public events which will also be live-streamed, seven astronauts, a space jobs fair as well as a lecture by former Director of NASA's Ames Research Center and current President of Breakthrough Innovation, Pete Worden, to highlight just a few.

Also present on the day was James Fogarty - Divisional Manager of Cork City Council and a self-confessed space geek who praised the efforts of those already involved in not only the Irish space industry, but the space industry which exists in Cork -

"I think the credibility of the space industry in Cork is bigger than we realise."

For the latest news on the International Space University's Space Studies Program coming to Cork this summer - be sure to keep up to date with Irish Space Blog, Blackrock Castle Observatory on their websiteTwitter and on Facebook and the International Space University.

Be part of a fantastic summer of space in Cork by using the hashtag #OurSpaceOurTime and #SSP17 on social media.
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by Cian O'Regan

Hundreds of people from all over Ireland descended on Dublin's National Concert Hall on Monday for an evening of Scintillating Science hosted by Dara O'Briain.

The night began with O'Briain inviting physicist and professor of science education at UCD, Shane Bergin on stage to conduct a quick hearing test on the audience.

Using oscilloscopes, Bergin tested the crowd's ability to hear different pitches of sound waves - with all but one person(admitting to never have used earphones) being able to hear the highest frequency.

O'Briain and Bergin experimenting with liquid nitrogen
credit: Naoise Culhane
After the first of the evening's experiments, O'Briain was joined on stage by aspiring Irish space farers - STEAM artist and science communicator Niamh Shaw, and Ireland's very own aquanaut Marc O'Griofa.

O'Griofa is a physician, scientist, engineer and an expert diver by trade who works to train astronauts while testing procedures for future space flights.

Admitting that his Irish charm may have had something to do with getting a job at NASA, Marc recently returned from an eight-day mission this past July to conduct science and research for the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO)-21 mission.

O'Griofa - who was responsible for flying the first Irish experiment to the International Space Station - conducted a multitude of groundbreaking scientific experiments during his time living on the ocean floor.

The NEEMO-21 crew, which included NASA astronauts Reid Wiseman and Megan Behnken and European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer, tested a DNA sequencing device, the operational performance of a HoloLens for human spaceflight cargo transfer, building a coral nursery as well as evaluating various techniques and equipment for a manned mission to the Moon, an asteroid or Mars.

"There's no way to simulate risk if there's no risk there!" O'Griofa replied when asked why NASA sends astronauts training for space station missions to an underwater habitat.

"If there's an emergency, we have to go through a 15-hour decompression to purge the nitrogen out of our system.. It's not as simple as being able to just go out the hatch and swim back up to the surface.."

O'Briain was quick to point out that he had a weightless experience of his own - filming a hysterical yet insightful segment for the popular BBC show 'Stargazing Live' in the Zero-G vomit comet.

From the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean to the Utah Desert, Niamh Shaw is getting ready to spend a month living and working in a space habitat to simulate a mission to Mars.

Irish aquanaut Marc O'Griofa talks about his NEEMO-21 mission to conduct science
 and research on the ocean floor. credit: Naoise Culhane
In February of next year, Shaw will be part of an international crew to simulate a mission to the red planet at the Mars Desert Research Station(MDRS) near Hanksville, Utah.

During her mission, Niamh will study how living in a confined space(a factor astronauts will have to deal with on a journey to Mars)affects humans both physically and mentally. The MDRS is a two-story cylindrical building eight meters in diameter that can house seven crew members at one time.

Equipped with an airlock to conduct spacewalks, Shaw and her team will have to contend with a sixteen minute delay to mimic real-time communications between astronauts on Mars and Mission Control back on Earth.

After a short break, the theme of the event turned from space to the science of winning, with O'Briain being joined on stage by psychologist Dr Ian Robertson to discuss the science of the brain.

Robertson educated those in attendance with fun facts about the brain. Did you know that the sole purpose of having bends and turns on the majority of our roads is not to avoid hills, mountains and rivers, but to keep the mind of the driver alert and ready to adapt to change?

Jessie Barr - the Irish Olympian who is currently working toward a PhD on the mental well-being in sport - admitted to using this to her advantage in running a 400 meter hurdles race.

"You run that race in about fifty seconds, and with ten hurdles in your way, you've got to be ready and alert all the time.."

