Space Apps and Duck-Sized Horses in Microgravity

By Joseph Marks

March 20, 2013

Astronaut Ron Garan took to Reddit Monday to pump up interest in NASA’s second International Space Apps Challenge, scheduled for April 20 and 21.

The event includes hackathons in 75 cities across seven continents during which participants will tackle projects ranging from hardware for the International Space Station to Web tools that improve the public’s understanding of space science.

All projects submitted as part of the challenge must be licensed open source, a spokeswoman said.

Garan’s Ask Me Anything session detailed the sorts of innovations NASA is hoping will be produced by the April hackathons and what he considers the enduring value of space exploration. This being Reddit, Garan also shared the name he’d give an alien and described what dreams are like in space. Some highlights are below.

Some hackathon goals:

[–]spacekate 15 points 1 day ago

I'll be going to the London event and I've an idea for an app to be used in space to help out the astronauts. I want to know what little things were frustrating for you in space - so I can see if I can think about more little things to help make it better for the astronauts. Thoughts?

[–]RonGaran[S] 11 points 1 day ago

Anything we can use to keep track of things (both physically and virtually) We could use better ways to secure things (stuff floats all over the place) and better ways to keep track of activities, procedures and timelines. Thanks for helping!

[–]jonmonTO 3 points 1 day ago

Hey Ron -- Jonathan here from Space Apps Toronto. I'm surprised to hear that securing everything is still a problem that needs to be solved! Can you give us an example of a particular gap in design?

[–]RonGaran[S] 4 points 1 day ago*

Well, we mostly use velcro and bungees those work fine if you're stationary but better ways to secure objects to crew members both for transporting objects and allowing for hands-free work would be helpful

The value of space travel:

[–]adllewellyn 4 points 1 day ago

Love this discussion -- because what we do in space HAS to make a better life on earth, not just launch bigger rockets or send back better pictures.

My note would be that the collaboration required for serious extraplanetary exploration is the same kind of collaboration required to solve problems like poverty or address women's rights. So as we learn to do one... we are building a foundation to do another.

[–]RonGaran[S] 7 points 1 day ago

I agree 100% that improving global women's rights/education is one of the most critical factors in poverty alleviation. There are many Space Apps Challenges dealing with education and there's one that I can think of in particular (called My Virtual Mentor) that deals with getting girls involved with STEM education and keeping them involved with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. But another big aspect of what NASA does is demonstrates the value of international collaboration to tackle enourmous challenges like building a huge orbiting research facility

[–]s515_15 2 points 1 day ago

Missed the last AMA, so this isn't about the app challenge, but what do you think about a lottery system built around the space program? Half the money could be used as a payout but the other half NASA could use to fund space projects. Hell if it was transnational like powerball or mega millions you could get some huge payouts and thus a large source of funding for space missions

[–]RonGaran[S] 6 points 1 day ago

Interesting idea but I would prefer that people realize that the space program is a critical investment in the future of humanity and our planet (both in the short tem and long term). Exploration and scientific discoveries made on the ISS are making life better on planet Earth. I beleive history will show the direct connection between our investment in our space program and unprecedented improvements in quality of life, the environment, and could one day be the critical factor in our very survival (how's that for a lottery - one day a planet destroying asteroid will have our name on it and I hope we're ready)

Life aboard the ISS:

[–]corygagliardi 9 points 1 day ago

When you are living in the ISS, are your dreams in weightlessness as well? Do you continue to have weightless dreams back on earth?

[–]RonGaran[S] 11 points 1 day ago

My dreams while in space were both weightless and with Earth gravity. Occasionally, I dream that I'm back in space and floating around the ISS

[–]PlanetaryDuality 4 points 1 day ago

Hey Ron, when you get home from the station, do you find yourself wanting to or absent mindedly trying to float around your house?

[–]RonGaran[S] 4 points 1 day ago

That never happened to me but I've heard others talk about that experience.

[–]jonmonTO 3 points 1 day ago

What quality of internet connection / bandwidth do you have up there?

[–]RonGaran[S] 4 points 1 day ago

The internet is very slow (like a bad dial up) but it is still wonderful to have the capability to have 2-way interactions with folks on Planet Earth.

[–]JTxOLD 0 points 21 hours ago

Have you been to space? If so, does your body feel different?

[–]RonGaran[S] 2 points 21 hours ago

Yes I was in space for 2 weeks in 2008 after launching to the International Space Station on Space Shuttle Discovery and I spent 1/2 of 2011 living and working onboard the ISS after launching from Kazakhstan on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. In space since you are in a micro-g environment, you don't have gravity pulling all the fluid in your body toward your feet. The result is you feel like your head is stuffed up and your face tends to be puffy. You do get used to it quickly though.

Becoming an astronaut:

[–]CrypticConundrum 4 points 1 day ago

As a young person interested in space, what do you need to accomplish prior to becoming an astronaut? Also, since I know height is a factor, how strict is NASA with the height of an astronaut? I would like to know because I want to be an astronaut, but I am currently two inches from being the max height. That wouldn't be such a problem, except i'm 13.

Thanks for doing the AMA!

[–]RonGaran[S] 4 points 1 day ago*

We have astronauts from many different professions. I think the best advice I can give is to find something that you truly love to do and be the very best you can be at it. Also it is very important to learn as much as you can in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. As far as your height goes, don't let anything stop you even if you exceed the max height limit who's to say what the limit will be in the future. If worse came to worse, you could design your own spacecraft. Anything is possible!

[–]CrypticConundrum 3 points 1 day ago

Thank you! It may sound a bit bizarre, but my dream is to be the first man on Mars. And with NASA estimating 2033 as the year for a man on Mars, I might just have a chance.

[–]RonGaran[S] 4 points 1 day ago

That was my dream too but I immediately dismissed that as a crazy dream since I thought (back in the early 70's) that we would have humans on Mars way before I grew up. You can do it!

Aliens and horse-sized ducks in microgravity:

[–]Lucaan 1 point 1 day ago*

If an animal-esque quadruped alien species was discovered, and you had the chance to name them, what would you name them.

[–]RonGaran[S] 4 points 1 day ago

Bob

[–]thirdrail69 1 point 1 day ago

I never get my questions answered by anyone of importance in AMAs, besides one to Eric Lander. If an astronaut answered my question I'd be pretty damn pleased.

Would you rather fight 100 horse sized ducks or 1 duck sized horse in microgravity armed only with a can of silly string?

[–]RonGaran[S] 1 point 22 hours ago

That's a ridiculous question - everyone knows it's better to fight 1 duck sized horse in microgravity armed only with a can of silly string. Although a duck's beak is flat and it's bite is spread out over the whole surface making it relatively harmless, 100 horse sized ducks would overwhelm the life support systems of the ISS and would lead to death for everyone on board. Give me one duck sized horse any day.


By Joseph Marks

March 20, 2013

http://www.govexec.comhttp://www.nextgov.com/emerging-tech/emerging-tech-blog/2013/03/space-apps-and-duck-sized-horses-microgravity/61979/