Jessie's brother Thomas Barr admitted that he is at the peak of his motivational reasoning having just finished in fourth place in the men's 400m Olympic final in Rio.

Barr attributes this to setting small goals which develop into something big.

"If you asked me beforehand where I hoped to finish in the Olympics, I would have said the final, but sometimes reality goes way beyond your expectations."

Dara O'Briain quizzes Niamh Shaw on her upcoming mission to simulate a
mission to Mars early next year. credit: Naoise Culhane
Similarly Brian Cody, with fourteen All-Ireland medals under his belt as both a player and manager, focuses on achieving small goals before dreaming big.

Now in his nineteenth season at the helm of The Cats, Cody puts a big emphasis on making sure his players are in the right state of mind before setting foot on the pitch.

"You can tell them to be ready for September, but if you don't prepare enough physically and more importantly mentally, then you'll be ready - you just won't be there!"

Cody mentioned that when it comes down to All Ireland Final day - what dictates how well a player is going to perform isn't his fitness - but his state of mind.

O'Briain recalled how golfer Colin Montgomerie would be able to make one hundred four-foot putts in a row in practice, but when it came to making that same, deceptively simple four-footer going down the stretch of a major championship, there was no guarantee that he would sink the putt. But why does this happen?

Well, it all comes back to Marc O'Griofa's point - you can't simulate risk if it's not there!

To bring the evening to a close, Shane Bergin was invited back on stage to conduct the final experiment of the night.

Armed with a tank filled with liquid nitrogen, Bergin and O'Briain attempted to mark the beginning of Science Week with a bang! However, sometimes scientific experiments don't always go according to plan, as was the case when the duo were unsuccessful in their attempts to demonstrate the explosive power of the boiling liquid when sealed in a bottle.

After several minutes with their hands cupping their ears, the audience were happy to leave with their eardrums intact. It is still unclear at this time whether or not the bottle has exploded.
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Speaking in front of a capacity crowd at the 67th International Astronomical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, SpaceX founder, CEO and chief designer, Elon Musk, boldly unveiled his futuristic plans for sending humans to Mars.

In his much anticipated speech entitled "Making Humans a Multiplanetary Spacies," the billionaire outlined his ideas for colonizing the red planet in his trademark thinking-out-loud style of speaking.
Musk speaking in front of a capacity crowd the the International Astronomical
Congress on September 27. credit: bloomberg.com

He began by asking the question, "Why Mars?", before explaining that solar system real-estate is limited and that finding a prime spot is not as easy as people may think.

Musk stated that if a manned launch to Mars were to take place right now, a seat on board that ship would cost an astronomical $10bn per person. In other words, the system does not yet exist.

However, Musk's mantra has and always will revolve around driving down the cost of getting to space and making it accessible to all.

"The cost of a Mars ticket should equal the median cost of a house in the United States.. which is about $200,000" he went on to say. "You can't create a self-sustaining civilisation on Mars if the price is ten billion dollars per person."

This Musk explained, could only be achieved by addressing four key issues. These issues are:

-Full reusability
-Refilling in orbit
-Propellant filling on Mars
-Using the right propellant

If he succeeds in doing so, Musk believes he will be able to reduce the cost per tonne to Mars by five million percent, and in the process, facilitating the mass landing of around a million or so humans on our nearest neighbour by the 2060s.

While proclamations of slashing ticket prices to Mars were greeted with enthusiastic whoops and hollers from the crowd, the question that everyone wanted answered, was what exactly will this interplanetary space system look like?

Standing in front of a fifteen-foot-tall image of Mars, occasionally Musk would turn to catch a subtle glimpse of the revolving red globe, as if to remind himself that Mars was still there - that it wasn't so far away.

Getting to Mars
Blasting off atop a 254-foot booster from the same launch used on man's first voyage to land a man on the Moon, SpaceX's "Planetary Spaceship"(yet to be officially named, but Musk admitted that he would probably name the first ship "Heart of Gold" as a tribute to the ship used in "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy") would firstly be delivered into a preliminary parking orbit around the Earth.
SpaceX System Architecture credit: SpaceX

The booster, similar in profile of returning a Falcon-9 first stage to Earth, would then return directly to the launchpad, refuel its tanker, and launch back up to the parked manned vehicle in orbit.

This refueling process would be repeated four more times before the interplanetary ship would get the green light to rendezvous with the red planet.


In what he described as something straight out of Battlestar Galactica, Musk said he hopes to include not one, not two, but a thousand Mars ships in a single fleet, with up to two hundred people per spacecraft.

The Planetary Spaceship will use its aerodynamic lift ability to enter the Martian atmosphere, and will come to a soft landing on the surface of the planet using its propulsive rocket system.

In theory, this would allow the Spaceship to land on any rocky body in the solar system, and provided there would be fueling stations along the way, it would result in humans gaining access to almost anywhere in the solar system.

The people in these craft would require only "a few days of training" before being certified to fly. If you arrive at the place and decide you don't like it as much as you thought and yearn to come home - don't worry! With the billionaire planning on sending fleets to Mars roughly every two years, there'll be another ship along shortly to bring you back to mother Earth.

As far as safety is concerned, for the first flights of the Interplanetary Spaceship on a journey to Mars, Musk offered the grim prediction that "The risk of fatality will be high."

Throughout the speech, Musk shied away from setting any concrete dates for accomplishing the above goals, estimating that it will take anywhere between forty and one hundred years to develop a self-sustaining species from the first ship's rendezvous.

What happens now?
As a space enthusiast, Musk excites me with his audacious plans to turn humans into a multiplanetary species. The fact that someone is even thinking about doing so, let alone already investing tens of millions of dollars in order to make it a reality brings me a profound sense of joy for the present, and quiet optimism for the future.

"With each passing day, the barrier separating science fiction
and science fact is constantly being eroded" 
credit: SpaceX
Scouring online forums, websites and fan pages in the hours after Musk delivered his keynote, reactions ranged from sheer delight to downright doom and gloom. If Musk's speech was a movie, it would have received mixed reviews, and here's why..

Following the catastrophic loss of two of his Falcon-9 booster's in just fifteen months(for which a smoking gun in the second accident is yet to be identified), SpaceX's reputation as a reliable company capable of delivering payloads and one day astronauts in to space has taken a hard blow.

By the beginning of 2018 Musk hopes to begin conducting missions of its Red Dragon spacecraft(the vehicle that will deliver SpaceX's first astronauts to Mars), with Mars flights set to commence before 2023.

However, with the Hawthorne company yet to deliver a single astronaut to the International Space Station in its Crew Dragon, Elon Musk's timelines for the moment must be taken with a pinch of salt.

In summary, let us recognise that space is an awfully big ocean, and getting comfortable in the shallow cosmic waters of low-Earth orbit is a must before even thinking about venturing any deeper. It is therefore essential that Musk invest as much time and money into figuring what is going wrong with the Falcon-9, before pressing on with bigger issues.

With each passing day, the barrier separating science fiction and science fact is constantly being eroded. But it is mandatory that Musk firstly learns how to fly his troublesome Falcon as close to total reliability as possible. Otherwise, none of this will ever get off the ground - let alone to Mars.
Godspeed, Elon Musk!
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Following a 2.8 billion kilometer inter-planetary journey lasting almost five years, NASA's Juno spacecraft has successfully entered orbit around Jupiter on a bold mission to unlock the secrets of our solar system and its largest planet.


Artists rendering of Juno approaching Jupiter
credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Amid rapturous scenes in Juno Mission Control in NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory(JPL) in Pasadena, California, Jupiter orbit insertion was confirmed at 11:53 p.m. EDT marking the probe's long-awaited arrival at the gas giant.

Travelling at speeds of 58 kilometers a second(making it the fastest spacecraft to enter orbit around a planet), Juno fired its onboard engine for a risky thirty-five minute burn(insertion maneuver) on time at 11:18 p.m.

“The spacecraft worked perfectly, which is always nice when you’re driving a vehicle with 1.7 billion miles on the odometer,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager from JPL.

The burn occurred at the spacecraft’s closest approach to Jupiter, and slowed it enough to be captured by the giant planet’s gravity into a 53.5-day orbit.

Following an initial capture orbit, Jupiter will begin recording scientific data on its third orbit of the planet by which point the spacecraft will have entered a more stable 14 day-orbit.

Flying from north to south, the spacecraft’s point of closest approach above the cloud tops varies with each flyby -- coming as close as about 2,600 miles (4,200 kilometers) and as far out as 4,900 miles (7,900 kilometers). As Juno exits over the south pole, its orbit carries it far beyond even the orbit of the Jovian moon Callisto.

After the main engine burn, Juno will be in orbit around Jupiter. The spacecraft will spin down from 5 to 2 RPM, turn back toward the sun, and ultimately transmit telemetry via its high-gain antenna.

Over the course of this historic mission Juno will complete thirty-seven orbits over the next twenty months before burning up in Jupiter;s atmosphere to bring the mission to an end in February 2018.

“Independence Day always is something to celebrate, but today we can add to America’s birthday another reason to cheer - Juno is at Jupiter,” said NASA administrator Charlie Bolden.

The main goals of the Juno mission include:

-To find out how much water is in Jupiter's atmosphere, which helps determine which planet formation theory is correct (or if new theories are needed).
-To look deep into Jupiter's atmosphere to measure composition, temperature, cloud motions and other properties.
-To map Jupiter's magnetic and gravity fields, revealing the planet's deep structure
-To explore and study Jupiter's magnetosphere near the planet's poles, especially the auroras – Jupiter's northern and southern lights – providing new insights about how the planet's enormous magnetic force field affects its atmosphere.
-The possible discovery of new Jovian moons.

Juno's view of a half-lit Jupiter and four of its moons before all scientific
instruments were turned off prior to Jupiter Orbit Insertion(JOI) credit: NASA/JPL





                                                                                                                                                One of the main mission objectives is to discover how a giant planet like Jupiter came into being,  and how it evolved. This cloudy world is a primary example of a giant planet, and can also give us  clues as to how other giant gas planets(called "Hot-Jupiters") which we have discovered orbiting  other stars, may have formed.

Juno will accomplish this by studying the planet's cloudy atmosphere and its overall composition. By the end of the mission it is hoped that we will be able to see how Jupiter was born, and how important of a role it played in the formation of other planets in the solar system.

Using the suite of scientific instruments aboard Juno, teams back on Earth will study the magnetosphere of Jupiter, which will tell us if Jupiter has a solid core, and how big or small it might be.

Why the name Juno?
In Greek and Roman mythology, Jupiter was the king of the gods, as well as god of the sky and thunder. Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to hide his mischief, and his wife, the goddess Juno, was able to peer through the clouds and reveal Jupiter's true nature.

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More information on the Juno mission is available at: http://www.nasa.gov/juno

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There is no denying that the transit of planet Mercury is one of the most spectacular astronomical phenomena we witness on Earth. There's a transit of Mercury happening on May 9 and here's how you can see it with your own eyes.

What is the transit of Mercury?
A transit of Mercury occurs when our solar system's innermost planet comes between the Sun and the Earth, and Mercury is seen as a small black dot moving across the face of the Sun. Transits of Mercury occur 13 or 14 times every hundred years, which averages out to one every seven years.

How can I see it?
The transit of Mercury will begin at 11:12 UTC and last seven and a half hours.
credit: www.skyandtelescope.com
This year's transit will be visible(weather permitting) from North and South America, Europe, Africa and most of continental Asia.

Mercury will appear as a tiny dot on the surface of the Sun - covering approximately 1% of the solar disk.

However, viewers are warned not to look directly at the Sun with the naked eye as it may result in irreversible damage.

In order to view the transit safely, you will need a telescope with a solar filter. But don't worry if you don't have either of these, you can also project the image of the Sun using a piece of card with a pinhole in it. Be sure to contact your local astronomy club for more information on events that may be held in your local area to view the transit of Mercury.

The seven-and-a-half hour-long transit will begin at 11:12 a.m. UTC when Mercury makes first contact with the solar disk. The moment of greatest transit will occur at 2:57 p.m. when the planet is roughly mid-way through its path across the Sun's disk. The transit will end at the moment of final contact at 6:42 p.m.

If you're clouded over or living in a part of the world where the transit isn't visible. NASA will be providing a a near-live feed of images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite will be available at www.nasa.gov/transit.

Clear skies!

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The SpaceX Dragon capsule has successfully launched from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on a mission to deliver science to the International Space Station.

The Commercial Resupply Services(CRS)-8 launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket at 9:43 p.m. Eastern Time under clear skies carrying science research, crew supplies and hardware to the orbiting laboratory in support of the Expedition 47 and 48 crews.
Dragon on its eight flight to the International Space Station launches
atop a Falcon 9 rocket at 10:43 p.m. from Cape Canveral in Florida.
credit: SpaceX

Just minutes after first stage separation, the rocket's first stage fell back to Earth, fired its thrusters and deployed its landing legs before successfully landing upright for the first time on a barge at sea. Today marks the second time that Elon Musk's company has accomplished such a feat - the first coming back on December 21.

The vehicle will arrive at the space station on Sunday April 10 loaded with 6,900 pounds/3,130 kilograms of science and payload to further advance the research capabilities of the International Space Station. From the Cupola, ESA astronaut Tim Peake will capture Dragon with the station's robotic arm, Canadarm-2, before flight controllers in Mission Control in Houston berth Dragon to the Earth-facing port of the station's Harmony module a few hours later.

Today's launch marks the Return to Flight of Dragon having been lost shortly after liftoff on its seventh mission to resupply the complex in June 2015.

Sunday's arrival will be an historic one, as it marks the first time that two commercially-built cargo vehicles will be docked to the International Space Station simultaneously. Orbital ATK's Cygnus cargo craft is currently berthed to the Unity module of the ISS.

On April 15, robotic operators will once again take control of Canadarm-2 and remove the much anticipated Bigelow Expandable Activity Module(BEAM), and berth it to the aft port of the station's Tranquility module.

Bigelow Expandable Activity Module(BEAM)BEAM is an expandable habitat built by Bigelow Aerospace that will remain on station for a period of two years. NASA and its partners are currently investigating the practicalities of using expandable habitats in the near-Earth environment as well as on future missions to the Moon or Mars.

This will be the first time an expandable habitat will be docked to the station, so the procedure will take some time, allowing teams to closely observe the expansion process as well as the safety of the crew and the station. During this time the module will expand from its packed dimensions of 7.75 feet in diameter and 5.7 feet long, to its pressurised size of 10,5 feet in diameter and 12 feet long.
The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module(BEAM) being loaded into the
trunk of the SpaceX Dragon capsule at Cape Canaveral. credit: NASA

The expandable module is made up of soft fabrics instead of metal which allows the habitat to be packed to a small volume during launch and later expanded to its full size in space. Two radiation sensors, temperature and micrometeorite impacts inside BEAM will help scientists and engineers to better understand thermal, radiation and long-term leak performance of expandable habitats.

The habitat will be inflated by the crew at the end of May and it is expected that crew members will enter BEAM twice or three times per six month increment to swap out sensors that need to be returned to Earth for analysis.

The arrival of Dragon on Sunday will bring to an end the recent period of busy traffic to and from the International Space Station. CRS-8 will be the fourth visiting vehicle to visit the laboratory in as many weeks, following the arrival of the Soyuz TMA-20M, Cygnus CRS OA-6 and the Progress 63P.
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Orbital ATK's Cygnus cargo ship has departed the International Space Station after a successful 72 day mission to resupply the orbiting laboratory.

Having been unberthed from the Unity Module of the complex earlier in the day, Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly and Flight Engineer Tim Kopra used the station's 57-foot robotic arm to release the unmanned Cygnus at 12:26 p.m. GMT as the two vehicles flew 400 kilometers over Bolivia. This positioned Cygnus for a fiery re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean on Saturday.
Cygnus departs the International Space Station(File photo)
credit: NASA
On its fourth mission to resupply the space station, the vehicle nicknamed "S.S. Deke Slayton II" launched atop an Atlas V rocket carrying over 3,500 kilograms of cargo from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral in Florida on December 6.

Among the cargo which served the Expedition 45/46 crews was a new life sciences facility and a micro-satellite deployer, as well as food and other crew provisions.

Today's departure of Deke Slayton II also marks the beginning of a busy period of traffic from visiting vehicles to and from the station. 

On March 1 the year-long mission to the ISS conducted by Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will come to an end as the pair undock their Soyuz TMA-18M from the Poisk module on the Russian segment of the International Space Station alongside Sergey Volkov.
Kelly and Kornienko have been living aboard the station since their arrival on March 28 2015. By the time they return to Earth they will have spent 340 days in space and traveled over 140 million miles.

The departure of Kelly, Kornienko and Volkov will clear the way for the arrival of the next Soyuz to bring three new crew members to the International Space Station. Cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka, Alexey Ovchinin and astronaut Jeff Williams will dock their Soyuz TMA-20M to the vacant docking port on Poisk on March 19. This will be followed just three days later by the launch of the next Cygnus vehicle on it's fifth flight to the station.

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